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  Thirsty Red Wings Ready to Raise Cup
By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 16, 1998; Page D8

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With a second consecutive Stanley Cup championship just one victory away, several members of the Detroit Red Wings say they already have envisioned parading around the ice with the large silver chalice. And given the Red Wings' postseason dominance the past two years, it is hard to envision them not skating away with hockey's grand prize.

Detroit leads the Washington Capitals three games to none in the best-of-seven finals. If they win Game 4 tonight at MCI Center, the Red Wings will become the first to win back-to-back titles since the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and '92, and the first to sweep an opponent in consecutive finals since 1983, when the New York Islanders won the last of their four consecutive titles.

"Our team is really competitive . . . and we enjoyed winning the thing last year and motivation hasn't dropped at all," said Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman, a strong contender to win the Conn Smythe Trophy awarded to the playoff MVP. "We've got an opportunity to experience it again and we're trying to make the most of it."

The Red Wings have not faced an elimination game since losing in the Western Conference finals in 1996.

"It's an accomplishment, obviously, but to tell you the truth, this team always plays its best when pushed to limit and with its back against a wall," defenseman Bob Rouse said. "This year, fortunately, we haven't been pushed that far.

"In Game 2, when [the Capitals] were up two goals, that's when we had to play desperate hockey and find a way to win. This team has done that in the past, find a way to win, and in this series in particular. We've done it a different way every night. I think that's the mark of a good team."

Detroit's margin of victory has been slim in the finals, winning each of the three games by one goal. And, as Rouse said, there has been a different hero each time — goalie Chris Osgood held strong in a 2-1 victory in Game 1, fourth-line center Kris Draper scored the game-winner in a 5-4 overtime victory in Game 2 and Sergei Fedorov scored the winner with less than five minutes remaining in Saturday's 2-1 victory in Game 3.

"We've got four really good lines — that's the bottom line," said left wing Tomas Holmstrom, who has more goals in the playoffs (seven) than he did during the regular season (five). "We keep going every night at a high tempo. And we have lots of really good players who can score at important opportunities."

Said Draper, who hadn't scored in the playoffs until his game-winner: "We've gotten hot at the right time. You've got to get hot at the right time and get good goaltending. That's what we've had during the last two playoff runs."

They also haven't had many injuries. The only player on the Red Wings' injury report entering the finals was left wing Brent Gilchrist. His replacement in the finals, Joey Kocur, scored the first goal in Game 1. By contrast, the Capitals have been without Todd Krygier, Peter Bondra, Steve Konowalchuk and Jeff Brown for part or all of the postseason.

And Detroit has gotten production from every player in the lineup. Among regulars, only defensemen Rouse, Slava Fetisov and Anders Eriksson have not scored in the playoffs. And some players, such as Holmstrom and Martin Lapointe (eight goals in the playoffs), have significantly increased their offensive output. All of which has the Red Wings on the verge of another title.

"We want to get each series over as soon as possible," left wing Kirk Maltby said. "We play desperately because we want to get it over fast. In the playoffs, we try to reach to the next level."

That next level could cement Detroit's place as the hockey team of the '90s. In addition to their championship last season, the Red Wings lost in the 1995 finals and the 1996 semifinals — winning the President's Trophy for having the league's best regular season record in each of those seasons.

"It's tough to say dynasty in hockey," Draper said. "You haven't seen those since the Oilers in the '80s [when Edmonton won titles in 1984, '85, '87 and '88]. We've done some good things in the '90s and been a successful hockey club. But the only thing we have to show for it right now is one Stanley Cup."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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