Have skates, will travel
'Canes improve to 7-3 on the road this postseasonPosted: Tuesday June 04, 2002 11:29 PM
Updated: Wednesday June 05, 2002 3:18 AM
DETROIT (AP) -- So many times during the 2002 playoffs the Carolina Hurricanes hit the road and had the home fans squirming in their seats. This time it was Hockeytown and the mighty Detroit Red Wings.
Twice the Red Wings and their collection of future Hall of Famers took leads in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals Tuesday night, only to see the upstart Hurricanes bounce back -- like they have time and time again during their surprising postseason run.
Then came overtime, where the Hurricanes were a heady 6-1 in the playoffs. There was more grumbling from the home fans -- and reason to worry.
Ron Francis scored 58 seconds into the extra session on a feed from Jeff O'Neill as Carolina took the opener 3-2, winning here for the first time since 1989.
"It's certainly up there," Francis said when asked where this goal ranks in his career. "Any time you score a goal, especially at this point in the season, it's special."
"Ronnie has gone the whole year unappreciated and overlooked," rookie Erik Cole said. "It's kind of ridiculous, really, to see a guy of his caliber get no recognition."
The Hurricanes showed little stage fright in their first trip to hockey's biggest stage, dismissing talk of a sweep by those who also didn't give this team much chance to beat New Jersey, Montreal and Toronto en route to the Eastern Conference championship.
Less than 15 minutes after Francis' game-winner, the Carolina locker room was already focused on Game 2.
"It's momentary happiness," said Aaron Ward, a former Detroit defenseman who won two Cups here. "We have to kind of park it because it's a seven-game series."
When O'Neill scored with 50 seconds left in the second period to tie it 2-2, the sellout crowd at Joe Louis Arena grew quiet, leery of these underdogs from the South who played well despite a week layoff.
O'Neill's goal came on a good line change for the Hurricanes - and a bad one for Detroit. It has been that kind of attention to detail that has propelled Carolina further into the playoffs than ever before.
And makes them a dangerous road club.
"We never really cared what people said about us during the playoffs," Kevyn Adams said. "We're a confident team in here and we want to go out and finish the job. We're not satisfied with where we are."
Paul Maurice said he didn't address the team's underdog status in this best-of-seven series against a team that might have more than a half dozen Hall of Famers on its roster. The coach let Francis and Rod Brind'Amour say a few words about the subject in meetings last week, then it was dropped.
"There was no point in making the mountain any bigger than it already is," Maurice said. "We prepared our team this week in the exact same manner. We said the exact same things over and over again to the point that I am sure they stopped listening to me. There's nothing new coming out of my mouth in that locker room."
Carolina had the third-best road record during the regular season and came into Tuesday night with a five-game playoff streak away from the Entertainment and Sports Arena.
When Detroit's Brett Hull, a clutch playoff performer in his career, missed a great chance with 9:32 left on a poke check by Marek Malik, things got real tense. Fans had to be coaxed out of their seats by an announcement to make noise with 4:48 remaining.
Detroit had one last chance to close out the deal in regulation when Cole was called for a hooking penalty, but the Red Wings' power play fizzled like it had much of the night.
When overtime came, some got on cell phones to call friends with the unexpected news.
"Maybe we surprised them a little bit," Cole said. "Maybe they weren't expecting what we showed them. It had been a long time since we played them last and we're certainly a much different team."
Ward said the team never let a possible sweep by the talented Red Wings -- predicted by many in hockey circles -- enter their minds.
"We've got all the believers we need right here in this room," Ward said.
After scoring the first goal in five of six games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the defensive-minded Hurricanes were forced to play catch-up this time.
However, Carolina battled the Red Wings on more than even terms in the opening 15 minutes as Detroit looked sluggish and had a tough time in its own zone with the Hurricanes' forechecking.
"What worked for us again was we were all on the same page," Ward said. "All four lines did the things we were supposed to do."
Carolina's first goal came on a 5-on-3 advantage and from one of the team's best postseason players -- Sean Hill. The defenseman ripped a shot high over the glove hand of Dominik Hasek, breaking his shutout streak at 143 1/2 minutes, and breaking the ice in the franchise's first trip to hockey's biggest stage.
"We broke the Hasek jinx," Ward said. "We were worried about trying to get the puck behind him. The confidence is there now."
O'Neill's goal later in the period then put Detroit fans on alert that the heavily favored Red Wings may have a more stern test than anticipated in this best-of-seven series.
It was Carolina's 35th overtime game of the season.
"You just kind of get comfortable with it," Hill said. "You just play hard and let the chips fall where they may."