Work in Sports
So, we meet again!
Colorado, Detroit put rivalry to the test
Posted: Wednesday April 26, 2000 09:28 PM
DENVER (AP) -- They're healthy, they're rested and they're playing their best hockey. What better way for the NHL's fiercest rivals, the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche, to kick off their second-round playoff series?
Some hockey observers have suggested that the Red Wings-Avalanche showdown, which begins here on Thursday night, is, in effect, the real Stanley Cup final, since it matches two of the teams most often touted as favorites to win the Cup.
Colorado coach Bob Hartley tended to agree with that assessment. While insisting there are "still tons of good hockey clubs remaining," Hartley hinted it is unfair for such contenders to be meeting so early in the playoffs.
"We faced the Red Wings last year in Round 2 also," Hartley said Wednesday. "That's the way the schedule is. There's no sense fighting the system. We're part of the same conference, and that's the way it's built."
Such is life in the Western Conference, which clearly is the strength of the NHL this season.
Each team is at the top of its game. Detroit comes to Colorado after sweeping its opening-round series with the Los Angeles Kings, finishing off that series last Wednesday. Colorado is 12-1-0 in its last 13 games, having eliminated Phoenix 4-1 in a series that ended last Friday.
Both teams enter the series with no significant injuries, and Colorado's Peter Forsberg has strung together two dominating games after struggling with shoulder and other ailments throughout the year.
Typically, both teams insist they must raise their level of play in this series.
"It is time right now to raise our game a notch," Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy said.
"We've got to play better in the next series to advance," Red Wings center Steve Yzerman said. "Everything tightens up, everything picks up another step."
Teammate Brendan Shanahan agreed. "As the playoffs go on, you've got to improve. The intensity and the pressure of the games increase and your competition gets better and more desperate. Each year we won the Cup, we got better as each round went on."
Defenseman Larry Murphy sounded a word of warning.
"If you took away all our power-play goals and empty-net goals, it [Kings series] would be a pretty tight series," Murphy said. "We got through it and that's what's important, but I think everybody is a little disappointed with how things went.
"We're not going to go through another series where it all depends on the specialty teams, and I think that's why we're a little concerned."
In the first round, Detroit ranked second in the NHL in power-play production, scoring seven goals in 23 opportunities, or 30.4 percent. Colorado was third at 25.9 percent.
"We learned against Phoenix and the Red Wings learned against the Kings that the power play can be a big factor," Hartley said. "They were great on power plays, and so were we.
"This is going to be a hard-fought series. You're going to see a lot of body checks, but I don't think you're going to see any undisciplined play."
The blood-letting that was commonplace in this series in 1996 and 1997 has subsided, leading to a more civilized brand of hockey. But bad blood remains.
"These teams don't like each other," Avalanche captain Joe Sakic said.
Added Hartley, "There won't be any friendly games out there. We're going to go to war, and they're going to go to war. We're going to have to fight for each inch of ice out there."
Colorado beat the Wings in last year's playoffs, rallying from a 2-0 deficit to win four straight games before losing in the next round to eventual champion Dallas.
Detroit had the advantage during the regular season this year, beating Colorado four times in five meetings.
"That doesn't matter at all," Avs defenseman Aaron Miller said. "San Jose beat St. Louis (in the playoffs), and they didn't beat them all year. No one really cares about the regular season anyway. We're just worried about winning four games now."
A difference in this year's Colorado team is the leadership of veteran defenseman Ray Bourque, acquired in a trade with Boston on March 6. That addition hasn't gone unnoticed by the Red Wings.
"He adds a lot to their club," Detroit defenseman Nicklas
Lidstrom said. "On the power play, he's got a great shot. He logs
a lot of minutes for them, too. He's really helped that team."