Work in Sports
Hull scores twice to even Cup finals
Posted: Friday June 02, 2000 05:30 PM
By Chris Stevenson, SLAM! Sports
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There was almost no room, practically no time, little in the way of chances.
That made it the perfect situation for a guy like Brett Hull.
A moment's opening, a puck in the air and a lash of Hull's stick erased the Dallas Stars' humiliation of Game 1, restored their wavering confidence, put them back in the Stanley Cup final.
This time, the Stars tightened up defensively and got an exceptional game from Belfour, who has won his last nine playoff games after a loss.
The Dallas Stars sniper scored his second goal of the game with less than five minutes left in regulation time to give the Stars a 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils and tie the best-of-seven Stanley Cup final 1-1.
It was the kind of goal a goalscorer like Hull can conjure up out of almost nothing.
With the two teams going nose-to-nose and little in the way of open ice for any creativity, Hull took advantage of a small opening and a little bit of luck to poke the winner behind New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur.
After Game 1's wide open play and the Devils 7-3 humiliation of the defending champion Stars, Thursday night's game settled into the kind of tight-checking game that was anticipated.
In those circumstances, the magic of a pure scorer like Hull can be reduced, but not snuffed out if he is willing to work to give it life.
Hull, driving for the goal, tipped the puck into the net at 15:44 of third period. It was his 21st career game-winning goal in the post-season, pulling him within three of leader Wayne Gretzky.
"Hully deserves a lot of credit," said Stars coach Ken Hitchcock. "It's tough for the older players who played when it was a little more wide open. It's a difficult decision that you have to make in your career when you know the game is so closed off now. There's not a lot of open space. Rather than look for it, now you've got to fight for the open space.
"Hully is prepared to do that now. He is a committed guy. He's committed to the team. He's committed to the organization. He deserves a tremendous amount of credit for changing."
The Stars victory changed the face of the series, but their win shouldn't have come as a surprise. They are now 9-0 in their last nine game games following a post-season loss.
"After Game 1, there was always that little bit of doubt," said Hull. "A little bit of fear in everybody. But you take a look at the people in the room and I said after the game, you look to a select few, you have got Guy Carbonneau and Mike Keane and you have got our GM, Bob Gainey and guys who aren't playing like Brian Skrudland. You look at the way they handled the last couple of days and the way they talked to people, the confidence they showed in everybody. It just made you feel like we were going to come out and play a much better game although I don't think we had much of a chance to play worse than in Game 1."
Hull, despite his own status as a Stanley Cup winner and a veteran, has learned to keep his mouth in check, which hasn't always been easy for him in the past.
"We've got too many guys to speak," he said. "The people I mentioned, their leadership and experience far exceeds mine in these situations, so I let them do all the talking. I usually just get myself in trouble, anyway."
For what it's worth, the team winning Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final has gone on to raise the Cup 25 out of the last 28 seasons. Since the best-of-seven format was introduced in 1939, 47 of 61 clubs winning Game 2 have gone on to win the Cup, a winning percentage of .770.
The last Stanley Cup winner to lose Game 2 of the final was the Calgary Flames in 1989 against the Montreal Canadiens.
After each team got a first period goal Thursday night, the game settled into a painfully cautious pattern. The Stars, looking frightened of falling behind 2-0 in the series, were the most careful of the two, simply firing the puck out of their zone whenever there was the slightest whiff of danger.
The ice looked poor which compounded the risk of turnovers and resulted in few attempts at anything but the shortest, highest percentage passes.
Everything else was just an outright icing or a heave-ho off the glass up and out of the zone.
It made for less than compelling hockey, but each team was due grudging credit for refusing to give up an inch without making somebody pay a price. Unfortunately it was mostly the fans in the second who had to endure the long stretches of baseline lobs or scrums along the boards.
The first period had hinted at something better. The Stars came out with more resolve, energy and speed and struck first when Hull snapped a shot high to the glove side of Brodeur at 4:25.
Modano did the spadework on the goals, taking the puck away from New Jersey defenceman Brian Rafalski on the left wing boards and centring the puck to Hull at the top of the circle.
Confusion at the Dallas blue line, which was reminiscent of the Stars' problems in Game 1, saw three of them converge on Devils rookie Scott Gomez, resulting in a the goal that tied it 1-1. The puck squirted through, as did Devils winger Alexander Mogilny, and he skated in alone on Belfour and he snapped a shot high to the glove side.
Belfour, who had blamed his poor performance (six goals on just 18 shots) in Game 1 on the cold medication he was taking, was much sharper Thursday.
"He was a step late in that first game," said Hitchcock, "but he was much more energized today."
Now the series shifts to the stifling heat of Dallas for Games 3 and 4 Saturday and Monday.
The Stars were terrible in Game 1 and found a way to improve for Game 2.
Now it's up to the Devils to look inside.
"I think overall that was probably our worse game we have played in the last four or five," said Robinson. "And yet we are still very, very close. So it is encouraging that we can play as poorly as we did and still be close to the Stanley Cup champions.
"As much as they feel good about themselves, we don't feel very good about ourselves because we didn't show them our best game. So now we are 1-1. They didn't play their best game; we didn't play our best game so were are going back to Dallas to see who is the best when we both play well."