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Off on the right foot

Stanley Cup Notebook: Good start for Wings

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Posted: Tuesday June 09, 1998 11:59 PM

  Good omen? The Red Wings improved to 10-11 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Of the nine previous opening games they have won, they went on to win seven Cups (AP)

DETROIT (AP) -- The Detroit Red Wings' victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Tuesday night was a good sign for them.

Since the NHL started the best-of-7 format in 1939, teams winning the first game have gone on the win the Cup 47 of 59 times, or about 80 percent.

Of the 12 teams that have come back to win the Cup after losing the opener, the Montreal Canadiens have done it five times -- in 1966, 1971, 1979, 1986 and 1993.

Showtime in Motown

The Detroit Red Wings weren't the only ones ready for the opening of the Stanley Cup Finals. So were the fans.

A fanatical crowd at Joe Louis Arena waved white pom-poms and roared steadily throughout a sound-and-light show signaling the start of Game 1. The colorful show was capped when a young woman wearing a Red Wings jersey and waving a pom-pom floated down to the ice on a wire contraption.

One of the biggest cheers of the night was reserved for Gordie Howe. The former Red Wings star received a huge ovation when he was shown to the crowd on the center-ice scoreboard.

Shotless in Detroit

The stifling Detroit defense was such a factor in Game 1 that the fans let out a derisive cheer when Washington's Phil Housley managed a shot on goal at 9:51 of the second period. It was the first in roughly 14 minutes for the Capitals.

Jack of all trades

Happy birthday! Wilson started the tradition of hitting people in the face with pies on their birthday (AP) 
Pies in the face. One-liners. Motivational talks. Washington Capitals coach Ron Wilson does it all.

"He just brings a very funny attitude, [turns] different things into jokes and makes the guys laugh about it," Capitals center Joe Juneau said. "Some guys might get mad about comments made about them on TV or in the paper, and he's got the ability to twist that around so everybody laughs at it."

Wilson started the tradition of hitting people in the face with pies on their birthday. That included Wilson himself, when one of the players socked him with a whipped cream pie.

"He got his turn," left wing Chris Simon said.

Wilson says his locker room material is usually spontaneous, even the "win one for the Gipper" talks. Recently, he motivated his team by telling them that reaching the finals would be like the "Apollo 11" astronauts reaching the moon.

"I don't stay up all night [thinking about what to say]," he said.

Great Scott

What makes Scotty Bowman such a great coach? Red Wings forward Brendan Shanahan says Bowman has the ability to read a game and make a change in the middle.

"He has 10 incredible hockey senses," Shanahan said.

As the winner of seven Stanley Cups, Bowman also has the attention of all the players.

"The big thing, as a team, is that we all believe in him," Shanahan said. "So regardless of what our game plan is, he has got 20 guys going out and not questioning [his authority]. I think that is the strength of our team."

Government assistance

President Clinton was a good-luck charm for the Washington Capitals when he came out for a game in the playoffs. The Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in overtime at the MCI Center in the Eastern Conference finals with Clinton watching.

Accompanied by Vice President Al Gore, Clinton became the first sitting president to attend an NHL game. The Capitals return to Washington for Games 3 and 4.

"That was a step to have the president come to a game," Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig said. "And hopefully he comes out now when we go back to Washington."

Defense first

Detroit's Steve Yzerman scored 24 goals this season -- for him a big year under Bowman.

When Bowman became coach of the Red Wings in 1993, he stressed a defensive system. That meant the end of 60-goal seasons for Yzerman, who scored 65 in 1988-89 and 62 in 1989-90.

Yzerman's last big goal-scoring season was 1992-93 -- the year before Bowman arrived -- when he had 58. The following season he dropped to 24.

After scoring 465 goals in 10 seasons with the Red Wings, Yzerman has only 118 in five under Bowman.

Asked if he missed those high-scoring years, Yzerman said: "They were really so long ago, I don't remember them."

Title Hunting

The Capitals want to win the Stanley Cup as much for Dale Hunter as they do for themselves. The center has played more than 1,500 games in his 18 years in the NHL and this is his first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.

"I say he is almost like our John Elway," said Phil Housley, referring to the Denver quarterback who finally won the Super Bowl this year.

"[Hunter] has been playing such a long time, and he cares a lot for the game. Like myself, I think I wouldn't have anything without playing hockey. We sure would like to see him hoisting the Cup. It would be a great end to his career."

Same time, different team

Ron Wilson's timetable for reaching the Stanley Cup Finals is right on schedule, although he never figured it would be with the Washington Capitals.

"In Anaheim, we said our goal was to get to the finals in five years," he said of his former team. "In five years I'm here, but with a different team."

Home away from home

Detroit may be playing at home, but they're not living there during the Stanley Cup finals. The players spent Monday night in a hotel to get away from family distractions and bond as a team.

The Red Wings did that last year when they won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 42 years. Forward Kris Draper said the Red Wings "just relaxed and got a good night's sleep."


Related information
Fire on ice: Bowman's passion for hockey still burns
Invisible man: Caps' Bondra hockey's best-kept secret
Inside the NHL with Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber: Coach, league clash over glowing puck
Red Wings-Capitals Game 1 Summary
Stanley Cup Finals Schedule
CNN/SI's Season Recap: Red Wings-Capitals
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