North Star fans are boisterous but not terribly demanding. They seem to understand that the players give maximum effort in the playoffs, and the fans respond in kind. Their decibel level could cause nearby Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to issue a noise complaint.
Gainey, 38, who's cut from the same quiet cloth as Twins manager Tom Kelly and former Viking coach Bud Grant, played on five championship teams for the Montreal Canadiens. He knows what it takes to win the Stanley Cup. "Total commitment," says Gainey in a typical burst of loquaciousness.
Gainey's basic plan—the defensemen concentrate on defense, the role players play their roles—worked in the '91 play-oils, so he's holding to it. "Players accept this type of strategy better during the playoffs," he says. "They know everything will be over in a few weeks, so they're willing to do what's asked of them without any conditions attached." And as Casey points out, there's another secret to Minnesota's success: When you're No. 4, you really do try harder.
The Red Wings, stunned as they are, have developed a healthy respect for their tormentors. "They are a well-coached team." says Carson. "Well-coached and extremely disciplined. They know they're outmatched talentwise, so they're trying to set the tone of the game."
Murray, however, is getting tired of the story line. In live of the past seven years, the team that finished fourth in the Norris Division beat the division champ in the first round. "I'm not sure why we play the regular season," he says.
Smith, though, doesn't offer any apologies. "Hey, hockey has always been a playoff sport," he says. "We don't make the rules. We just play by' em."
Barring a big Detroit comeback, Murray will miss another chance to drink from the Cup. He's becoming the Gene Mauch of hockey. This is his ninth trip to the playoffs—he took the Washington Capitals into the postseason every year between 1982-83 and '88-89 before becoming general manager and coach of the Red Wings last season—and he has yet to reach the conference finals. "I haven't won the Stanley Cup, so no. I haven't done everything I want to do as a coach," says Murray. "That's how we measure success. But nobody ever mentions that I've never missed the playoffs [when he has coached a full season] and that my teams have never finished lower than third."
Maybe Murray should finish fourth once in a while. It works for the North Stars, who were beginning to cast a curious eye ahead to a divisional showdown with the winner of the St. Louis-Chicago series. "We're guardedly optimistic," says Smith. "It's very late for Detroit."
For the Stars, the night is young.