But there was one game Bowman wanted badly to win: that March 26 contest at Joe Louis Arena. Colorado had beaten Detroit in its three previous regular-season meetings, but nobody could question the Red Wings' courage following their brutal 6-5 overtime victory, except Keane, who labeled them "heartless" and "gutless." Said Bowman, "I don't think all that stuff that went on in the game"—148 penalty minutes, McCarty pummeling Lemieux, the Vernon-Roy fight—"would have mattered if we hadn't won that game."
"That game helped make us a team," Shanahan says. "We felt we were growing as a group, but that game gave us—and everyone else—a visual picture. We knew how we felt about sticking up for each other, but that was the opportunity we had to show it." The teams' records following what is routinely called the March 26 Bloodbath are testimony to that game's significance: Including Monday night's result, the Red Wings were 15-7-3, while the Avalanche was 13-11.
There were more than passing similarities between that match and Game 4 last Thursday in Detroit, including six Detroit goals, an exorbitant number of penalty minutes and the presence of referee Paul Devorski, who had been the target of a postgame tirade by Crawford on March 26. Devorski, working his first Conference finals, was assigned the pivotal Game 4. However, after he lost control of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers, the NHL should have reconsidered the assignment. Devorski was the wrong ringmaster for a circus that actually commenced a day earlier when Roy practically taunted the Wings with his declaration, "I really want to see how much Detroit is ready to play. That's what I want to see."
The moral of the story is: Be careful what you wish for, because it might come true. The Avalanche players, more puerile than virile, strutted like schoolyard bullies spoiling for a fight, but when the Red Wings stood up to the bravado, Colorado began falling apart. Devorski called five straight minor penalties (at least four of them justified) in the first period against Colorado—a string of five minors against one team in the playoffs had occurred just once in the past 10 years—and when Roy complained about the last of them, a high-sticking foul against Lemieux with 4.8 seconds left in the period, he was assessed a 10-minute misconduct. Between periods Crawford implored the Avalanche, which was down 2-0, to "get together, get together," and before the second period began, the players dutifully gathered around Roy in his crease. These huddles are routine in junior hockey and in Europe, but no Avalanche player could remember an NHL group hug. It didn't help matters. Roy gave up three more goals in the second period and was yanked with Colorado trailing 5-0, so he had a ringside seat as the game deteriorated into hockey as clich�, the worst the sport has to offer.
There were 204 penalty minutes in a third period that included eight fighting majors, 14 misconducts, two instigators, four roughings, two slashings and more examples of cowardice than courage. "We're up 6-0, so we're not looking for anything," says Shanahan, who is 6'3" and 215 pounds. 'But at some point it's like, O.K., that's enough." He battered Corbet, whom Shanahan outweighs by 30 pounds, but that fight vas not as shameful as the 6'1", 215-pound Lemieux's picking on 5'10", 185-pound Red Wing Slava Kozlov during a scrum and then skating away whenever the Wings' 6'1", 210-pound defenseman Bob Rouse moved in to keep Lemieux at bay.
With 2:18 left, Crawford had to be restrained from going after Bowman on the kings' bench. This was a bizarre tableau: he immaculately dressed Crawford, eyes bulging, looking as if he were one expletive from a rabies shot, and the preternaturally rumpled Bowman, one hand in his pocket, a bemused grin on his lips. Crawford screamed that the Red Wings had nailed one of his guys—Draper had given Peter Forsberg a charley horse with a check in the third period—and now the Avalanche had evened the score, presumably a reference lo Keane's nasty slash to Larionov's calf.
The next day the NHL fined Crawford $10,000 for conduct that was "dishonorable, prejudicial to or against the welfare of the league." A contrite Crawford apologized, but then it was Detroit that played excuse-me hockey in a 6-0 loss in Game 5 at McNichols Sports Arena. The Wings were meek in front of both nets, exhibiting neither the poise nor the confidence they had mown while dominating the first four games. Vernon was chased after allowing four goals on 10 shots, but on Monday he was back at work in Joe Louis Arena, making 15 saves as Detroit finished the job.
Vernon is going to see more traffic against the Flyers, who average 6'2", 210 pounds. "Not that Philly runs goalies," Rangers scout Kevin McDonald says, sarcastically, "but they find where the goalie is going to be about eight times a game." If the Red Wings are going to win their first Stanley Cup since 1955, Bowman must reunite star defensemen Vladimir Konstantinov and Niklas Lidstrom and hope they can keep Eric Lindros, John LeClair and their big teammates away from Vernon, a monumental task. Size counts, but Detroit has enough talent to win the Cup in seven games.