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CRUSHED
Michael Farber
June 16, 1997
The Red Wings swept to their first Stanley Cup in 42 years by outskating, outhitting and outplaying the overmatched Flyers
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June 16, 1997

Crushed

The Red Wings swept to their first Stanley Cup in 42 years by outskating, outhitting and outplaying the overmatched Flyers

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Bowman surprised Murray—and everybody else—when he didn't use rugged defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov against Lindros and LeClair. Instead of the nastiest blueliner in the NHL, Bowman trotted out Nicklas Lidstrom and Larry Murphy, two finesse-oriented defenders. They handle the puck better than any other Detroit defensive pair, and that ability helped them stifle Philadelphia's vaunted forechecking. In Lindros's 103 even-strength shifts in the four games, Lidstrom and Murphy played together against him 62 times.

"Some other teams that played the Flyers in the playoffs tried to hammer their big players," Red Wings associate coach Dave Lewis said. "[Those teams attempted to] go after them with strength and size, and be in their face. When the opportunity is there, you can do it. But they'll wear you down before they get worn down. So there are other things to use."

The other cornerstone of Detroit's strategy was to dog 36-year-old Paul Coffey, the defenseman whom Bowman banished from the Red Wings at the start of the season and then smeared before a Detroit-Philadelphia game in January. Bowman claimed that Coffey, the highest-scoring defenseman in history, doesn't help the power play as much as people think and that the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 1991 in spite of him. (Bowman was Pittsburgh's director of player development at the time.) The fact is, including this season's Red Wings, four teams have reached the finals or won the Cup within a year of trading Coffey. Bowman softened his criticism of Coffey a bit after Detroit's 4-2 victory over Snow in Game 2, but he never apologized. He had little reason to. During the Wings' two wins in Philadelphia, Coffey was on the ice for six of the eight Detroit goals and was in the penalty box for another. While the City of Brotherly Love was buzzing about the Flyers' game of musical goalies—smartly dubbed a Murray-go-round—the Red Wings considered their former teammate a pressure point. "We wanted to hit him when he had the puck," Lewis said. "And hit him when he didn't."

McCarty knocked Coffey woozy with a clean check in the third period of Game 2, forcing him to remain in Philadelphia for Game 3 with a concussion. Coffey, at last, was a stay-at-home defenseman.

Murray returned to Hex-tall in Game 3—he said that starting Snow, who had been burned by a tie-breaking 55-footer by Kirk Maltby in Game 2, was "a hunch"—but the Wings pumped in six. Detroit's skill, including solid goaltending by playoff MVP Mike Vernon, who stopped 102 of 108 shots in the series and who now stands fifth in career postseason wins with 73, seemed formidable enough even without factoring in Philadelphia's dumbfounding complicity.

For Game 4 the Flyers' team bus had a siren-wailing police escort to the Joe from the team hotel a half mile away. Maybe Detroit's finest just wanted to be sure Hex-tall showed up. Lidstrom put a 58-footer through his legs with 32.1 seconds left in the first period—the Red Wings scored five of their 16 goals in the series during the first two or last two minutes of a period—and the Flyers, despite playing their one creditable match, were finished. Just like Detroit's 42-year drought.

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