The biggest financial story in Chrysler-and-Daimler Detroit on Sunday was another merger and acquisition: The St. Louis Blues' shock troops merged with an acrobatic goaltender, Grant Fuhr, to acquire a victory in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals and put the business of a $12 million bonus to Red Wings star center Sergei Fedorov on hold for at least two more days. For those of you too busy scraping together a mortgage payment to notice, Wings owner Mike Ilitch, the pizza magnate, will owe Fedorov $12 million on July 1 if Detroit reaches the conference finals. That's a lot of pepperoni. The Red Wings held a 3-2 lead over the Blues in this fiercely played series, so Fedorov was a good bet to collect soon. (If Detroit doesn't advance, he will be paid the $12 million over the next four years of his contract.) Meanwhile, his hometown had joined in the spirit of financial planning. The cheeky Detroit Free Press suggested that Fedorov give Anna Kournikova, his 16-year-old tennis-star pal, a raise in her allowance. Fedorov, however, said the fate of his money will be up to his brokers. On Sunday the big board, the one hanging over center ice at Joe Louis Arena, read BLUES 3, WINGS 1.
St. Louis, a trendy pick to win the Stanley Cup, offered up some money players of its own: surprising names such as center Mike Eastwood, who scored a goal and won nine of 13 face-offs in Game 5; buzzing wingers Scott Pellerin and Terry Yake; and hard-nosed defenseman Marc Bergevin, who cleared a shot off the goal line early in the third period to help Fuhr. "Their grinders really stole the show," Detroit forward Brendan Shanahan said. "Now it's time for our four lines to get rolling, the thing that brought us success."
The Red Wings might have been hurt by both teams' constant parade to the penalty box (there were 24 minutes of power-play time) which prevented Detroit from getting the usual flow from its four relentless lines. "The depth guys could be the key to the rest of the series," Red Wings associate coach Dave Lewis said. "As coaches you always prepare to stop the top offensive players, or maybe you key on their best defenseman, but it's the other guys—I hate the term role players—who can make the difference."
Defending champion Detroit has an advantage because it has the best role players left in the tournament. In the press box during Game 5, Craig Button, director of scouting for the Dallas Stars, who will meet the winner of the Detroit- St. Louis series in the conference finals beginning this Sunday, shook his head and marveled, "The Wings just have so many horses." Of the 14 Detroit forwards who had played in the postseason through Sunday, each had at least one point, and 12 had at least two. The Wings' scoring distribution is linked to ice time, usually more than 20 minutes for Fedorov and captain Steve Yzerman but rarely less than 10 for every other forward except enforcer Joe Kocur. "We can do it because our top guys have accepted it," says Barry Smith, Scott Bowman's other associate coach. "You can't have star players upset because so-and-so's playing and taking some of their ice time."
This is a team that can repeat. Certainly Slava Kozlov can. When a phone number is bellowed during a TV commercial, Kozlov, one of those role players who make Detroit dangerous, shouts it back at the screen. When teammates make loud dressing-room conversation, he parrots their dialogue. The otherwise quiet Kozlov, who has earned the nickname the Echo, says this is simply a learning tool, a way to further his slow but sure education in English. Probably. The technique is favored by annoying third-graders everywhere.
"I think the word for him is smart-ass" Shanahan says. "He's got this sarcastic wit. You do something stupid on the ice, suddenly he's giving it to you out of the corner of his mouth. The guys will say, 'Hey, when did you learn English? Whoever taught you should be punished.' "
Of course Kozlov, a left wing, also keeps repeating himself in the playoffs. Although obscured by Fedorov, Yzerman and Shanahan, he has a sniper's swagger, a dagger of a wrist shot and some sweet one-on-one moves. He has become one of the most dependable playoff scorers of his generation. His 27 postseason goals through Sunday ranked fourth in Stanley Cup scoring during the past five years, trailing only Claude Lemieux (41 goals), Joe Sakic (32) and Jaromir Jagr (31).
Kozlov is one of only six players to twice score the winning goal in games that reached a second overtime After Bowman watched him onetime the game-winner from the left circle early in the third period of the Wings' 5-2 win in Game 4, he said that Kozlov scores big goals because he rarely kills penalties or does heavy lifting on the power play. That keeps him fresh. Slava Fetisov, the 40-year-old Detroit defenseman, puts it more eloquently. "Slava," he says, "has a great feeling for goals."
Still, Kozlov has been considered the Fifth Russian, only slightly more memorable than the Fifth Beatle. On the Wings' original Russian Five, Kozlov paled in comparison to legends Fetisov and center Igor Larionov and was overshadowed by punishing defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov (who was severely injured in a limousine accident last spring) and Fedorov (whose dates get more coverage than Kozlov's goals). If Fedorov is the poster boy for the NHL's Russian Revolution—all dollars and glamour and swoosh—the 26-year-old Kozlov is the most traditional of the young Russians. He clings to his culture and to the legacy of Russian hockey handed down by his father, Anatoli, a coach and former elite player in the Soviet Union. Kozlov still reads only Russian newspapers and magazines, and he watches Russian television on a satellite dish.
"Kozlov has great respect for what Igor and Slava went through, for their honor, for the way things used to be, for what's right," says Shanahan. "When players refer to young Russians who have no respect for their countrymen who opened NHL doors for them, well, Kozlov is the opposite of that."