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The Detroit Red Wings, the NHL's most talented team, entered the Stanley Cup finals looking as invincible as a band of alchemists in possession of the magic stone. The Wings had transmuted their primary weakness—goalie Chris Osgood's penchant for yielding easy goals—into philosophical gain. After Osgood blew Game 5 of the Western Conference finals by letting in a shot from center ice by the Dallas Stars' Jamie Langenbrunner in overtime, he and his teammates vowed they would thrive off that miscue. Then they turned in their strongest performance of the playoffs in a 2-0 win in Game 6 that sent them to the finals, which were to begin on Tuesday, against the Washington Capitals.
The determination to exonerate Osgood—and Osgood's resilience—are reasons Detroit should ice Washington. Here are some others:
•The finals stir sleeping lions. The Red Wings beat the Stars with scant help from their top offensive weapons, centers Steve Yzerman (four points) and Sergei Fedorov (two) and wing Brendan Shanahan (none). Those stars won't lie dormant forever—Fedorov and Yzerman combined for 31 points in Detroit's first two playoff series, and, with the Cup at stake, expect the gutty Shanahan to work through his nagging back injury.
•The Wings get up, and nothing gets them down. With its left-wing-lock defensive system, Detroit is hell to come back on. It's 9-1 this postseason in games in which it scored first. No team plays as confidently with a lead.
•These guys are fast. From Fedorov to left wing Slava Kozlov to center Kris Draper, Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman sends out speed on every shift. That's going to be rough on Washington because so many of its key forwards are slow, particularly the rough-and-tumble line of Dale Hunter, Craig Berube and Chris Simon.
•These guys are strong. Behind Detroit's snazzy playmaking lurks an intimidating physical presence—even when Bowman doesn't choose to dress preeminent pugilist Joey Kocur. Shanahan, who crashes around at 6'3" and 220 pounds; right wing Martin Lapointe, a motorized medicine ball at 5'11", 215; and right wing Darren McCarty, sinewy and seemingly ignorant of pain at 6'1", 215, all get lots of ice time. Not even the Capitals' sizable defense can handle such a relentless threat.
•The rest of the glittering, red-and-white package. The Wings possess the league's top defensive pairing (Nicklas Lidstrom and Larry Murphy), the best coach in NHL history (Bowman) and a fine blend of youth and experience (12 players are 27 and under, and 13 are over). It all adds up to the Wings winning the Cup in five games.
Last June 13, my then 11-year-old nephew, Colin Burns, was at a birthday party at his friend's house on the southwest side of Chicago. They were also cheering the second straight NBA championship won that day by their beloved Bulls. Colin and a couple of his buddies ventured outside, where an adult was setting off fireworks celebrating the tide. Colin's life has not been the same since.