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Closing In
Michael Farber
June 22, 1998
Led by the stellar all-around play of their captain, Steve Yzerman, the Detroit Red Wings were flashing their championship form against the overmatched Washington Capitals
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June 22, 1998

Closing In

Led by the stellar all-around play of their captain, Steve Yzerman, the Detroit Red Wings were flashing their championship form against the overmatched Washington Capitals

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Of course, hockey can also be a game of explosive action, Exhibit A being Game 2. The Red Wings' Stanley Cup slogan, Raise Your Hands—a reference to their octopus good-luck charm—apparently also was what the Capitals were expected to do while asking permission to play with the puck in the first period. But Detroit's dominance translated into a mere 1-0 lead, Washington put three goals past Osgood in the second period, and the situation blessedly dictated that the more skilled Wings embark on an aggressive, eye-catching game of catch-up. "We like to play that way," a grinning Yzerman said the next day. "Our coaches don't." The Capitals blew leads of 3-1 and 4-2, with Yzerman's shorthander seven minutes into the third period kick-starting the Detroit comeback, but they should have had a 5-3 advantage with fewer than 10 minutes remaining when Tikkanen made a gaffe that altered the series.

Tikkanen is the most prolific playoff scorer in history—at least in terms of postseason production (72 goals) compared with that of the regular season (244), a ratio unmatched among players with at least 30 playoff goals. Tikkanen has a heavy shot, one that Osgood was obliged to respect when Tikkanen skated in alone after gathering in a rare Yzerman giveaway. He put Osgood down with a fake slap shot, pulled the puck wide and had a net more vacant than his stare after he pushed the puck past the far post. Tikkanen's blunder was the most blatant Cup mistake since the McStick incident late in Game 2 of the 1993 finals. Montreal caught Los Angeles Kings defenseman Marty McSorley using an illegal stick, scored on the ensuing power play and then won in overtime to rob the Kings of a 2-0 series lead going back to L.A.

After Tikkanen's misplay, the Red Wings stormed back to tie the game in regulation before winning it in overtime on Kris Draper's goal. An extra session wasn't needed in Game 3 because Fedorov scored the winner with five minutes left, but Yzerman was the most dangerous forward in the final minutes even as the Capitals pressed. "When the game is on the line, that's when you see his real value," Bowman says. "We move him from center to left wing, and he does the job. He's the perfect example for our team because he's going to make the big play."

Yzerman, who led playoff scorers with 24 points through Sunday, has been making them all along, from the Dead Things era of the 1980s to a franchise that could call itself the Team of the '90s and blush only moderately. The difference between then and now is the Red Wings have a group of players who are talented enough to follow, who also are flattered by their reflection in the Cup. Yzerman will win the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs—unlike the rest of the country, the voters have to watch the games—and it will be one more vanity mirror for a player who had to lower his sights to secure a place in history. "When you're a kid playing hockey and going to all those tournaments, you're winning everything, so you kind of take it for granted," Yzerman says. "You have no doubts that this guy's a winner or that guy's a winner. As my career went along without an NHL championship, there were times when I began to wonder if there was something missing in me. You fall back on the idea that, if you do your best and your teammates do their best, everything will work out. But I admit to having had some doubts along the way. The perception other people have of you changes once you win the Cup, but for me, winning it the first time reconfirmed what I wanted to believe—even when I was having those doubts."

The doubts are gone, and the Capitals seem sure to follow.

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