Though slowed by a nagging knee injury, Steve Yzerman has the Red Wings in tune
Ten minutes into Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinal series last Thursday, Blues captain Chris Pronger, a 6'6", 230-pound Norris Trophy-winning defenseman, lined up Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman, a perennial All-Star who stands 5'11", 185. Yzerman, protecting his chronically sore right knee, quickly dumped the puck off the boards into the St. Louis zone and turned around, sticking out his rear end and catching Pronger in the midsection. Pronger flew into the air and fell hard, tearing the ACL in his right knee. Shortly afterward Detroit erased a 1-0 deficit and went on to a 4-3 victory that gave the Red Wings a three-games-to-one series lead. Two days later they whipped St. Louis 4-0 and advanced to the conference finals for the third time in six seasons.
Yzerman, 37, missed 21 of the Wings' 22 regular-season games after the Olympic break because of his knee, but he has shown why he still wears the C. Playing more than 20 minutes per playoff game, Yzerman had five goals and 13 points to tie for the team lead in each category and also had won 62.6% of his postseason face-offs. He did all that despite an injury that forces him to skip most practices and morning skates and almost comically limits his mobility. After falling down he often uses his stick blade as a crutch to push himself up off the ice. "The way he has been playing, you wouldn't know there's something wrong with him," says winger Darren McCarty.
Yzerman has been especially effective at critical times. After the Red Wings fell behind the Canucks two games to none with their first-round series moving to Vancouver, the usually reticent Yzerman made a brief dressing-room speech to encourage his team and then scored a wraparound goal to open the scoring in a game Detroit won 3-1. Despite his slight build and nagging injury, Yzerman doesn't hesitate to initiate contact (ask 6'4", 235-pound Vancouver winger Todd Bertuzzi, whom Yzerman nailed several times in the first round) or sacrifice his body (ask Blues defenseman Al MacInnis, whose power-play slap shot Yzerman blocked in Game 2). "He's an amazing defensive player as well," says Red Wings associate coach Barry Smith. "In his zone he's absolutely solid. If the winger's down low, he takes the point. He goes down to block shots. He battles as hard as anybody I've seen. He's played like a lion."
When asked how his knee was holding up after Detroit had eliminated St. Louis last Saturday, Yzerman smiled and said, "I get hit a bunch, but that's the way it's going to be. If's fine." Behind him, in his dressing stall, was evidence to the contrary: his thick black knee brace and a garbage pail that held several feet of discarded athletic tape.
Montreal's Error-Prone Coach
Poor Choices Behind the Bench
Michel Therrien has his Canadiens playing a tight, defense-oriented system with little margin for error, which made his miscues late in Game 4 against the Hurricanes costly. With Montreal up 3-0 and 17:20 from taking a three-games-to-one series lead last Thursday, Therrien was assessed a bench minor for berating refs Kerry Eraser and Dave Jackson after St�phane Quintal had been whistled for a crosscheck penalty. The ensuing 5-on-3 goal by Sean Hill ignited Carolina's offense, and the Hurricanes rallied to force overtime.
Three minutes into the extra period Therrien made an even costlier flub, using fourth-line forward Bill Lindsay to handle a defensive-zone face-off against Jeff O'Neill, who had won 56.7% of his draws during the regular season. Therrien could have tabbed Yanic Perreault (he had won 11 of 17 face-offs in Game 4 and had the league's best winning percentage in the regular season, 61.3%) or Doug Gilmour (13 of 20 in Game 4), but instead he used Lindsay, who won just 46.0% of his face-offs during the regular season and had not controlled a defensive-zone drop in four tries in the postseason.
The outcome was predictable: O'Neill shoveled the puck back to defenseman Niclas Wallin at the point, and Wallin wired the game-winner past Jos� Th�odore. "When you go into overtime, you have to use your backups more," Therrien rationalized afterward. "I'm not afraid to put them in."
Officiating Suggestion I
A Way to Improve The Playoffs