The only other hole that Irbe needs fixing is in his genes. At 5'8" he's a garden gnome in a league that prefers its goalies to be Godzillas. Even though he favors a stand-up style, Irbe was vulnerable to high shots in the Cup finals. Detroit pounded the puck upstairs, scoring twice in Game 1 to the stick side. The six goals in the next two games all were high to the glove side. The Wings' winner late in Game 2, a 40-foot onetimer on the power play by the impeccable Nicklas Lidstrom, typified Irbe's difficulties. While wing Tomas Holmstrom, who is more irritating than a telemarketer at supper time, became entangled in front of the crease with defenseman Aaron Ward, Irbe was hopelessly screened. A taller goalie might have looked over the traffic, but Irbe had to peer around it and didn't immediately pick up the play as Detroit shifted from a setup with two point men to an umbrella, with Lidstrom drifting down to the right face-off circle. Neither Lidstrom's score, nor Kris Draper's breakaway goal 13 seconds later, rattled Irbe.
"If you are not an optimist," Irbe said the next day, "you have no business being successful." He left a press conference and sat in his car in the parking lot for 10 minutes, chatting with fans. This was the purest moment of the week, a testament to a goalie and to the hockey farts in Carolina, who lay on the wit and charm with a trowel. But Barney Fife is not likely to be the next FBI director, as a sign by a Raleigh tailgater urged before Game 3, and the Hurricanes are not likely to win the 2002 Stanley Cup. Sometimes even old men stay up later than Cinderella.