- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

First, get the boring yet chilling (for North Carolina residents) statistical points out of the way.

The Detroit Red Wings are on an 11-1 run in the Stanley Cup finals. That's a sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1997, a sweep of the Washington Capitals in 1998 and a 3-1 record against the Carolina Hurricanes in the current series.

And of the 26 teams that have held 3-1 leads in the finals, 25 (that's 96 percent) have gone on to win the grand auld pewter mug, 15 of them in five games. Toronto ruined the perfect statistical picture by recovering from an 0-3 deficit to beat Detroit 4-3 in 1942, a series so far back that only Scotty Bowman remembers it.

Tonight, Game5 in the best-of-7 finals will be played in Detroit's Joe Louis Arena and that's about the only thing Carolina has in its favor. The Hurricanes lost their first two road games in the postseason this spring but have gone 7-2 since; they are 6-5 at home.

"We feel comfortable on the road," said 'Canes defenseman Glen Wesley, completely serious in this, the high season of the sports cliche.

If the Hurricanes win, there will be a Game6 Saturday night in Raleigh, another do-or-golf game for Carolina. If the Wings win tonight in Detroit, fans heading home will be greeted by a massive police presence to ensure downtown Motown looks the same tomorrow as it looked before the game.

When all the cliches are swept aside, Carolina is facing a huge uphill struggle. The Hurricanes can't score, a problem the club has overcame most of the season, winning the old fashioned way with defense. There have been the rough equivalent of five games played in the series (Game3 went deep into the third overtime) and Carolina has scored a grand total of six goals. That might be a banner season in soccer but the World Cup is being played elsewhere.

And the problem is getting worse. In the last nine periods, the Hurricanes have two goals, four fewer than Detroit over the same span. Carolina is having trouble getting out of its own zone, having trouble negotiating the neutral zone, having trouble getting close enough to Dominik Hasek to make visual recognition.

And that's another problem. Hasek has taken to acting like a commuter, rushing back and forth like a man trying to catch the 5:37 to Bethpage. Hasek has been out of his crease almost as much as he's been in it, acting like a third defenseman back there, stopping 'round-abouts, preventing deliberate icings, grabbing wayward pucks and sending them off to a teammate. The problem is, if you touch him, it's as automatic a penalty as scalping.

"Hasek is out of his net quite a bit playing the puck and it's tough because you have to stay away from him," said rookie Eric Cole. "Even if we get a cycle [going] and it goes behind the net, he's out there throwing picks and moving the puck along. Obviously it's tough; we're just going to have to keep fighting our way through it."

More to the point, Carolina has to find a way to get the puck into the net behind Hasek, who is playing for the only major hockey award he doesn't have.

"We have to start scoring some goals," said Wesley, who hasn't scored in the playoffs since 1993. "We realize the position we're in right now and it's not the best scenario. We know we can play better defense. We had a couple breakdowns and those are easily correctable. The bottom line is, [we have to] create more offense."

"There's a little bit of frustration to score goals," said Cole, jumping into the conversation. "Detroit is the type of team, they have that kind of offense, a simple mistake and it's in the back of your net."

But, the Red Wings will tell you, not to be out-cliched, the fourth victory is always the toughest one to get.

"It's a difficult game to play," said Detroit captain and leading Conn Smythe Trophy candidate Steve Yzerman. "For the clinching game, you're probably more nervous than for any other one. I don't know if there's anything special we'll try to do. If anything, we try to treat it like any other game."w

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