Print and Go Back NHL Playoffs 2002 [Print without images]

Sunday, May 19, 2002
Updated: May 20, 3:18 PM ET
These aren't your typical aches and pains

By Terry Frei
Special to

DETROIT -- What do we know heading into Monday night's Game 2 of the Western Conference finals in Joe Louis Arena?

Start with this: Steve Yzerman, Peter Forsberg, and Rob Blake -- and probably others -- are playing with injuries that go beyond the usual playoff bruises and pains.

Darren McCarty
For every Sergei Fedorov, right, the Wings need a Darren McCarty.
In the Red Wings' 5-3 Game 1 victory Saturday, Yzerman's knee gave out at one point, and he added a shoulder injury to his list of pains when he slid into the boards. Still, he played over 19 minutes, partially because Igor Larionov missed his second straight playoff game with a knee problem of his own.

It's impossible to envision a scenario -- short of a visit to Lourdes -- under which Yzerman will be anything but a grimacing, playing-in-pain presence through the rest of Detroit's playoff run. It's so obvious he's hurting, the Wings aren't even trying to hide it.

"He's the same he is all the time," Scotty Bowman said Sunday. "He's playing real hurt. ... It's a pain issue with him, but he plays with pain. So unless there is something dramatically changed in the next 24 hours or whatever it is, he's going to play."

Especially with Larionov out, Yzerman's on-ice presence in this series is critical -- even when he's hurting. That might seem obvious, but it has as much to do with leadership -- the Red Wings' quarters in Joe Louis Arena is "Yzerman's room" -- as anything else. Unless he is a complete liability in his condition, and he wasn't in Game 1, the ineffable quality of the captain's aura is as important to the Wings in this sort of series as Ray Bourque's presence was in the gut-check moments of Colorado's Cup run a year ago.

By the third period in Game 1, Bowman went back to having Yzerman with Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan, and the ripple effect was a reunion of the "Grind Line" -- and Darren McCarty's subsequent natural hat trick after the game was tied 2-2. Even McCarty was joking about how unlikely his hat trick was, especially in the context of a series that includes over a dozen future Hall of Famers.

But the other thing McCarty's hat trick did was serve as a reminder that timely goals from second-tier (or third- and fourth-line) players could tip the balance in this series. That doesn't necessarily have to involve hat tricks or even goals in impressive numbers, but killer goals at the right time.

That might be the Red Wings' biggest potential advantage in this series of all, because Colorado's third line (Stephane Yelle, Mike Keane and Eric Messier) is very good at what it does, but what it doesn't do is score. At all. And before you scoff at that as obvious, consider that the previous Colorado-Detroit series that most resembles these circumstances was in 1996. The Wings were heavily favored after winning a league-record 62 games in the regular season. The Avalanche were the underdogs, opening on the road. Colorado's third line of Yelle, Keane and Mike Ricci (then playing left wing) scored two of the three goals in the series-opening, tone-setting victory in Detroit. Yelle and Keane both were more threatening then than now, and Ricci has been replaced by Messier, a gritty role player and former defenseman, but no scoring threat at all.

In most circumstances, Colorado can afford to write off any offensive contribution from its third line as unlikely. This time, that isn't true. The Red Wings' depth, with Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille playing on the third and fourth lines in most circumstances, underscores the fact that unless the Joe Sakic and Forsberg lines (with expectations adjusted if they play together, as they did again in the third period of Game 1) are devastating and/or Patrick Roy is larcenous, Colorado likely will need some unlikely heroes to have any shot. And part of that involves the apparent reality that Blake still is hurting with what the Avalanche earlier described as a "leg injury." He had a sub-par Game 1, and the Avalanche didn 't even use him in the final minutes. That apparently was mainly a precaution, but it also might have involved some heightened pain.

Yes, six years after that first Detroit-Colorado Western finals meeting, the rivalry still lives, and -- like all living things -- it has changed over the years. The Claude Lemieux-Kris Draper-McCarty triangular feud helped define the rivalry, of course, but in the rush to chronicle and recap the extraordinary (even for hockey) enmity of the matchup, it has lived on longer in the minds of the watchers than the participants.

But Chris Chelios seemed to be getting back into the spirit of the most bitter days when he went after Forsberg on the bench in Game 1. Yes, on the bench. Forsberg was uncharacteristically unproductive in Game 1, and it's possible the slash he took from Teemu Selanne in Game 7 of the San Jose series still is affecting him, as his other well-chronicled injuries probably are, too.

When Forsberg pitch-forked Chelios down in the second period and then headed to the bench, and Hull got the tying goal on the same sequence, Chelios skated over to the Colorado bench to deliver a message to Forsberg that presumably wasn't a discussion of the history of the Swedish monarchy. It was a contentious snippet in a battle -- Chelios versus Forsberg -- that is just getting started. The confrontation of the Illinois-born physical defenseman and perhaps-too-physical-for-his-own-good Swedish forward is not premiering in this series, since it was a critical element in earlier Chicago-Colorado and Detroit-Colorado series.

For much of Game 1, the Red Wings used the defensive tandem of Chelios and Jiri Fischer against the Forsberg-Chris Drury-Steve Reinprecht line in even-strength situations. The picture changed slightly in the third, when Forsberg again was switched to Joe Sakic's line and Chelios then played more with Nick Lidstrom. But Chelios and Forsberg were on the ice a lot together all afternoon, and Forsberg has another bruise (or two or ...) to show for it.

"Every game is going to be tough, and that's just the way it is," said Forsberg.

"They're both competitors, and I'm sure they're both going to try each other out all the series," Bowman said. "As long as it's not overshadowing the game of both teams, I don't think it'll be a big factor."

Chelios was a plus-2 in the game and played 25:56. He did look bad on the Avalanche's first goal, when Sakic split him and Lidstrom to get off the shot that beat Dominik Hasek on a power play, but he rebounded.

"I don't know if anybody has the answer for him," Chelios said. "He's a great player. He's physical, he's finesse, and it's not every day you find a skill player of his caliber who's physical also. Who knows, you try and do the best job you can against him. He's explosive and. ... " At that point, Chelios applied the brakes. After a brief pause, he added, "I don't want to say too much about him because I don't want to give him any more confidence."

And the goaltenders? One of them is going to steal a game or two in this series. It wasn't Game 1; it might be tonight.

"He can steal some games," Hasek said of Roy. "We know that."

And Hasek can return the favor.

Terry Frei of The Denver Post is a regular contributor to