Francis knocked in Jeff O'Neill's short pass to the top of the crease 58 seconds into overtime, and the Hurricanes shocked the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in the Stanley Cup finals opener Tuesday night.
Remarkably, it was Carolina's first victory in 13 games in Joe Louis Arena since a game-winning goal by -- yes, him again -- Francis for the then-Hartford Whalers on Nov. 14, 1989.
Francis was playing his first finals game since June 1, 1992, when he scored the game-winner in Pittsburgh's cup-clinching 6-5 victory over Chicago in Game 4 -- with Hasek in net after replacing Ed Belfour earlier in the game.
Tues, June 4
The Carolina Hurricanes were far sharper than I expected them to be. They were the ones who were supposed to be rusty after a seven-day rest -- which is too long. They commited few giveaways and had fewer defensive breakdowns. They were getting odd-man rushes against Detroit, instead of the other way around.
The biggest surprise in the game was that the Detroit Red Wings had to adjust to Carolina's third line -- Josef Vasicek was just so overpowering down low against Mathieu Dandenault and Steve Duchesne that Scotty Bowman had to start busting up his defensive pairings and matching Chris Chelios and Jiri Fischer against them a little more. Of all the bizarre things that could have happened in Game 1, one that I least expected was that Carolina's third line would force Scotty Bowman into an adjustment.
You've got to have people who are jumping pretty good. Some nights, if your thoroughbreds aren't ready to run, it doesn't matter how hard the jockey tries to get them to run faster. I didn't think Scotty Bowman could do much. He might have juggled his lines a bit, but there didn't seem to be as much energy from the Detroit gang in this one. The Red Wings seemed flat. They looked like a team that had let down after a Game 7 win vs. Colorado -- it was such a huge series, it was a rivalry, and they deafeated the defending champs. It's hard to push the right buttons when you've got people who are flat. It's almost like air coming out of a balloon and you don't know where the leak is.
• More analysis from Bill Clement.
Still, as big an upset as it was -- Detroit was widely predicted to sweep the series -- Francis said it was only one game for a team that's so big an underdog, coach Paul Maurice playfully calls his players the "mongrels.''
Carolina finished 25 points behind Detroit in the regular season, the largest gap in the finals since the Rangers' 27-point edge over Vancouver in 1994.
"We said all along we believe in ourselves and believe in each
other, and believe in our ability to go out there and win hockey
games. That's what we're trying to do,'' Francis said. "It's a boost for our confidence, but now it's behind us and we've got to get ready for Game 2.''
Detroit should have known better than to let Carolina go into
overtime. The Hurricanes are 7-1 in overtime this postseason, the
second most overtime playoff wins in NHL history. Montreal had 10
in 1993. The Red Wings are 1-4 in overtime.
Luc Robitaille, one of the few Red Wings looking for his first
Cup, denied they overlooked Carolina after taking out defending
champion Colorado convincingly 7-0 in Game 7 of the Western
Conference finals Friday.
"It was you guys, we never thought that,'' Robitaille said of the media. "We knew all along that they were a great team. We knew it wasn't going to be easy.''
Maurice didn't try to play up the no-respect angle during his
pregame talking, saying, "We knew we were an underdog. No point in
making the mountain any bigger than it was.''
O'Neill scored the tying goal late in the second period, then
set up the game-winner with a pass from along the right wing boards
to Francis, who was inexplicably left unattended in front of the
net. Hasek went for the poke check, but Francis lifted the puck
over him for his sixth playoff goal, and only his second at even strength.
"The puck came out front and it bounced right back to Jeff O'Neill,'' Francis said. "He made a great pass, and I was able to flip it up over the top of Hasek's pad into the net.''
Francis, probably the most revered player in franchise history, returned to the team four years after it relocated to North Carolina -- after winning two Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh.
"Ronnie Francis was our MVP over the course of the season,'' Maurice said. "The bigger the game, the better Ronnie Francis plays.''
It was the second overtime win in as many games for Carolina,
which beat Toronto 2-1 on Martin Gelinas' overtime goal May 28 to
win the Eastern Conference finals. Carolina goalie Arturs Irbe is
6-0 in overtime.
"It's been a comfortable position for us through the whole playoffs,'' Carolina forward Erik Cole said. "We haven't changed a thing from period to period. We just take it 20 minutes at a time, refocus, and hopefully somebody will step up for us.''
The Red Wings opened 1-0 and 2-1 leads, but couldn't hold either
lead as they went 1-for-7 on the power play. Carolina was 1-of-6.
"We had a chance to win it with the power play,'' said Detroit
coach Scotty Bowman, who is seeking a record ninth Stanley Cup
Up 1-0 early in the second period and in control, the Red Wings were unwisely drawn into taking two penalties in a span of 37 seconds, one on 41-year-old Igor Larionov, the NHL's oldest player, the other on Kris Draper.
With 83 seconds of two-man advantage to work with it, Carolina
tied it at 3:30 when Sean Hill's knuckleball of a one-timer from the upper edge of the left circle eluded Hasek, who shut out Colorado in the final two games of the Western Conference finals.
Detroit regained the lead as Kirk Maltby's hard wrist shot from
the right circle sailed by Irbe and inside the far post at 10:39 of
the second. It was the sixth goal in eight games by the Red Wings'
Grind Line of Maltby, Draper and Darren McCarty -- a checking line that suddenly has become a scoring force.
But, less than a minute from taking a one-goal lead into the
third period, O'Neill took former Detroit defenseman Aaron Ward's
up-ice pass to flick a short wrister by a sprawled Hasek at 19:10
of the second.
Hasek, sometimes criticized for flopping and falling when it isn't necessary, nudged the puck into his own net with his back.
Despite spending considerable time on the penalty kill, the Hurricanes hardly seemed in awe of their surroundings or their opponent, staying in their tight-checking, 1-2-2 trapping defense to constantly clog up the middle and slow Detroit's speed in the neutral zone.
Detroit, which has nine players older than the 35-year-old
Maurice, came into the series with a huge edge in Stanley Cup
playoff experience. Nearly half the Red Wings' roster was around
for sweeps of Philadelphia in 1997 and Washington in 1998.
Each of the Red Wings' last three finals appearances ended
in sweeps, as they were swept as a big favorite by New Jersey in
1995. ... Hill's goal was the first scored against Hasek since Game
5 of the Western Conference finals against Colorado. ... Fedorov
has five goals and nine points in his last six games against
Carolina. ... Detroit has a 24-11 scoring advantage in the first
period of the playoffs.