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NHL PLAYOFFS : Red Wings Win Series, Reach the Final Step

From Times Wire Services

The last NHL championship banner aloft in Joe Louis Arena reads “1954-55,” and the Detroit Red Wings are on a mission to get it some modern company.

To do that, though, they needed to get to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 29 years.

The Red Wings accomplished that neatly enough Sunday night when Vyacheslav Kozlov’s goal 2:25 into the second overtime beat the Chicago Blackhawks, 2-1, in the fifth game of the Western Conference finals.

Detroit had won the President’s Trophy, emblematic of the best regular-season record in the NHL, but that pales in comparison to the emotion of Sunday night.

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“It feels unbelievable,” said Red Wing goaltender Mike Vernon. “We’ve worked hard all season. The guys just stuck to the game plan and kept working away. This was the result right here.

“We advanced to the finals. That’s what we’ve dreamed of, and that’s what we wanted and it’s here.”

Kozlov took a pass from Sergei Fedorov and skated past defenseman Chris Chelios. Kozlov put a fake on Chicago goaltender Ed Belfour, who had been brilliant to that point, then blasted the puck between Belfour’s pads.

Detroit’s 40-year drought since its last Stanley Cup is longest in the NHL. The second longest belongs to the Blackhawks, who last won the Cup in 1961.

Sunday’s game was the third overtime game of the series. Detroit won all three.

Both goaltenders were superb. Belfour turned away all but two of 47 shots; Vernon faced 26 shots.

Belfour had most of the work in the first three periods, when he made 37 saves. Vernon made almost as many saves in the first overtime as he did in regulation as Chicago finally outshot the Red Wings in a period, 11-7.

Denis Savard scored a first-period goal for Chicago. Steve Yzerman tied it with a goal in the second period.

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Belfour put on a virtuoso performance in the second, despite giving up Yzerman’s goal. Detroit outshot the Blackhawks, 20-2, in the period, including five shots during a 1:40 span early in the period with a two-man advantage.

At 8:41, Belfour scrambled to get his glove on a shot by Keith Primeau. But his most spectacular save came at 10:54 when he dove to his left to glove a shot by Fedorov that appeared to be going over the goal line.

Fedorov could only shake his head, because Detroit had outshot the Blackhawks, 16-1, in the period to that point.

Yzerman’s goal from the top of the left circle at 11:36 of the second period sent the crowd of 19,875 at Joe Louis Arena into a frenzy of octopus tossing--a playoff tradition in Detroit. It even brought a rare display of emotion from Yzerman, who had missed three games because of a knee injury.

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Savard’s seventh playoff goal came at 10:18 of the first period and was his fourth goal in the last three games. The Blackhawks took a 1-0 lead, as they did in all five games of this series.

“For a five-game series, it sure felt like a seven-game series,” Detroit’s Darren McCarty said. “It was a battle. We’re fortunate to go on and this is nice, this is great.”


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