When the crowd of 20,291 at the CoreStates Center greeted each member of the Detroit Red Wings with boos and a semi-profane word during pregame introductions, defenseman Larry Murphy felt right at home.
Before Murphy was traded from Toronto to Detroit on March 18, he was the target of vicious boos from Maple Leaf fans. The jeers bothered him in Toronto, but not on Saturday in Philadelphia, where he contributed two assists and had a plus-four plus/minus ratio in the Red Wings’ 4-2 victory over the Flyers in the opener of the Stanley Cup finals.
“In March, I was getting ready to get out my golf clubs. One phone call gave me the biggest jump in the standings I’ve ever had,” said Murphy, a former King. “This isn’t a situation I expected to be in. It’s great.”
Murphy, 36, was probably overused in Toronto. But Detroit Coach Scotty Bowman has used him judiciously, pairing him with fleet-footed Nicklas Lidstrom and taking advantage of Murphy’s offensive skills on the power play.
“Larry’s just getting better and better,” Bowman said. “He’s playing like he did when we were in Pittsburgh [on the Penguins’ 1991-92 Cup-winning teams]. We traded Paul Coffey and lost a lot of offense and it took us all year to get some of it back.”
Despite the increased presence of European players in the NHL, there’s still a lot of anti-Russian sentiment in this city.
A local radio talk show host, speaking at a Flyer rally in Center City on Friday, tried to stir sentiment by calling Russian players dogs. That hatred dates back to 1976, when Flyer center Bob Clarke--now the club’s general manager--slashed at and broke the ankle of Soviet star Valeri Kharlamov in a series of games between NHL stars and Soviet players.
Sergei Fedorov of the Red Wings said he tries to ignore such insults.
“To me, it didn’t make sense because I’ve got the Red Wings jersey on and I play for this club for seven years,” he said. “And I guess sometimes when we are having a good game or making a good play, I guess even commentators say a few things. It is sometimes too much.”
Bowman, who had complained Friday that his team hadn’t been allotted enough tickets to provide seats for their families, evidently struck a nerve with the NHL and Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Bowman said Saturday the Red Wings “got 10 free tickets from Bettman.” In truth, each team got additional tickets, bringing each team’s total to 100.
The Red Wings had problems with the bench in Colorado, claiming it was too close to the boards and forcing them to improvise and install a bench made by a friend of assistant coach Barry Smith. The Red Wings have ample leg room at the CoreStates Center, but Bowman joked that he had taken precautions in case they didn’t.
“We brought along our own bench,” he joked.