Red Wings' Bowman Has No Trouble Keeping Game Fresh

The Detroit Red Wings may not have reached peak postseason form, but Coach Scotty Bowman wore his familiar, irascible playoff face Friday.

He barked at public relations officials from the NHL and his own club. His sentences meandered in unpredictable directions. His chin was pointed high in the air, his eyes on visions only he could see.

He has walked past King Coach Andy Murray in the corridors of Joe Louis Arena during their teams' first-round Western Conference playoff series, but Murray might as well have been wallpaper.

"He kind of puts his head down," Murray said. "I think that's just his intensity."

Bowman may not be looking, but there's nothing he doesn't see.

After 40 years as a coach, an NHL-record 1,144 regular-season victories and similarly singular 201 playoff victories, Bowman shows no signs of being ready to retire. With eight Stanley Cup coaching victories, he shares the record with the Montreal Canadiens' Toe Blake; add the ring he earned as the Pittsburgh Penguins' director of player development in 1991, and he needs only one to have a ring for every finger.

"I have so much respect for what he's done as a coach," Murray said.

Today, Bowman will try to take the second step toward that 10th ring. The Red Wings hold a 1-0 lead over the Kings and will regain the inestimable services of Steve Yzerman, who was too ill with flu to play in his team's 2-0 victory Thursday.

"When you win a one-goal game you feel fortunate," Bowman said of the opener, which was 1-0 until Sergei Fedorov scored into an empty net with 13 seconds left. "[Thursday] night's game was a lot closer than other games we've been in. . . . We weren't getting a lot of chances in the third period. We were trying to run out the clock.

"You have to have the experience to know you're only a shot away from being tied up. [Detroit forward Brent] Gilchrist had a breakaway, [King left wing Luc] Robitaille had that good shot with six minutes left. It's probably going to be that kind of series."

Bowman doesn't have to subject himself to such stress. At 66, with heart and knee replacement surgeries nearly two years behind him, he could take it easy in a broadcast booth or his living room. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991, before he began a tenure in Detroit that has reached seven seasons and brought the Red Wings two Stanley Cups.

But Bowman isn't ready to go. He feels most alive behind the bench, especially at this time of year, when he can sift through the millions of situations he has experienced and devise new ideas.

His hunger for winning may be equaled only by his hunger for knowledge. He isn't bound by generational differences or changes in the prevalent style in the NHL.

"I think he's the best coach in the league. He's a major part of our hockey team," Red Wing General Manager Ken Holland said. "Sooner or later he's going to retire. Hopefully it's later rather than sooner. He's going to be a tremendous loss. . . .

"He's been able to adjust from player to player and era to era. He's been able to adjust and get players to respond. He's got a tremendous presence."

He always seems to come up with ideas that keep players alert and thinking, such as occasionally moving Fedorov from center to defense or switching the sides wingers patrol.

"He's always trying to improve the game and make the lineup different and try to surprise everyone," said winger Vyacheslav Kozlov, who scored the Red Wings' first goal Thursday. "We never know what's going to happen. [Thursday] I played left and right. You have to be ready, but it works.

"He's always on the Internet and watching Swedish hockey and Russian hockey. He knows everybody. He will talk about young guys and sometimes he mentions a name and I say, 'Who is this guy?' "

Nothing seems to get past him or rattle him.

"He has a tremendous passion for the sport that has not diminished. He's as passionate and enthusiastic as when he came on board," Holland said. "To coach as long as he has, you have to have high passion and energy.

"I just think he loves the challenge. He loves to be in the battle. He loves to be under fire. . . . He's got a lot of interests, but this is his biggest interest and passion. His mind moves 100 miles an hour."

It hasn't moved far enough ahead for him to think of leaving, and he has ample incentive to stay.

The Red Wings had the NHL's second-best record and have an excellent chance to win the West. They have all the ingredients, including a cumulative 38 Cup rings among their players, to three for the Kings. But experience doesn't mean everything, as Bowman saw last spring when the Red Wings, then the two-time defending Cup champions, swept the Mighty Ducks and took a 2-0 lead over Colorado in the second round before injuries weakened them and they lost the next four games.

"In the first round I'm always concerned. Everybody has an even chance going in, then it kind of deteriorates as the series goes on," he said. "I've seen younger teams start a playoff series with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement. And we're not all old players. A lot of our forwards are quite young."

As long as Bowman is young at heart, the game will never get old.

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