Scotty Bowman kept his secret as long as he could and the best team money could buy made sure his last game as coach won him a Stanley Cup championship.
"I made up my mind in February that this was going to be my last year," said Bowman, who announced his retirement after the Detroit Red Wings finished off the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-1, to clinch the best-of-seven series Thursday night in front of a sellout crowd of 20,058 at Joe Louis Arena. "In other years, I was never sure, but after the Olympic break, I knew it was time."
Brendan Shanahan scored two goals, Steve Yzerman had two assists and Dominik Hasek made 16 saves for the Red Wings, who defeated the Hurricanes in five games and gave Bowman his ninth Stanley Cup championship as a coach, which moved him ahead of his mentor Toe Blake for the most in NHL history.
"I have had a career that I never thought I'd ever have, and it means a lot for me to leave on a winning note," said Bowman, 68, the only coach to register more than 1,000 victories in the regular season and playoffs combined.
For the Red Wings, Thursday's victory completes a dream season, especially for veterans such as Hasek, Luc Robitaille and Steve Duchesne, who played on a Stanley Cup championship team for the first time.
Detroit and its $65-million payroll dominated the league from start to finish. The Red Wings won the President's Trophy for having the best record during the regular season and went 16-7 in the playoffs.
After losing Game 1 at home to Carolina in the finals, Detroit won four in a row to win its third Stanley Cup title in six years and 10th in franchise history.
"We should be up there with some of the greatest teams," said Red Wing defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player of the playoffs.
"I think looking back at last summer when we got ... some really talented players. It was just a matter of getting everything working together as a team and as a group. That clicked right away. I thought that first week in the regular season we played as a team and we have been doing that throughout the whole regular season, and that carried through the playoffs as well."
After a scoreless first period, the Red Wings broke the game open in the second.
Winger Tomas Holmstrom knocked in his first goal of the series on a gritty score from in front of the net. Holmstrom, who has a history of scoring big goals in the playoffs, was in the right spot to score off an assist from Igor Larionov at 4:07.
With nearly 11 minutes remaining in the period, fans at Joe Louis Arena began to chant "Hasek, Hasek, Hasek" after the Detroit goaltender stopped several point-blank chances by the Hurricanes.
Carolina's Bates Battaglia seemed primed to tie the score with a wide-open shot from the slot, but Hasek was able to recover in time to make the save, which prompted the cheers.
Minutes after Hasek's save on Battaglia, the Red Wings stretched their lead to 2-0 when Shanahan scored on a power play at 14:04. The key to the score was a pass from Sergei Fedorov, who found Shanahan open inside the right circle. The veteran winger beat Carolina goalie Arturs Irbe with his second goal of the series and seventh of the playoffs.
Shanahan, however, also played a role in Carolina's goal. With Detroit playing with a man-advantage, Shanahan picked up a tripping penalty and was still in the box when the Hurricanes' Jeff O'Neill scored a power-play goal with 1:10 remaining in the period to cut Detroit's lead to 2-1.
Over the final 20 minutes, Detroit did not give Carolina much room to work. Shanahan clinched the victory, scoring an empty-net goal with 45 seconds remaining.
"For the most part, we played with them," Carolina captain Ron Francis said. "We played them hard. If we had a couple of breaks early in the series, there may have been a different outcome. But they are a great team. They are deep with a ton of skill and a lot of playoff experience. You just don't rattle them."
A huge part of the Red Wings' success was the play of Hasek, who will finally get his name on the Stanley Cup after losing in the finals with Buffalo in 1999.
"I chose this organization for two things," said Hasek, who is considering retirement. "Because I believed that this team, with my help, was good enough to be the best in the NHL; and the other thing was because I wanted to go to the city where the people like hockey.
"When Brendan Shanahan scored that third goal, I was so thrilled. So happy. I tried to stay focused for the final seconds left.... I have never seen such an exciting building like this for a final minute of the game."
For Bowman, it was a perfect ending to a Hall of Fame career.
"The thing that I probably enjoy more than the 10 Cups, nine as a coach and the other as a director of personnel, is that I never got fired as a coach," said Bowman, the league's all-time leader for most wins in the Stanley Cup finals with 36.
"I think that's my proudest moment.... I feel good about that."