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KELLEY: Red Wings get it right

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Jim Kelley

 
   
 

DETROIT

This is the stuff of NHL championships today. It's , perhaps the league's best goaltender ever, making nearly every save en route to laying claim as the first European goaltender ever to win a Stanley Cup championship. It's 41-year-old center stepping out from the goal line to make the deft past to that set up the all-important first goal. It was terribly important that the get on the board first. It's sniper finally finding the range with a deadly wrist shot that gave the Detroit a 2-0 lead en route to a 3-1 victory over a game but overmatched Carolina team. Shanahan later insured the victory with an empty net goal with 45 seconds left in regulation play. It's players like setting up Shanahan and playing a brilliant two-way game the likes of which once again made him a candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. It's defenseman , quite possibly the best defenseman in the NHL in each of the past three seasons, stepping into plays to break up Carolina passes before they ever became scoring chances. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP for his efforts. He won the respect and admiration of his teammates and a legion of hockey fans with his steady play and quiet leadership. It's players like , a sniper brought in for just this occasion and playing with Hall-of-Fame-caliber stable mates like and Pavel Datsyuk. Hull scored big goals in Games 3 and 4 in this series, but he also did all the little things like backchecking and forechecking and being responsible in the defensive zone. Maybe it didn't show on the score sheet Thursday, but the effort was not overlooked by his teammates. It's a coach like Scott Bowman, the winningest hockey coach of all time, who capped a legendary career by steering yet another team to a championship. This was Bowman's ninth time behind the bench for a Stanley Cup win and his 10th time overall (he won one as a director of player personnel in Pittsburgh). The nine wins as a coach is an NHL record and one that likely will never be broken. It's the best team in hockey going flat out from start to finish and winning everything that is to be won in what had been a seemingly unending season. A hockey season for the and the Carolina that stretched to 105 games. A season that included the joy of an Olympic competition, the tragic death of two of its family members in the World Trade Center attacks and a the demands of a playoff season that has now stretched into its third month. All hail the Detroit , the Stanley Cup is once again theirs. They both earned it and deserved it. "I thought we got better as the playoffs went along, but Carolina worked hard and they made us work for it," said Wings captain in sizing up yet another championship season. "They gave us a heck of a time. "I think this one is the best out of the three that we have won," he added. "Everyone played so well. We got stronger with each round. I know we have won three, but this is the best so far." Say what you will about the concern that the Wings may well be the best team money can buy and that their championship, their third in six years, was earned largely off the backs of millions of green dollar bills. True, they purchased a big chunk of their success in signing free agents like Hull, and Fredrik Olausson last off-season. Certainly they used their years of success and considerable economic clout in obtaining Hasek from the Buffalo in what amount to a shameless scam of a trade that was all about money (the Wings had it, the didn't) and leverage (Hasek had it, the didn't). Pine if you must for the days when teams built dynasty clubs through the draft and that a player who was drafted into that organization remained with that organization until the day he could no longer play or the day his bosses (owners?) no longer wanted him. Those days are a part of hockey's past. This team is what hockey is today. "We had some older players and we felt that this was the time to do it," said Lidstrom. "We felt some pressure, but we felt confident with the group that we had that we could accomplish something in these playoffs. I think everybody was very determined to do something good. I think everybody wanted to help the players that haven't won it before and just have a chance to be at the top again and I think that was just a big boost for everybody." Like a lot of teams, the did build a foundation through drafting, scouting and development, but like most teams that win in the NHL today, they added to that core with free agents and timely trades. The moves are expensive, but it's the price a dedicated franchise is willing to pay for winning. "I waited my whole life, my whole career and I don't even know what to say," said winger who came to the Wings last summer in the hopes of ending a career-long Stanley Cup drought. "This is such an incredible experience." "Twice I was so close," said Hasek. "It's finally happened, I'm so pleased. There is no greater experience than holding the Stanley Cup." Hasek was the biggest of the big-name players who came to the Wings this season in hopes of winning the trophy. It was the one prize that had eluded him throughout his stellar 12-year career and he was perhaps the biggest piece of the puzzle. "All I can say is that my dream came true," said Hasek. "We worked so long and so hard and to play for such a great team and a great coach. It really is a dream come true." Hasek put off any talk of retirement, something that he's expected to do in the coming days. But he did offer a hint when he said, "In my heart I want to go home to Czech Republic with my family, but I'll wait a few days to make up my mind." Hasek said he felt all along that the Wings were the best team but that they were truly tested in this run, especially by Colorado (a win in seven games) and Carolina (losers in five, but with a creditable effort every time out). "It was so hard and the game was so close for so long," Hasek said. "It was very difficult emotionally. When scored that third goal I was very happy, but I looked at the clock and their was still 45 seconds left and I had to tell myself to try to stay focused for that time." Hasek and the rest of the Wings were pretty much focused for a very long time. All totaled they played 105 games en route to winning the Cup. They weren't all as grueling as the last half dozen or so, but Hasek said it was what made this championship one to savor. "You have to work so hard to win," he said. "I'm glad we won. I'm also glad it's over, I'm very tired, but my dream came true. This wouldn't have happened for me had I not been traded from Buffalo. I am glad I asked for that trade. I made the right decision in June, one year ago, asking the to trade me to Detroit. I made a good decision. I'm so thankful to this organization that they could make it (happen)." It's difficult to project where the will go from here. While the Carolina team can take pride in just getting to the Finals for the first time in franchise history and build on that, the Wings were expected to win. They were built for this moment and in the days and weeks to follow, they will face questions about their future. With Bowman stepping down, Hasek likely to follow, Yzerman likely to have knee surgery and 15 players 30 years old or older, there's no guarantee that the can go the way of the great dynasty teams of the past. In today's NHL, however, tomorrow is a problem for another day. The goal is to win and to win now and unlike a lot of teams that try to spend their way to the top, the — this year at least — did it right. On a night when they were seemingly destined to realize their dream, they did so. The players that were here and the players that were brought here realized their goal. They came together to become the best team in the National Hockey League and whatever happens after that is best left for another time. It is the way of the world in the NHL today and the were only to happy to pay that price. Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Sabres, Red Wings, Hurricanes, Dominik Hasek, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brendan Shanahan, Tomas Holmstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Luc Robitaille, Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull

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