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Yzerman, Red Wings Continue Search for Elusive Stanley Cup

February 07, 1996|From Bloomberg

Detroit, Feb. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Steve Yzerman has scored 503 goals in the National Hockey League. But there's one goal that's eluded the Detroit Red Wings' center during his 13-year career --a Stanley Cup championship.

"That's really the only thing that I would like to accomplish before I retire," said the Red Wings' captain. "Some of my friends -- (New York Rangers forwards) Joey Kocur and Adam Graves -- have had the opportunity of winning a Stanley Cup. I'm very envious of them."

Yzerman and the Red Wings had the opportunity to hoist hockey's most coveted trophy in last season's final, but were outplayed by the New Jersey Devils in a four-game sweep.

Detroit is well on its way of reaching the finals again in hopes of ending their 41-year Stanley Cup drought -- the NHL's longest current span between championships. Their league-leading 36-9-4 record is six points better than their 33-11-4 overall mark in 1995.

But the Red Wings had to learn the hard way that regular season wins don't mean much in the postseason.

"Our mission will start come playoff time," said All-Star defenseman Paul Coffey, owner of four Stanley Cup rings. "The regular season has been kind of a formality for our hockey team."

Coffey remembers the Devils, who finished 18 points behind Detroit last season, but lost only four games in the playoffs.

Detroit's disappointing 1995 campaign was similar to the plight of the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers. The so-called Broad Street Bullies finished the regular season with a league-low 12 losses and a 25-point edge over the New York Islanders, who upset the Flyers in the finals.

The Red Wings feel they've learned from last season's lesson and hope to follow a different path than the Flyers.

"That experience from last year will never go away," said Sergei Fedorov, who leads Detroit this season with 21 goals and 35 assists.

Other players, like goaltender Chris Osgood, look at it differently.

"Last year wasn't as big of a letdown as it seemed." said Osgood, who watched most of the 1995 playoffs from the bench as Mike Vernon's backup. "We had a good year. We were just disappointed because we tried so hard and we went so far."

The Red Wings' stumbling block came in the form of a bigger, stronger Eastern Conference foe. In fact, six of the team's nine losses this season have come to east coast competition.

Yzerman, a seven-time All-Star and five-time 50-goal scorer, says size isn't the deciding factor in games against eastern opponents. It's the conference's tight-checking style of play that really makes the difference.

"That's something that we had a difficult time with against New Jersey last year," Yzerman admitted. "Hopefully we can get back (to the finals) again and we can see how we match up against the best in the East."

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