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STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS | THE NHL / HELENE ELLIOTT

Hawerchuk and Yzerman Chasing a Common Goal

June 03, 1997|HELENE ELLIOTT

PHILADELPHIA — Dale Hawerchuk of the Philadelphia Flyers and Steve Yzerman of the Detroit Red Wings share several distinctions.

Both are centers, both have scored 100 or more points in a season six times, both have scored more than 500 goals in their careers--they reached that milestone within two weeks of each other in January, 1996--and both have skated in relative obscurity because they are steady rather than flashy.

Hawerchuk, who ranks 10th in lifetime points with 1,409, and Yzerman, who ranks 15th with 1,340, also share an unwelcome distinction: Neither has his name on the Stanley Cup.

Yzerman is one victory closer than Hawerchuk, thanks to the Red Wings' 4-2 win Saturday in Game 1 of the finals, but Hawerchuk can pull even if the Flyers win tonight at the CoreStates Center. Each is determined to make the most of a chance relatively late in his career.

For Yzerman, 32, this is a second opportunity. But he remembers the disappointment of being swept by the New Jersey Devils in 1995 and being upset by Colorado in last year's Western Conference finals too well to be elated about the Red Wings' lead. He's controlling his emotions tightly, perhaps to avoid being deflated again.

"That's not just from two years ago," said Yzerman, who scored Detroit's final goal Saturday and has five goals and 10 points in 17 playoff games. "In 1995 and '96 we played a lot of close games and overtime games in losing in the finals and semifinals. You learn one game doesn't really mean a lot. You feel pretty good about being up, 1-0, but I fully expect the Flyers to play a stronger game and for [Game 2] to be a tougher game."

Hawerchuk, 34, has been hampered by a hip injury and has only two goals and seven points in 15 playoff games. But he can't hold back, because this is the closest he has come to the Cup in 16 seasons and he may not get here again.

"I really feel for him," teammate Mikael Renberg said. "He told me when we advanced to the semifinals that he had never advanced that far, and I couldn't believe it because he's such a big star. You think about that, and you've got to appreciate that you're here and be happy about it."

Hawerchuk is happy, but only to an extent.

"Early in my career, so many years we were knocked out by Edmonton or Calgary," said Hawerchuk, who was drafted by Winnipeg first overall in 1981 and was a Jet through 1990. "You've really got to appreciate how difficult it was to get here."

It won't get any easier for the Flyers, who will make several lineup changes today in an effort to jolt their offense and strengthen their forechecking. Hawerchuk, who had been playing with Rod Brind'Amour and Dainius Zubrus, will instead center for rookie left wing Colin Forbes and streaky right wing Pat Falloon.

"I'm sure [Forbes] will be excited and maybe that will rub off on everybody," Hawerchuk said. "There's always adjustments in the playoffs. It's all in how you rebound [from adversity]. We've done it before and we can do it again."

TALL TALE

With the Flyers averaging more than 6 feet tall and over 200 pounds--and the Red Wings close to that in both categories--the trend toward bigger players will accelerate. Red Wing Coach Scotty Bowman believes that as hockey interest increases in the United States, so will the supply of brawn.

"It's a big country and hockey is attracting bigger athletes," Bowman said. "That's what Bob Johnson [the late University of Wisconsin and Pittsburgh Penguin coach] always thought, that hockey had to start attracting people like John Elway.

"There's Rollerblading now, which is good. Before, if you didn't skate until you were 8 or 9, you couldn't play. Now, you Rollerblade and you can make the transition. Players are coming out of places they weren't coming out of before."

END OF DYNASTIES?

Whichever team wins the Cup will be part of an esoteric historical note.

There hasn't been a repeat winner since the Pittsburgh Penguins won in 1991 and 1992, matching the longest nonrepeat streak since the NHL assumed control of the Cup in 1926.

Starting with Pittsburgh's 1992 triumph, this year's winner will be the sixth team to get its name on the Cup. The previous longest streak ran from 1931-36, when the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Maroons and Detroit Red Wings each reigned for one season.

The dynasties that once dominated the NHL may be extinct, ended by rising salaries and the dispersal of talent through expansion.

"They'll be expensive, and there's the draft system [to spread talent around]," Bowman said. "Some of these younger teams, like Ottawa and the Islanders, if you click along with your draft picks and miss the playoffs for five years, you get a lot of good picks. Even Philadelphia got a No. 1 pick in [Eric] Lindros, even though he was Quebec's No. 1 pick [in 1991]. But the Flyers had to have the assets to do that trade."

IT'S A SMALL WORLD

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