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STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS / SPECIAL PULLOUT SECTION

D-Days

Detroit Has Two Stanley Cups, Dallas Has the Numbers, Now It's Proving Time as Playofs Open

April 21, 1999|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Detroit Red Wings would like to break one of their playoff patterns--without changing the final result.

Each of the last two seasons, they fell behind in their first-round series but rallied to move on and eventually win the Stanley Cup. In 1997, they lost their opener against St. Louis but went on to win in six games; last season they fell behind Phoenix, 2-1, before finishing off the Coyotes in six games.

Another slow start would be tempting fate, according to Barry Smith, one of the Red Wings' associate coaches. He believes the competition in the West this spring is too good for the Red Wings to spend energy on erasing an early deficit.

"The most dangerous thing is to say, 'We can start slowly because we can come back,' " Smith said. "I was in Pittsburgh [as an assistant coach] when we won two in a row, and the third team [in 1993] was the best, but we played the Islanders, who had just beaten Washington, and we fell behind and never woke up. And the next thing we knew, we lost in seven."

The Red Wings, trying to become the first team to win the Cup three consecutive years since the Islanders won four from 1980-83, begin their Cup defense tonight against the Mighty Ducks at Joe Louis Arena. They are not a consensus favorite to repeat because the Dallas Stars so thoroughly dominated the West, setting franchise records with 51 victories and 114 points.

"Dallas is still the main favorite," Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. "They won the most regular-season games, so of course, they should be the favorite."

The Stars won their second successive Presidents' Trophy for compiling the league's best record, and for the first time won the Jennings Trophy, for compiling the lowest team goals-against average. They felt slighted when Colorado and Detroit drew attention with major trades, and they're determined to silence anyone who doubts them because of their past playoff failures.

"We've waited all year for this," Coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish in the regular season."

In the East, New Jersey overtook Ottawa for the top record in the conference with a late 5-1 surge. The Devils no longer play as tight or dull a defensive game under Coach Robbie Ftorek as they did under Jacques Lemaire, and they have shown surprising offensive depth. The Senators upset the Devils last spring before losing to eventual conference champion Washington in the second round.

Four series start today, with the remaining four to begin Thursday. Series are best of seven.

Quest for the Cup

Paul Kariya, below, has rebounded from an injury-marred season to lead the Mighty Ducks into the Stanley Cup playoffs beginning tonight in Detroit.

Kariya missed 28 games last season after a concussion, but this year he's the league's third-best scorer.

* Tonight's game: 4:30 p.m. at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena.

* TV-Radio: Channel 9, XTRA (AM 690)

* The Series: Best of seven, so first team to win four games advances to the next round. Game 2 is Friday in Detroit, with Game 3 at the Pond Sunday afternoon.

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