Wings look to get leg (or 8) up on Devils STANLEY CUP FINALS


DETROIT -- The day before the Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils were to square off for the Stanley Cup, the first thing anyone wanted to talk about was octopuses. This, despite the fact that the Red Wings haven't won the Cup in 40 years and the Devils have come within sight of it for the first time in 21 years despite talk of their moving to Nashville, Tenn.

Detroit captain Steve Yzerman asked fans coming to Game 1 tonight at Joe Louis Arena to show "a little restraint" when throwing octopuses on the ice.

"We're thrilled with the tradition," Yzerman said. "We enjoy the tradition and the excitement that it brings, but it's grown and grown and almost gotten out of hand, causing long delays. It's gotten to be a concern of the teams and players.

"If the enthusiasm could just be tempered a little bit, because it is affecting the quality of the game, the quality of the ice."

Fans hurled more than 30 octopuses after Detroit goals during the semifinal series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The tradition started in 1952, when there were six NHL teams and two playoff rounds. A fan who owned a fish and poultry market, noting that it took eight victories to win the Cup, decided that because an octopus had eight legs, he should throw one on the ice during a game.

Yesterday, Yzerman wasn't sure how the fans should show their restraint, unless, he said, "They just participated in a group toss at the beginning, when the refs step on the ice."

New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur said he will try to help the Red Wings out, too.

"Those octopi only fly when they score," he said. "So we'll try not to let them score."

Which brings everyone back to the series, which should boil down to whether the multi-talented Detroit offense can beat New Jersey's trapping defense.

"Everyone wants to talk about their trapping defense," said Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman. "But what about their offense? What about their speed? Look at them. They outshoot everyone they play. They outscore almost everyone they play. That defense is designed to set up their offense."

And Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko, a 12-year veteran who, like the franchise he plays for, is experiencing his first Stanley Cup final, was insulted when the words "trapping defense" were mentioned.

"A year ago, everyone said our semifinal series with the New York Rangers was the greatest series ever played," he said, recalling the series the Devils lost in overtime in Game 7. "No one was talking about our trapping defense then. And the funny thing is, I've never heard the word trap used in our locker room by anyone, ever.

"It's offensive to us. But, hey, we're here, so people can say what they want."

Daneyko said that the Devils might be called counter-punchers, but even that, he said, doesn't describe them.

"I don't know what the heck you'd call what we do," he said. "We do play patient and wait for our chances -- we're certainly not going to get in a run-and-gun showdown with a team like Detroit. But we don't slow down the game. We're just a hard-checking, solid team that doesn't make many mistakes."

Detroit doesn't make many mistakes, either. And the Red Wings also know how to play defense. They have lost only two playoff games -- none at home -- en route to the finals.

"If everyone on our club plays good hockey, no one has to play great," said Red Wings defenseman Paul Coffey, who gave little away when asked what Detroit has to do to beat New Jersey.

"We're more concerned about our hockey club instead of theirs," he said. "We know they're very disciplined and that they try to force mistakes. We want to limit our mistakes. We're well prepared. We stayed very patient against Chicago, and we expect to do the same thing now. This is the Stanley Cup finals and you have to put your nose to the grindstone."

Added Bowman: "When you spend a lot of time trying to beat [the trap], thinking about how to beat it, the slower you get."

In fact, Bowman suggested his own defense shouldn't be overlooked in this series. At the start of the season, the six-time Stanley Cup champion coach showed his players the door and said anyone who didn't want to play defense should leave.

"It's the biggest difference," he said of the team that gave up the second fewest goals in the regular season (117). "You've got to get your great offensive players to play defense, too. We got that commitment. More defense from everyone has made the difference . . . the pendulum has swung a little bit to keeping the puck out of the net and playing more of a team style."

The Devils face Detroit for the first time in this lockout-shortened season, and it will be a much different challenge from what New Jersey saw against Eastern Conference rivals Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. There will be no ganging up on the Red Wings' big men.

"There won't be the kind of one-on-one battles that you saw in our other series," said defenseman Scott Stevens, the former Washington Capital who closed down the Philadelphia Flyers' Eric Lindros. "Detroit has all its players spread out, which makes them much harder to contain."




(Best of seven)

Tonight: at Detroit, 8, Fox

Tuesday: at Detroit, 8, ESPN

Thursday: at New Jersey, 8, ESPN

June 24: at New Jersey, 8, Fox

June 26: at Detroit, 8*, ESPN

June 28: at N. Jersey, 7:30*, ESPN

June 30: at Detroit, 8*, Fox

*-If necessary

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