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Flyers, Hawks have bad memories of last Final trip

by John Kreiser
Talk about a pair of bad trips.

When the Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks face off on Saturday night in Game 1 of this year's Stanley Cup Final, they'll both be trying to erase the memories of their last trip to the championship round.

Neither one ended well; in fact, they both ended in sweeps -- the Blackhawks in 1992 to Pittsburgh and the Flyers to Detroit five years later.

The 1992 Blackhawks were a team on a roll entering the Final against Pittsburgh. They had won 11 consecutive games -- the last three of their first-round series against St. Louis and back-to-back sweeps of Detroit and Edmonton to advance to their first Final since 1973. The defending champion Penguins had a streak of their own, having won seven-straight games to get back to the Final.

The sellout crowd at Civic Arena in Pittsburgh was stunned when the Hawks jumped to an early 3-0 lead on goals by Chris Chelios, Michel Goulet and Dirk Graham in the first 13:43. Phil Bourque got the Penguins on the board late in the period, but Brent Sutter's goal midway through the second period restored Chicago's three-goal lead.

But instead of savoring a victory, the 'Hawks wound up as the first team since 1944 to blow a three-goal lead in a Final game. Rick Tocchet and Mario Lemieux got the Penguins within one goal by the end of the period, Jaromir Jagr scored a spectacular goal, weaving through five 'Hawks before beating Ed Belfour with 4:55 left in regulation to tie it, and Lemieux beat Belfour during a power play with 13 seconds to play for the winner.

"To give it to them is inexcusable," Chicago coach Mike Keenan said afterward. "We didn't deserve to win. To relinquish a 4-1 lead, there's no excuse for it."

Lemieux was the hero again in Game 2, scoring two more goals in a 3-1 victory. Game 3 back at Chicago Stadium was a defensive battle, with Tom Barrasso stopping all 27 shots he faced to make Kevin Stevens' first-period goal stand up for a 1-0 victory.

"It was like the old days; that's how they won games in the '30s and '40s," Lemieux said.

Game 4 was almost the complete opposite of its predecessor. Graham had a hat trick in the first period, but the Penguins also scored three times to send the teams off the ice all even at intermission. They were tied 4-4 after two periods, but Pittsburgh's Ron Francis and Larry Murphy scored in the third as the Penguins, having snapped Chicago's winning streak at 11 by winning the opener, extended their own streak to 11 by completing the sweep.

When it ended, many of the 18,472 fans at Chicago Stadium remained to cheer while the teams shook hands and the Penguins hoisted the Cup high above their heads.

"We gave them a lot of memories," Graham said of the fans. "I just wish we would have given them the memory we were looking for."

Unlike the '92 Hawks, the 1997 Flyers started their last trip to the Final at home, with the Detroit Red Wings visiting the brand-new CoreStates (now Wachovia) Center. Detroit had not won a Cup in 42 years and had been swept in the Final by New Jersey two years earlier. Both teams were seeded third in their conference, but the favored Flyers had home-ice edge, an emerging star in Eric Lindros, who centered a high-scoring line with John LeClair and Mikael Renberg, and a big size advantage on the Wings.

That quickly went for naught, as the Wings stunned the Flyers and their fans with a 4-2 win in Game 1, going ahead to stay on a breakaway goal by Joey Kocur and getting a key insurance goal when Ron Hextall missed a long slap shot by Steve Yzerman 56 seconds into the third period.

"We gave up a real soft goal," coach Terry Murray said. "We've got to have those stops."

Of the team, Murray added, "That's as poor as we've played in a month and a half."

Murray changed goaltenders for Game 2, giving Garth Snow the start, but the result was the same -- a 4-2 Detroit win that saw Kirk Maltby break a 2-2 tie early in the second period by scoring on another shot from just inside the blue line.

"He came down the wing," Snow told the media afterward. "There was a little bit of a screen. But If I'm on the top of my game, I guess I make the stop."

Brendan Shanahan's second goal of the night wrapped up the win and sent the Wings home with a 2-0 series lead.

John LeClair gave the Flyers an early lead in Game 3 with a power-play goal, but the Wings ran off six in a row for a 6-1 victory. Nicklas Lidstrom and Darren McCarty scored in Game 4, and Eric Lindros' goal with 15 seconds left in regulation wasn't enough to keep the Flyers from being swept.

"They beat us four straight," a heartbroken Lindros said. "I didn't think that could happen."

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