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Well Oiled Gretzky, Messier turned loss into title

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DETROIT (AP) - Back before Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier became, well, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, they were a pair of budding superstars trying to shake off a loss in the Stanley Cup finals.

The next year they were champions.

A quarter-century later, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the up-and-coming Pittsburgh Penguins are striving to copy the achievement.

Dispatched in four games by the four-time champion New York Islanders in 1983, the Gretzky and Messier-led Edmonton Oilers got back to the championship series the following season.

Buoyed by experience gained from the first trip, the Oilers were ready to end the aging Islanders' run. It was over in five games, and a new dynasty was born. Edmonton reeled off five titles in seven years and took its own place in hockey history.

"For us in Edmonton in '83, losing to the Islanders was a tremendous learning curve," Messier said. "We knew we had to play better as a team in order to win. Sure enough, we got another crack at them the next year and were able to win."

For the first time since those back-to-back Islanders-Oilers series 25 years ago, the Stanley Cup finals feature a rematch.

The Detroit Red Wings brought a wealth of experience into last year's series against the fresh-faced Penguins and beat them in six games for their fourth title in 11 seasons.

Pittsburgh is poised to duplicate Edmonton's end of a dynasty by toppling the Wings in round two.

"It's all just part of the process, and the Penguins are going through that same thing right now," Messier said.

There is an adage that to learn how to win, you have to go through some losing, too. Gretzky and Messier went through four fruitless playoff runs together before they got their names etched on the Cup.

Crosby and Malkin are each in their third postseason appearance.

"There was obviously a rivalry between us and the Islanders," Gretzky said, "but we had so much respect and admiration for them as a team. More importantly, it becomes not so much about (just) Crosby and Malkin. The other players on the team have to contribute. I knew going into that playoff series that Mark was going to contribute in a big way.

"In order for Pittsburgh to have success in this series, they're going to need their role players to step up and contribute in a way that's going to be a positive factor."

The Islanders' dominance came in a short span when they won four titles in a row. Detroit's excellence has been spread out for more than a decade.

Edmonton bounced back from the series loss in '83 to steal Game 1 on the road, 1-0, the following year. It wasn't a big-name player who got the goal, but Kevin McClelland - a lower-line forward.

After a 6-1 loss in Game 2, the Oilers outscored the Islanders 19-6 over the final three games to take the series.

The seeds were planted a year before.

"After losing that first final, walking by their locker room, the one thought we had as players was: it was going to be a dreadful sight going by their locker room and watching them celebrate and having a tremendous time," Gretzky said. "As we found out ... it was pretty quiet in there.

"We sort of walked out healthy and they were beat up. We realized then and there that it takes a lot more than just wanting to win. You were going to have to earn it, and it was going to take a lot to win a Stanley Cup and be a champion. That's what we learned from the Islanders."

Pittsburgh showed signs of awe last year and was outscored 7-0 in Detroit in the opening two games. The Penguins looked more ready Saturday night, but they still came up short against the older and beat-up Red Wings 3-1 in Game 1 of the rematch.

"It would be nice to follow what Edmonton did, for sure," said Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, a Hall of Fame player and two-time Cup champion with Pittsburgh. "Similar type of team with the core guys that we have, you know, Gretz and Messier. Of course we have Malkin and Sid. Pretty much similar to the two teams the way they played."

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