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'92 Wings overcame deep series hole

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – Only three teams in the history of the NHL have come back from three games down to win a Stanley Cup playoff series. The Red Wings are not one of them.

Yet while the Wings can’t claim such a monumental series victory, they can boast a pair of comeback wins when starting down 1-3 in the last 24 years.

And similarly to the current team’s dilemma against the San Jose Sharks, former Wings goaltender Tim Cheveldae vividly recalls such a scenario – an uphill challenge against the Minnesota North Stars in the 1992 Norris Division semifinals.

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The first time that the Wings came back from a 1-3 series deficit was in the 1987 division semifinals against Toronto.
After losing the first two games at home, the Wings split the next two at the Met Center in Bloomington, Minn., and faced elimination in Game 5 at Joe Louis Arena. The Wings won that game, as well as the two that followed, to advance to the division finals against Chicago.

“In all fairness, the turnaround to that series was probably in winning Game 3,” said Cheveldae, who had shutouts in Games 5 and 6. “You lose your first two games at home and you’re on a little bit of a downer.”

Defenseman Yves Racine provided some momentum for the Wings when he scored in overtime, lifting Detroit to a 5-4 win in Game 3.

“I think Game 3 was huge, because I think only two teams back then had come back from a three-game deficit,” Cheveldae said. “The snowball would have been going in the wrong direction, and it would have been hard to change the momentum.”

Despite the North Stars’ 5-4 win in Game 4, Cheveldae said the Wings were still feeling confident about their chances to win the series.

“Even though we lost Game 4,” he said, “we had a little momentum in winning Game 3 and felt good that we were coming back for a Game 5 at Joe Louis.”

Following their 3-0 win in Game 5, the Wings were faced with a second straight elimination game – this time back at the Met Center. And for the second time in the series – just like the Wings-Sharks series now – a game went to OT, where Sergei Fedorov broke a scoreless time, forcing a Game 7 with a controversial goal that only stood after referee Rob Shick ordered a video replay.

“Obviously any break here or there would have changed everything,” Cheveldae said. “I was recently talking to my wife about it when Sergei scored the goal, it was the first year that they had video review. And I think only two guys on the team knew that it had gone in, so we were sure and we were just waiting.”

Fedorov skated into the North Stars’ zone and around defenseman Chris Dahlquist before snapping a shot under Jon Casey’s right arm. At first glance, it looked like the puck struck the crossbar, but in reality the puck hit the back bar and ricocheted out of the net as fast as it entered it.

“If they didn’t have video replay they probably wouldn’t have counted the goal and then you don’t know how it would have turned out,” Cheveldae said.

For Mike Modano, who was in his fourth season with the North Stars at the time, he knew how the series was turning out. It was quickly becoming a Sergei Fedorov show.

“Sergei took over the series,” Modano said. “He just took it over in the last two or three games and I think they had gotten a couple of guys back from injury, so they just took off. They came to the Met Center (in Game 6) and just rolled us over.

“They’re top guys just got more involved in the last couple of games, just like Pav and Z have done for us now.”

Meanwhile, Cheveldae was responsible for keeping the Wings in Game 6 with several clutch saves, particularly on quality scoring chances by Brian Bellows, Dave Gagner and Neal Broten.

“They had a couple of players. I wouldn’t call them a real super scoring team,” Cheveldae said. “They had Modano and Gagner and Bellows. They had a few guys, but they weren’t the Pittsburgh Penguins of the early 90s, and I don’t think they had the same fire-power that we had, either.”

Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom was just a Wings rookie that spring. And the six-time Norris Trophy winner believes that the Wings are taking the same approach to this series as they did 19 years ago.

“I just remember we were taking it a shift at a time, and that’s what we’re doing now, too,” said Lidstrom, who had a goal and two assists in the ’92 playoffs. “We’re just getting ready for the next period and the next shift. We can’t look too far ahead, and we’ve been able to do that so far. That’s going to be our approach coming into Game 6, as well.”

The all-or-nothing Game 7 in Detroit was also shrouded in controversy. With the Wings leading 4-0 early in the third period, Cheveldae was penalized for not having enough tape on the butt-end of his goalie stick. Unfortunately, his penalty was piggybacked another Wings’ minor infraction that gave Minnesota a two-minute 5-on-3 power play.

The North Stars managed to score once on the two-man advantage, but the thought of the Wings possibly losing the series because of his inaction, still brings back bad memories for Cheveldae.

“Imagine if they score two goals on that and they come back and win it,” said Cheveldae, who had shut-out streak of more than 188-minutes come to an end when Bellows scored in the third period.

“That would have been an unfortunate way to lose it because you didn’t have enough tape on the end of your stick,” he said.

The Wings went on to face the Blackhawks, who swept the Wings in four straight games in the division finals.

For Cheveldae, who lives near Saskatoon and still cheers for his old team, don’t count out this group of Red Wings.

“They’re a veteran group. They’ve won the Stanley Cup. They’ve been through these types of situations before,” he said. “They don’t panic, which must make them feel good about themselves.

“My big concern for them, however, is how healthy are some of their star players? How healthy are Datsyuk and Franzen? But you just take it one game at a time and worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes.”

And if they do, the Wings can align themselves with the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1975 New York Islanders and 2010 Philadelphia Flyers in the annals of NHL history.
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