Volume 92, Issue 4
Friday, June 5, 1998
george likes his chicken spicy
A hero's welcome, playoff style
The 1998 Stanley Cup Playoffs have provided plenty of drama for the spectators this spring. Starting with first round upsets and moving on to goaltender battles in the second and third rounds. The league has maintained its initiative of cracking down on obstruction, opening up the game for the skilled players and allowing for a faster game in general.
However, all these playoff teams are missing one key ingredient that would put them over the top and secure them as outright favourites. They need a lion-hearted defenseman that can hit, score and will do whatever it takes.
The Buffalo Sabres have a talentless corps of defenders with Dominik Hasek likely their best. Same could be said about the Washington Capitals but at least they have Sergei Gonchar and Phil Housley to put the puck in the net and they are complimented by a physical supporting cast.
The Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings can go six deep along their blue line but even they do not have a warrior to be counted on in all situations. Derian Hatcher and Sergei Zubov have led the attack on many nights for the Stars but when one is leading the other seems to take the night off. And yes, Nicholas Lidstrom put up Norris Trophy numbers during the regular season and Larry Murphy has complimented him well in the playoffs. Still, they cannot replace the presence of injured rear guard Vladamir Konstantinov.
Konstantinov, injured days after the Wings victory in 1997, has been a key ingredient missing from Detroit's attack. Having been involved in a car accident, Konstantinov was seriously injured and is now trying to recover from near fatal brain trauma.
The physical, determined presence he brought to the ice has been sorely missed by the Wings throughout the regular season and especially during the playoffs. They tried to make up for his loss by bringing in two defensemen at the trading deadline. Offensive minded Dimitri Mironov and lead footed Jamie Macoun, were two brought in to do the job of one.
Konstantinov led by example. He would drop in front of shots and never feared going into the corners it actually gave him a rise. The more physical he was, the more he became involved at the defensive end and this would lead directly to increased offensive output. Konstantinov was a catalyst for the Wings and his presence cannot be replaced.
The saddest part of his inability to play this year is the lack of respect shown to him and his family by the National Hockey League. Prior to last Sunday's game four in Detroit, Konstantinov was not allowed onto the ice prior to the game because league and Dallas officials felt it would give the Wing's an unfair advantage.
Dallas should thank their lucky stars that Konstantinov is not in the line-up because the series would be a much different story.
It was nice to see that this classlessness did not ruin the Konstantinov's special moment for hockey fans in Detroit and around the globe as he was introduced to the crowd and received a two minute standing ovation, with players from both teams' enthusiastically banging the boards in support of a fallen friend and warrior.
In the end, Konstantinov's presence during the middle of the period probably helped Detroit more than if he were introduced before the game, making it that much more special. But isn't that the way of a warrior make an impact when they least expect it. Good luck Vlady!
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