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Blues Can Eliminate Favored Red Wings in Game 6

May 14, 1996

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ One game away from eliminating the Detroit Red Wings, the St. Louis Blues aren’t exactly overconfident.

``One goal in any of these last three games could have changed everything,″ forward Craig MacTavish said. ``If we give up one more goal, it turns their effort into a Picasso and ours into a 2-year-old’s art work.

``We can’t get too excited, because they could have very easily won any one of these (last) three games.″

The Blues have won three straight _ all one-goal games _ to take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 tonight. After spotting the Red Wings the first two games, including an 8-3 rout in Game 2, the Blues have won 5-4 in overtime, 1-0 and 3-2.

Now they’re a game away from advancing to the conference finals for the first time in a decade. A week ago after Game 2, popular opinion had the Blues hopelessly buried.

``When we left here a week ago, everyone was jumping on our back and saying we were done,″ MacTavish said. ``One week and three close games later, everyone loves us and thinks the Red Wings are done.

``They can bounce back just as fast as we did.″

Maybe faster. The Red Wings, after all, set an NHL record with 62 victories in the regular season. They lost consecutive games only once, in early October. They hadn’t lost three in a row since getting swept by the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup finals last year.

``Our team is still confident,″ Detroit coach Scotty Bowman said. ``It’s hard to believe, but it’s still true.″

So are the Blues. After a sub-.500 regular season capped by a 1-7-4 finish, they’re playing some of their best hockey of the year.

Mike Keenan put together this collection of mostly aging stars in a season-long swirl of roster moves. He has the oldest team in the NHL _ average age 30.55 years. His prize acquisition, Wayne Gretzky, was criticized as the ``Gray One″ by a writer after slumping late in the first round against Toronto and early in the Detroit series.

But Keenan likes the playoff experience this group brings to the team. There are 33 Stanley Cup rings on the Blues’ roster. Glenn Anderson leads with six, Charlie Huddy has five and Gretzky and MacTavish four apiece.

So no, this scenario is not beyond Keenan’s wildest dreams. He said Monday it all revolves around Gretzky, who’s suddenly a force again with the lone goal in Game 4 and a goal and assist in Game 5.

Gretzky leads the NHL with 13 assists in the playoffs and is among the scoring leaders with 15 points.

``I don’t know if I’d describe my feelings as shock,″ Keenan said. ``Not at all. You can never be shocked when you have Wayne Gretzky on your team.

``When you put him on a team in special circumstances, it brings out the best in everyone.″

Since their last appearance in the conference finals in 1986, the Blues have had five coaches and have made it to the second round only four times, the latest in 1993.

If they get there again, defense and mistake-free play will be the reason. The Blues had only two minor penalties in Game 5 and their defense has constantly forced the speedier Red Wings to the outside for mostly low-percentage shots.

In Game 5, the Red Wings had a 39-21 advantage in shots that only sounded impressive. It didn’t mean a whole lot to Steve Yzerman, who has no points the last two games after getting five goals in Games 2 and 3; Paul Coffey, who has been shut out for two games; and Sergei Fedorov, who hasn’t scored since the game-winner in Game 1.

``I don’t know if rattled is the right word, but everybody was in here discussing what we’ve got to do,″ Yzerman said.

Goaltender Jon Casey, another of the Blues’ golden oldies, has a lot to do with that. In the final minute of Game 5, with Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood out for an extra attacker, Casey stopped Fedorov twice from the side of the net.

He knows it could have easily gone the other way, just like the other two Blues’ victories.

``We have a job to do yet,″ Casey said. ``It’s certainly not done. We can’t get over-confident or happy or satisfied with what we’ve done to this point.″

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