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Stanley Cup Finals start Tuesday

DETROIT, June 3 (UPI) -- The Stanley Finals begin Tuesday and those who view them as little more than a coronation of the Detroit Red Wings are dismissing the remarkable run of the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Red Wings waltzed to the Presidents' Trophy with a roster that features future Hall of Famers at virtually every position and humbled the defending champion Colorado Avalanche, 7-0, in the decisive seventh game of the Western Conference finals.

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The Hurricanes got to the playoffs by winning what many refer to as the Southleast Division, playing in a region where No. 88 belongs to Dale Jarrett, not Eric Lindros, and the team sports season ends with college basketbal's March Madness.

But Carolina turned out to be the bracket buster this year. After ousting the two-time defending Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils, the Hurricanes pushed aside hockey's most storied teams --the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs.

"I think as a team and as an organization and as a city, we want to continue to make steps in the right direction. And I think we're starting to do that the last couple of years," Hurricanes captain Ron Francis said. "Certainly, the more success we have, the more respect we'll get."

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The Red Wings don't have to be convinced of the threat posed by an upstart team like Carolina. Seven years ago, Detroit was expected to toy with the Devils, but New Jersey stunned the Red Wings with a four-game sweep.

Since then, Detroit has reeled off eight straight wins in the Stanley Cup Finals. And while it's taken four years to get back to this spot, the Red Wings boast one of the most formidable arsenals since the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Owner Michael Ilitch, the pizza baron, has spared no expense in putting together a Detroit team with as many as nine future Hall of Famers. Carolina's Peter Karmanos is much more fiscally conservative, letting former captain Keith Primeau hold out two years ago before trading him to Philadelphia.

There's no love lost between Ilitch and Karmanos, a Detroit computer services magnate. Seven years ago, Ilitch abruptly terminated the lease Karmanos' junior team had at Joe Louis Arena. Karmanos moved the team to suburban Auburn Hills, then ruffled feathers in the Little Caesar's empire when he toyed with the idea of having the Hartford Whalers join them there.

Karmanos insists it was nothing personal when his Hurricanes signed Red Wings holdout Sergei Fedorov to a $38 million offer sheet in February 1998 that forced Ilitch to pay the talented Russian $26 million in a four-month span.

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While many Red Wings will end up in the Hall of Fame, their coach is already there. No coach has won as many Stanley Cups as the eight captured by Scotty Bowman.

At 68, Bowman is the NHL's oldest coach. Behind the Hurricanes' bench is 35-year-old Paul Maurice, the league's youngest coach, although he ranks just behind Bowman in terms of tenure with his current team.

Both teams boast captains approaching 40 years old who are among the greatest players in NHL history. Francis is fifth on the all-time list with 1,624 points, 10 ahead of Yzerman. Both are quiet leaders seeking their third Stanley Cup ring.

A championship would be the first for either starting goaltender -- Dominik Hasek of the Red Wings via the Czech Republic or Arturs Irbe of the Hurricanes via Latvia. One will become the first European-born and trained goalie to capture the Stanley Cup.

Carolina figures to employ the same stifling, defensive system that frustrated New Jersey, wore down Montreal and limited Toronto to six goals in a six-game series. Despite a benching that carried into the Canadiens' series, Irbe boasts a league-leading 1.41 goals-against average.

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But none of the three teams vanquished by the Hurricanes had nearly the array of weapons at Bowman's disposal. Detroit possesses three 600-goal scorers in Yzerman, Hull and Luc Robitaille, and Brendan Shanahan is a member of the 500 club.

Carolina's offense has been spotty. Only Francis has been consistent through three rounds, although linemate Jeff O'Neill came on strong toward the end of the Toronto series. The Hurricanes need stronger transmissions from the BBC line of Rod Brind'Amour, Bates Battaglia and Erik Cole, which produced 10 goals against Montreal but none in the conference finals.

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