WINGS WIN AGAIN TWO MORE AND DETROIT REACHES HOCKEY HEAVEN

PHILADELPHIA — Brendan Shanahan lives by a wise old hockey philosophy: Don’t think.

Skate hard. Take shots. Do what comes naturally, that’s what he’s been taught. The more you think, the more you muck it up.

So when he skated across the middle in the opening minutes of Game 2 Tuesday night, he was open, and he didn’t think. He shot, hard and fast. The puck went right past new goalie Garth Snow. That was the first dagger.

And in the final period, with the score dangerously close, he skated down on the wing and he came a perfect pass from Martin Lapointe. Shanahan, the son of Irish immigrants, was in clover again. He didn’t think, he simply shot, hard and fast. It turned Snow to slush.

And that was the final dagger.

“What was in your brain when you scored that last goal?” someone asked Shanahan after the Wings’ 4-2 victory.

“My brain?” Shanahan said, laughing. “What’s that?”

Halfway to heaven. The Wings saw a different Philadelphia team Tuesday night, but they beat it the same way: neutralizing the mighty Flyers forwards and taking advantage of a less-than-stellar goalie between the pipes. They have two victories in the two tries in this best-of-seven series, and they are coming home to an adoring city with delicious possibilities dancing in their heads.

Never mind the hard-body attack the Flyers mounted this night. Never mind the crushing checks, the much improved Flyers offense, or that the Wings blew a two-goal lead in the first period. In this series, if you’re Detroit and you blow a two-goal lead, you just go out and get another one.

“It doesn’t matter who they put in there,” captain Steve Yzerman had said when informed that the Flyers were switching goaltenders for Game 2. “We shoot at the net, not the individual.”

And so far, the shots prevail. The Flyers, who entered this series with the reputation of a heavyweight bruiser, have proven to have a glass jaw: It’s covered by a goalie mask, but it’s a glass jaw just the same.

By the final minutes Tuesday night, CoreStates Center was quiet and somber, and the fans had one eye on the baseball stadium across the street.

The Red Wings, meanwhile, were flying home — and I’m not sure they needed the plane.

Halfway to heaven.

Maltby’s glory

Now make no mistake, the Flyers gave the Wings a much tougher fight in Game 2 than they did in Game 1. Having already changed goalies once, and finding themselves with a replacement who was shaky at best, Philly did the only thing left: It limited the Red Wings’ shots. The Wings had a dozen in the first 10 minutes. The next dozen took them nearly two periods. The Flyers did this with bruising checks, and with an improved offense of their own. Unlike Saturday night, they kept the puck in the Wings’ end much of the night.

But if the Wings couldn’t keep them off their ice, they did keep them out of their net. After two power-play goals in the first period — neither of which he could have stopped — Mike Vernon put the clamps on. He stopped 29 shots, and continued a streak previously thought impossible. Eric Lindros has now gone two games without a goal, and didn’t earn a point Tuesday night.

The nightmare continues for the City of Brotherly Love. Motown pounds with dreamy excitement.

And dreamy is the right adjective. The dream continues for Yzerman, who suffered with this franchise for so many years and is now playing big, the way big stars should. He scored the second goal for the Wings Tuesday night, poking in his own rebound, and also played stellar defense.

The dream also continues for Kirk Maltby, the Sports Illustrated cover boy, who may retire that jinx once and for all. Since gracing SI’s magazine, he has scored two goals in the Stanley Cup finals, including the actual game-winner Tuesday night, a 45-foot slapper that broke the backs of the Flyers and their fans.

And Maltby doesn’t score goals, remember?

“I didn’t even see it go in,” Maltby said. “I was already backchecking to play defense when I saw the puck come out. This whole thing has been like what you dream about as a kid.”

After Tuesday, Maltby may throw out his alarm clock.

The dream goes on for Vernon, who is two victories from the most amazing goalie story of the year, and one victory away from a contract extension. Make no mistake: the difference in the goalies is the difference in this series. For once, isn’t it nice not to be the team that worries about its netminder?

And, of course, the dream continues for Shanahan.

“Can you believe I began this year in Hartford?” he said the other day, marveling at where he is. Talk about a trade bearing fruit. Shanahan has had big goals all playoffs, and Tuesday he started the scoring and he finished it.

Actually, he could have done it earlier. In the first period, with the Wings already ahead, 2-0, and the building sounding like a morgue, Shanahan took a breakaway pass and was all alone, zeroing in on Snow. Shanahan dipped, ducked and got Snow to commit. The goalie went down. The gulping noise you heard was 20,000 fans swallowing at the same time.

But Shanahan could not settle the puck, and when he finally shot, he hit the side of the post. The 20,000 fans heaved a sigh of relief.

Two periods later, Shanahan took their breath away again.

Funny, isn’t it? Philly fans had coveted Shanahan when he was trade bait in Hartford. Tuesday night may be the last look they get at him this season.

Coffey’s struggles

A moment here for irony. Paul Coffey, one of the two big players traded for Shanahan, had a miserable game. Shanahan’s first goal went off Coffey’s skate. The Wings’ second goal came on a power play caused by Coffey’s hooking penalty. And on the third goal, Coffey was the only man between Maltby and the net. When the young Wing fired, Coffey pulled his skates together — perhaps to avoid another ricochet. Instead it made him look like a statue when the puck went in.

So in a way, Coffey was in on all three of the Wings’ first scores — and he’s been on the ice for six of the Wings’ eight goals in this series. I have always liked Coffey, and I thought in many ways he was good for the Wings. But he certainly was good for them Tuesday night.

“I don’t want to say anything bad about Paul,” said Wings coach Scotty Bowman. “If Paul were with this team instead of the one he was with, we’d still be winning. He’s a Hall of Fame player.”

That’s kindness talking. Bowman has privately said the Wings would never win a Cup with Coffey on the team. Right or wrong as a statement, it’s proving true as a philosophy.

And that is one of the little things that makes you think the series is tilted Detroit’s way. The roster is working. The attitude is working. The Wings came into a foreign building and left with two victories. Whatever they’re trying is working. And they don’t get rattled. When the Wings blew their lead, they put their heads down and started again.

Don’t think. Don’t analyze. Get out there and do what comes naturally. You could see something relaxed and happy in the expression of Brendan Shanahan after the final goal. He raised his arms in triumph and the whole thing seems so . . . natural.

Halfway to heaven, and coming home.

The way the Wings are playing, can Thursday come fast enough?

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