WINGS WIN AGAINTWO 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 has been taught. The more you think, the more you muck it up.

So when Shanahan 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 and deep into the back of the net. That was the first dagger.

And in the final period, with the score dangerously close, he skated down on the wing and here 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 Red Wings’ 4-2 victory to take a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup finals.

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

Don’t think. Just keep playing. The Wings saw a different Philadelphia team Tuesday night than Saturday 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 their two tries in this best- of-seven series, and they are coming home to an adoring city, with delicious possibilities dancing in their heads.

“We’re certainly happy with the way the series is going so far,” captain Steve Yzerman said.

Happy? They’re writing the script. 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,” 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.

Ron Hextall let four get past him. Garth Snow let four get past him. By the final minutes Tuesday night, the 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, the Flyers did the only thing left: They 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 the Flyers

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, while 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 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, he has scored two goals in the Stanley Cup finals, including the actual game-winner Tuesday night, a 45-foot slapper that ricocheted in and out.

And Maltby doesn’t score goals, remember?

“I didn’t even see it go in,” Maltby said. “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 should the Wings take this series. Make no mistake: The difference in the goalies is the difference in these finals. I’m not sure who Philly will try in Game 3 — maybe Kate Smith? But, 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. Talk about a trade bearing fruit. Shanahan has had big goals in all series. 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, Shanahan took a breakaway pass and was all alone, zeroing in on Snow. Shanahan dipped, ducked and the goalie went down. And the 20,000 Philly fans gulped.

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

Two periods later, Shanahan took their breath away for good.

Don’t think. Just hurt ’em.

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, it’d be better for him. He’s a Hall of Fame player.”

That’s etiquette. 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 they blew their lead, they simply put their heads down and started again.

Don’t think. Don’t analyze. Get out there and do what got you here. You could see something relaxed and happy in the expressions of the team — and especially Brendan Shanahan — after the final goal. He raised his arms in triumph and the whole thing seemed so . . . natural.

Halfway to heaven, and coming home.

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

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