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AVALANCHE SLIDES INTO CUP FINALS

A year ago, Patrick Roy was in Montreal, Joe Sakic was in Quebec and the Colorado Avalanche hadn't been born.

Wednesday night, it all came together for them. And it all fell apart for the Detroit Red Wings.The Avalanche, who played their first 16 seasons as the Quebec Nordiques before moving to Denver last spring, advanced to the Stanley Cup finals with a 4-1 win over the heavily favored Red Wings.

The Red Wings saw their promising season end prematurely for the second straight year. Last year, they were also heavy favorites after winning the regular-season championship but were swept in the finals by New Jersey.

The loss continued the longest Stanley Cup drought in the league. Detroit hasn't won since 1955.

"Who would have thought this would happen?" Roy asked. "It's unreal."

Imagine how Detroit coach Scotty Bowman felt. His team set an NHL regular-season record with 62 victories and was the again the favorite to win the Cup.

"We couldn't beat all the elements," Bowman said. "Sakic was one. He has been in a zone. We had guys beat up.

"We lost to a very good team. They've gone neck-and-neck with us for two years now, and they have a goaltender playing like Patrick Roy is."

Sakic, the leading scorer in the playoffs, had two goals and an assist. Roy, traded to the Avalanche last Dec. 6, made 23 saves.

Colorado won its third straight series four games to two, capturing the Western Conference title and advancing to the championship round for the first time in franchise history.

"This is my fourth time going to the big dance," said Roy, who won two Stanley Cups with the Canadiens. "There was no doubt in my mind we had the team. I'm playing with a great team and a great defense."

The outcome sends the Avalanche into the finals against the winner of the Pittsburgh-Florida series. The Penguins lead the Eastern Conference finals 3-2 with Game 6 in Miami tonight. The Stanley Cup finals begin Tuesday in Denver.

In scoring his 16th and 17th goals, Sakic is just two shy of the NHL record shared by Philadelphia's Reggie Leach and Edmonton's Jari Kurri. He also leads the league with five game-winning goals. He gave Colorado a 1-0 lead in the first period and a 2-1 advantage in the second.

"It's an unbelievable feeling," Sakic said, "especially for guys like me who have been with this franchise for a long time. The crowd was great. The building was electric tonight."

Also scoring for Colorado were Mike Ricci and Peter Forsberg. Paul Coffey scored for Detroit in the first period to make it 1-1 before the Avalanche scored three in the second.

The Red Wings fought off elimination in three previous games, two against St. Louis in the second round. After losing only 13 games during the regular season, the Red Wings lost nine in the playoffs.

Avalanche coach Marc Crawford said Detroit's defense "really tried to find Sakic, but he was invisible. He disappeared and then appeared again."