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Vlady! This Cup’s for you

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Winning the Stanley Cup might have been second best for the Detroit Red Wings.

"Not too often does a moment in hockey transcend sports, but that was one of them," Detroit forward Brendan Shanahan said after the Red Wings completed a four-game sweep of the Washington Capitals with a 4-1 victory Tuesday night. "That was one of the greatest moments I've ever had as an athlete."Fans and players from both teams were moved to tears as they watched wheelchair-bound Vladimir Konstantinov taking a slow victory lap with the Stanley Cup while being pushed by his teammates.

The Cup was presented to Konstantinov, who was wheeled onto the ice wearing a Red Wings jersey. The jubilant players surrounded him and urged him to raise two fingers to signify Detroit's second straight championship.

"I said, `Vlady, put two fingers in the air. We did this for you,' " Vyacheslav Kozlov said of the defenseman, who suffered brain damage after a car crash several days after the Red Wings won the Cup.

The Red Wings became the first team to repeat as Cup champions since the Pittsburgh Penguins did it in 1991-92. But this one had a special meaning for them, above and beyond a mere league championship. They were able to win it for a player they called "Vlady" - a once dynamic defenseman who is now wheelchair-bound.

Konstantinov's presence thrilled the Red Wing players as the game wound toward its inevitable conclusion. Hundreds of Detroit fans chanted, "Vlady . . . Vlady." Konstantinov's wife, Irina, lifted him out of his wheelchair as he waved his hand to the crowd. The chants grew louder.

"It just went right through the whole bench, and it was still 16 minutes to go," Bowman said. "I was just thrilled that he was responding to the crowd and everybody else."

By that time, the Red Wings had things well in hand - thanks to two goals by Doug Brown. They were on their way to their second straight sweep in the finals following last year's victory over Philadelphia.

No one would have given them a chance to repeat, particularly after the tragic auto accident just six days after winning the title in 1997 that left Konstantinov and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov with severe head injuries.

The Red Wings also played most of the season without star forward Sergei Fedorov because of a contract battle.

"We built this season around trying to repeat, but also winning it for Vlady and Sergei," Detroit forward Joe Kocur said. "It was a tough time when it happened. It is something we will never forget, and to win it in the fashion we did and to have him here and to see that smile on his face, and the improvements he has made in his life since the accident, it's something you can't explain."

Steve Yzerman, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the playoffs' most valuable player, made sure that he handed the Stanley Cup first to Konstantinov after he was brought on the ice to share the trophy.

"Throughout the year we were aware of his progress," Yzerman said. "He was never forgotten on our team."

Washington coach Ron Wilson was impressed with the moment, too, even though his team had reached the end of its season sooner than he expected.

"I think that's outstanding," Wilson said. "It's a very tight-knit group. I mean, when you have some-one like that to rally around, what can you say?"

The Red Wings' second straight sweep gave Bowman a record-tying eighth Stanley Cup as a coach and capped an emotional and tumultuous season that followed the team's first championship in 42 years.

"Going in, I didn't know if we could really win another Cup," said Bowman, who also saw Conn Smythe-winning goaltender Mike Vernon traded against his wishes. "But I knew that the desire and the motivation was there, and fortunately we did."

Martin Lapointe and Larry Murphy also scored for the Red Wings, while goaltender Chris Osgood completed a great series by making 30 saves. He allowed but seven goals on 99 shots in the finals.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Stanley Cup Finals

Red Wings win series, 4-0

Game 1

Detroit 2, Washington 1

Game 2

Detroit 5, Washington 4

Game 3

Detroit 2, Washington 1

Game 4

Detroit 4, Washington 1