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Wings fight sweep disorder

Defenseman Paul Coffey has been in this undesirable position before. The year was 1983, his team was the Edmonton Oilers.

"Pretty loose bunch of guys," Coffey said. "All of us wanted to get pinstriped suits and fedoras, like the '42 team."

The '42 team was the Toronto Maple Leafs, the only team to rally from a 3-0 deficit to win the coveted Stanley Cup.

Edmonton could not duplicate the feat, losing to the Islanders 4-0. And it does not appear Coffey's current team, the Detroit Red Wings, will either.

The Red Wings sat in a room Friday afternoon at the Embassy Suites in Secaucus. They tried to say all the right things. But instead of appearing desperate, they appeared defeated.

"We'll try to win the next game," captain Steve Yzerman said in a voice barely above a whisper and in a tone hardly convincing.

"I want to play a Game 5. I don't want to get swept."

To prevent the sweep, the Wings must find a way _ tonight _ to conquer the underdog New Jersey Devils and their patient defensive system, opportunistic offense and solid goaltending.

After Thursday night's 5-2 thrashing, Detroit coach Scotty Bowman said he had no answers. On Friday, he said some changes would have to be made, but he did not elaborate.

"We're not just trying to save face," Coffey said. "We're trying to win the series."

It was one week ago that the Red Wings were the favorites _ a confident group poised to sip champagne from Lord Stanley's Cup for the first time in 40 years.

But three upsets later their swagger is gone; their confidence shattered. They've been labeled the "Dead Wings."

"An octopus has more backbone than the Red Wings showed with their backs against the wall," wrote columnist Mike Celizic of The Record of Bergen County.

The Wings expected the Devils to put up a good fight. They didn't expect the Devils to embarrass them.

"They've really outplayed us," said Yzerman, stating the obvious.

So what has happened?

Basically, the Red Wings' stars haven't shone.

Veteran goaltender Mike Vernon has been outplayed by 23-year-old Martin Brodeur. Vernon has given up more bad goals in this series than Brodeur has in the playoffs.

Thursday night, Bowman had yanked Vernon in the second period. "We had to do something," the 32-year-old Vernon said. "We had to try to change things up a bit. Four goals on 20 shots is not outstanding, and it was a bad second goal on my part (an unscreened Claude Lemieux shot that went between his legs). You definitely have to get the goaltending, and the goaltending was not out there last night for the Red Wings."

When asked if he would start backup Chris Osgood, Bowman said: "I doubt it."

Coffey, a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman, only has one assist and a plus/minus rating of minus 4. He was plus 18 in the regular season and plus 7 in the playoffs.

And perhaps one of the lasting memories of the final will be Coffey lying on the ice, banging his head against his gloves after Jim Dowd scored the winner in Game 3.

Top guns Sergei Fedorov and Yzerman have a combined three goals _ two on power plays in the final three minutes and only one when the outcome had not been determined.

The Red Wings have only 59 shots on goal in the three games. That's an average of 19, 17 fewer than they averaged in the first three series.

"It's hard to find a chink in their armor, and when you do they have a great backstop in Brodeur," Coffey said.

But give the Devils their due.

"They have played fantastic," Coffey said.

Bowman tried to pump some life into his team by blasting the players Thursday night and calling the loss "an embarrassment to the National Hockey League as a showcase series."

For the Devils, they are not underestimating the Wings, who lost only 11 games in the regular season and went 12-2 in the first three rounds of the playoffs.

"You want to be afraid of your opponents every time you step onto the ice," Lemieux said. "We can't forget they were the favorites to win this series in a sweep or five games. When you think you have it made, you're in trouble."

Added right wing John MacLean: "You have fun only after the job is done. The job isn't done. We can't get caught up with ourselves before the job is done. They don't give out anything for three victories in the Stanley Cup finals."

For the Red Wings, perhaps they should go out and get those pinstriped suits and fedoras. They'd make nice burial outfits.

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