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Dominator III

In his third turn with the Red Wings, Cup-hungry Dominik Hasek is not sniping or griping. He's just stopping the puck

EIGHT WEEKS into the season it looks as though the gamble Detroit general manager Ken Holland made by signing the mercurial Dominik Hasek for a third stint in goal with the Red Wings is paying off. Through Monday, the 41-year-old Hasek was 9--4 with a 1.92 goals-against average that included back-to-back shutouts over the Oilers and the Predators. Just as important, he has established a good relationship with fellow goalie Chris Osgood, 33, who is Detroit's insurance policy if an injury knocks Hasek out of the playoffs, as happened twice in the past three seasons. "He's much more relaxed than I thought," says Osgood, whose locker is next to Hasek's and who was 3--1 as a backup. "I'd heard the stories, but I wanted to judge for myself. He's pretty even-keeled."

As is the team as a whole. In its first season without captain Steve Yzerman and high-scoring left wing Brendan Shanahan, Detroit has transformed from an all-guns-blazing powerhouse into a team whose first mission is to protect its defensive zone; against Edmonton early this month the Red Wings gave up zero shots on goal in the first period. Buoyed by a recent nine-game winning streak, the new-look Wings were tied with Nashville atop the Central Division.

"This is a different team from the one that won the Cup in 2002," says Hasek, who played goal for Detroit that season, when they also had top scoring threats Brett Hull and Sergei Fedorov. "We don't have that scoring power, but with guys like Cheli [Chris Chelios], Drapes [Kris Draper] and Nick [Lidstrom], the tradition is here."

Detroit scored only once in each of Hasek's four losses, but he hasn't complained. In fact when Edmonton scored twice on breakaways in a 3--1 Red Wings loss on Oct. 21, Hasek blamed himself for not making the saves. Once considered high-maintenance, Hasek has been a positive influence in the dressing room. "We have a friendly atmosphere," he says. "Completely different from 2003--04."

That was the season Hasek came out of retirement to return to Detroit, which had signed goalie Curtis Joseph to replace him. The chill between them spread through the locker room, and the Dominator was accused of becoming the Discombobulator. "It was a circus," Holland recalls. "Lots of drama. Neither goalie talked to the other." Then, after playing just 14 games, Hasek pulled a groin muscle and missed the rest of the year.

After the lockout Hasek signed with Ottawa and last season went 28-10-4 with a 2.09 goals-against average before the Olympic break. But in Turin, he reinjured his groin and was again sidelined for the season. When Holland called, Hasek buried thoughts of retirement. "It was about one more chance to play for the Cup," says Hasek. "I had something to prove still."

Hasek signed for a rock-bottom $750,000—$150,000 less than Osgood earns—with up to $1.1 million in bonuses. To strengthen his groin, the 5'11" Hasek hired a trainer last summer and lost 14 pounds to get down to 166, two pounds lighter than when he was winning six Vezina Trophies with Buffalo. His daily regimen includes a half hour of stretching and a massage. A workhorse his whole career, the newly magnanimous Hasek has also agreed to share playing time. "I don't expect to play every night," he says. "Whether I play 60 games or 40, my goal is to be ready for the playoffs."

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STAYING LOOSE At 41, Hasek hopes daily stretching will keep him healthy for the playoffs.