The "Vladinator" was back in the house. And the Detroit Red Wings were one victory away from the Stanley Cup Finals.
With injured defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov watching from a private suite, Vyacheslav Kozlov broke a tie at 11:30 of the third period, lifting the Red Wings to a 3-2 victory over the Dallas Stars on Sunday in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals."Kozzie is no surprise," Detroit forward Nicklas Lidstrom said. "He's scored a lot of big goals for us in the playoffs over the years. Today was another big one."
Kirk Maltby and Steve Yzerman also scored for the Red Wings, who took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series. Pat Verbeek and Sergei Zubov scored for the Stars.
The Stars, who are 1-16-2 at Joe Louis Arena since the franchise moved from Minneapolis, will host Game 5 on Wednesday night in Dallas. If a sixth game is necessary, it will be played Friday night back in Detroit.
"I know a lot of people think this is a bad building for us, but we're normally a good road team," Dallas defenseman Darryl Sydor said. "Right now, we're not looking at the big picture.
"We've got to go out and play one game at a time. You've got to win one game before you can win three."
The Stars, who scored three straight goals to make Detroit sweat out a 5-3 win in Game 3, opened this game with at least five quality chances in the first five minutes of play. But Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood came up with the save each time.
"I think that was maybe as good as I've seen Osgood play, today," Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock said. "When it was 2-2, we thought we were going to win the hockey game. It's a fine line between winning and losing."
Ed Belfour was just as strong in the Dallas net. With 12:46 left in the second period, Belfour stretched his stick almost all the way across the crease to swat away what appeared to be an easy goal for Detroit forward Tomas Holmstrom. That prevented the Red Wings from taking a 3-0 lead.
With the game tied at 2, Belfour had to be quick to cover the puck as Sergei Fedorov loomed near the crease.
But Belfour had no chance as Kozlov, camped at the left side of the net, deflected Larry Murphy's shot from the top of the slot over the goalie's right shoulder for the game-winner at 11:30 of the third period.
Steve Yzerman set up the play, grabbing a loose puck and weaving his way across two lines. Yzerman turned at the top of the left circle and fed the puck to Murphy.
"Steve's been playing great," Detroit forward Brent Gilchrist said. "He's so consistent. He realized what had happened, that we caught them in a change, and he took advantage of that."
Dallas pulled Belfour with 1:18 left in the game and got two more good shots, but Osgood came through again. The Stars outshot Detroit 30-23.
"They were shooting the puck every chance they got," said Osgood, who was named the game's No. 1 star. "I had about three guys in front of me. They were really coming after us at the end. They were pretty desperate."
The Stars went into the game 0-for-17 on the power play during the series and their woes continued in the early periods. Things got so bad that Maltby scored the game's first goal at 7:02 of the first period while the Red Wings were shorthanded.
Yzerman gave Detroit a 2-0 lead at 12:10 of the first while Jere Lehtinen was serving a tripping penalty for Belfour.
Verbeek made it 2-1 with an unassisted goal at 14:31 of the second period, coming from behind the net and jamming the puck between Osgood and the post.
The Stars misfired on their first three power-play chances during the game but finally broke out of the slump when Zubov beat Osgood from the right point 55 seconds into the third period while Maltby was off for interference. That tied the game 2-2.