Hold the talk about a sweep. Apparently the Washington Capitals are going to give the Detroit Red Wings a real battle for the Stanley Cup.

"They're a very persistent hockey club - they're not going to go away," Detroit's Kris Draper said after Tuesday night's 2-1 victory gave the Red Wings the opening game of the Stanley Cup finals.Last year, the Red Wings swept Philadelphia in four to win their eighth Stanley Cup. They are expected by many to do the same against the Capitals, a team that was seeded fourth in the Eastern Conference and only reached the finals because of upsets to the favorites.

Despite popular opinion, though, the players on both sides believe differently.

"They're a team with a lot of character, and they're going to keep coming at you," Draper said.

Capitals coach Ron Wilson seconded that motion.

"We read the papers that we are supposed to get blasted out of here five or six to nothing," he said. "That didn't happen and we felt we put ourselves in position in Game 1 to win.

"We didn't. Back to the drawing board and come out with the same effort (in Game 2 on Thursday night) that we had over the last 30 minutes, and we will be OK."

The Red Wings won both regular-season games against the Capitals, 4-2 and 2-0, and seemed to be on their way to an easy victory in this one by scoring goals 2:14 apart in the first period by Joe Kocur and Nicklas Lidstrom.

"We talked throughout the playoffs to have people in front of the net to be there for tips or rebounds," Lidstrom said. "It worked for us against St. Louis and Phoenix in previous series."

Kocur, playing only because Brent Gilchrist is injured, scored on a deflection past Olaf Kolzig at 14:04. Lidstrom beat a screened Kolzig from above the left circle at 16:18.

"I can't even remember the first one," Kolzig said. "I think . . . Kocur was left alone in front for the tap-in.

"Second (goal), I think we got a little running around. Lidstrom let one go from the point. There was just a bunch of traffic in front of me."

The Capitals, who only managed six shots to 10 for Detroit in the first period and went more than 14 minutes without a shot into the second, finally began creating scoring chances for themselves. Richard Zednik cashed one in from the deep slot that beat Chris Osgood at 15:57.

"I don't think we were particularly pleased with our play in the second period," Detroit captain Steve Yzerman said. "The third we played a little better."

Osgood in particular. While facing only seven shots in the third period, the Detroit goalie made several game-saving stops - two on Joe Juneau in close, a deflection by Zednik, a shot by Sergei Gonchar and a blue-line blast by Jeff Brown.

"I don't know if we shut them down," Detroit defenseman Larry Murphy said, referring to a 31-17 advantage in shots. "I think Ozzie played real well, and the opportunities they had, he made some great saves.

"Their shot total was low, but I think they had a lot more scoring chances than you first think."

If anything, the Capitals proved they belonged on the same ice with the Red Wings, who reached the Stanley Cup finals against generally regarded tougher opposition in the West (Phoenix, St. Louis and regular-season champion Dallas).

With New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia all upset in the East, the Capitals climbed into the finals with victories over lesser-regarded Boston, Ottawa and Buff-alo.

"We get better over time," Washington's Esa Tikkanen said. "I think the first period, the guys were a little nervous the first time in the Stanley Cup final. But after the second period, we had a good chance to tie.

"Right now, it is only one game. We are looking forward to Game 2. We had good things happen in the last 40 minutes. We have to bring those (positive) things into Game 2."



Stanley Cup Finals

Game 1

Detroit 2, Washington 1

Game 2: Thursday

Washington at Detroit, 6 p.m. (ESPN)

Game 3: Saturday

Detroit at Washington, 6 p.m. (ESPN)

Game 4: Tuesday, June 16

Detroit at Washington, 6 p.m. (ESPN)

Game 5: Thursday, June 18

Washington at Detroit, 6 p.m.* (FOX)

Game 6: Saturday, June 20

Detroit at Washington, 6 p.m.* (ESPN)

Game 7: Tuesday, June 23

Washington at Detroit, 6 p.m.* (FOX)

*-if necessary