Road to Stanleytown: How the Detroit Red Wings finally solved Fuhr to take Game 2

Detroit Free Press

In the spring of 1997 — a quarter-century ago — the Detroit Red Wings embarked on their quest to end a 42-year Stanley Cup drought.

The Free Press has commemorated that historic quest with a new book: “Stanleytown: The Inside Story of How the Stanley Cup Returned to the Motor City After 41 Frustrating Seasons.”

READ DAY 1: Reliving 1997 road to Stanleytown: Red Wings begin quest to end 42-year Cup drought

READ DAY 2: Scotty Bowman finally makes the Sergei Fedorov switch Red Wings need

Day 3: April 18, 1997

The backstory: Heavy favorites. Offensively inept. Fans fretting. Another April horror story unfolding. Forget the Red Wings’ Stanley Cup hopes; their chances of even surviving the first round were in dire straits. After being shut out in Game 1, the third-seeded Wings trailed the sixth-seeded Blues, 1-0, in the third period of Game 2. Detroit hadn’t scored in 104 minutes. St. Louis’ Grant Fuhr had stopped 53 consecutive shots. If a hero didn’t emerge, the Wings were headed to St. Louis needing to win four of five games.

Game 2: Enter Kris Draper. Mr. Playoffs. Mr. April.  Here’s how Jason La Canfora described it for the Free Press: “Draper was plugging away, killing a penalty, when Igor Kravchuk gave him room to the outside — just enough to get his legs pumping, to use his speed. He came in on Fuhr, used Kravchuk as a screen and shot with no particular target in mind. The puck whipped between Fuhr’s pads and, finally, the light came on. Joe Louis Arena erupted. So did Draper. He cruised behind the goal, plummeted to his knees at full speed and slid along the boards out to the red line, where his teammates awaited.”

Game 2 was tied with 15:55 to play. Defenseman Larry Murphy scored the game-winner on a rebound three minutes later.

“We were wondering if we were ever going to score,” Murphy said. “It was a piano off 20 guys’ backs,” said Brendan Shanahan, who assisted on Draper’s goal. Still, fans were chewing their fingernails down the stretch when the Wings received a too-many-men penalty, Sergei Fedorov spent four minutes in the box after a high-sticking call and the team played 1:16 with a two-man disadvantage (killed off mostly by captain Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom and Vladimir Konstantinov).

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Worth noting: Coach Scotty Bowman moved Fedorov all over the ice,  made sweeping line changes, reunited the Russian Five at times and dressed seven defensemen (with rookies Jamie Pushor, who assisted on Draper’s goal, and Aaron Ward, who had a plus-1 rating, making their NHL playoff debuts). Despite five shots, Fedorov failed to score — thanks to a spectacular second-period save by Fuhr — and picked up six penalty minutes. … Not yet known as the Grind Line, Draper and his linemates, Kirk Maltby and Joe Kocur, according to the Free Press’ Keith Gave, “provided the precious few reasons to cheer early in the game with tenacious forechecking and big hits.” … Free Press headline: Get up, get even.

Off the ice: The Wings skipped a morning skate to hold a lengthy film session and go over tactics. It was not a come-to-Jesus meeting or a rah-rah session. “Yeah, there were some great speeches, yeah,” Yzerman said in jest.

Famous last words: “When you don’t score a lot of them, it’s a little more exciting,” Draper said afterward. “I’m sure Shanny … doesn’t get excited as Kris Draper, an eight-goal scorer.”

Relive the glory: The Free Press has crafted a 208-page, full-color, hardcover collector’s book with fresh insights and dynamic storytelling about the 1996-97 Wings. It’s called “Stanleytown 25 Years Later: The Inside Story on How the Stanley Cup Returned to the Motor City after 41 Frustrating Seasons.” It’s only $29.95 and it’s available at RedWings.PictorialBook.com. (It’ll make a great Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gift for the Wings fanatic in your life!) Personalized copies available via myersgene@comcast.net.

More to read: Another new Wings book arrived in April from Keith Gave, a longtime hockey writer for the Free Press in the 1980s and 1990s: “Vlad The Impaler: More Epic Tales from Detroit’s ’97 Stanley Cup Conquest.” It is available through Amazon and other booksellers and a portion of the proceeds is earmarked for the Vladimir Konstantinov Special Needs Trust. (Plenty of Gave’s prose also appears in “Stanleytown 25 Years Later.”)

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