Road to Stanleytown: Red Wings miss ‘great opportunity’ vs. Blues, massive brawl erupts

Detroit Free Press
Gene Myers |  Special to 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.”

DAY 1:  Red Wings begin quest to end 42-year Cup drought

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

DAY 3:  How Wings finally solved Fuhr to take Game 2

DAY 4:  Wings, Shanahan try to break St. Louis hearts

DAY 5:  Yzerman, Wings take high road — and Game 3 vs. Blues

DAY 6:  Wings ready for fateful Game 4 vs. Blues

Day 7: April 22, 1997

The backstory: The Red Wings were determined to put a 3-1 stranglehold on their first-round series heading into Game 4 at St. Louis, and position themselves for an extended rest between rounds. Despite the Wings’ catbird seat, the series couldn’t have been closer. After three games, each team had five goals, each team had gone 2-for-23 on the power play (8.7%) and 21-for-23 on the penalty kill (91.3%). Detroit’s statistical edge: It logged “only” 54 minutes in the penalty box, to the Blues’ exorbitant 79. But three hours on a Tuesday night at the Kiel Center flipped the script.

Game 4: With two goals in the first period and two more in third period, the Blues embarrassed the Wings with a 4-0 victory. The series was tied again, there would no lengthy rest between rounds, the Wings would have to travel back to the nation’s heartland, and fans fretted again it could be a fourth first-round exit in seven seasons. “Obviously,” captain Steve Yzerman said, “we missed a great opportunity.” Grant Fuhr stopped 28 shots for his second shutout of the series (and fifth of his career). “We knew we had to have this game,” he said, “and everybody played like we had to have it.” Wings goalie Mike Vernon, meanwhile, often had to fend for himself, before being replaced by Chris Osgood with 10:37 left in the game. “I had no complaints,” coach Scotty Bowman said. “I just wanted to give him a rest.” Geoff Courtnall scored twice, including the backbreaker while standing alone in the slot on a power play 1:10 into the final period. Pavol Demitra (one goal, two assists) and Brett Hull (three assists) had three points for the Blues. Igor Larionov led the Wings with three points for the entire series.

Ex-Wings employee Al Sobotka ‘devastated’ after being fired for peeing in drain ]

Worth noting: The Blues played without leading scorer Pierre Turgeon because of recurring headaches. Defenseman Igor Kravchuk missed his second straight game with torn rib cartilage. … Fans booed a bit whenever Brendan Shanahan touched the puck and mightily when his face was shown on the Jumbotron. … For the first time all series, the Wings were reduced to dumping and flipping the puck from their zone. … The Russian Five played together more in the second period than in the entire series. They produced great chances, but no goals, as Fuhr was at his best. … With 81 seconds left in the game, a melee ensued in which six Blues received 75 penalty minutes and five Wings 63 minutes. (Only Slava Kozlov avoided a penalty, although he was part of a dogpile.) Fighting majors went to Martin Lapointe, Jamie Pusher and Bob Rouse for Detroit and Mike Peluso, Ricard Persson and Stephen Leach for St. Louis. Fans threw the usual debris onto the ice and at the bench, and the Wings raised their sticks toward the crowd as security moved in. … The fight fans for both teams might have wanted fizzled. After several skirmishes, Osgood rushed to the aid of Rouse, who was being double-teamed. Somehow, Fuhr became the fourth man in and ended up sitting on Rouse’s back. As linesman Gerard Gauthier restrained Osgood, Fuhr paid him a visit along the end boards. They chatted a bit, Gauthier left for more violent encounters, Fuhr gave Osgood a pat and Fuhr skated to the other end of the rink. … Free Press headline: Roped and tied.

Off the ice: The Russian Five were surprised, but not shocked, and reacted with regret, but not horror, to the news that Valentin Sych, 59, the iron-fisted president of the Russian Hockey Federation, had been shot to death outside his country home. Kozlov said: “He was a bad guy. He was corrupt.” Vladimir Konstantinov said: “I can’t explain what’s happening there.” At first, Sergei Fedorov quipped: “I have an alibi.” But he seemed the most shaken. “I would never expect in a million years for something like that to happen.”

Famous last words: Keith Gave in the Free Press looked at the rest of the series and the matchup of Bowman against Joel Quenneville: “In what has become a chess match between master and rookie, the next move is up to Bowman. And his greatest challenge will be to somehow find a way to kickstart an offense that has produced just five goals in this series.”

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, available at (It’ll make a great Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gift for the Wings fanatic in your life!) Personalized copies available via

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More to read: Another new Wings book arrived in April from 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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