Road to Stanleytown: 1997 Detroit Red Wings prepare for pivotal Game 6 at Joe Louis Arena

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 11: April 26, 1997

The backstory: In Game 5, with a 5-2 victory at Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings equaled their offensive output from the first four games of their opening series with St. Louis. Then they acted as if a giant weight had been lifted from their shoulders. After the final buzzer, the Wings had less than 38 hours to practice at Joe Louis Arena, make it to St. Louis, lace ’em up again for Game 6 and prove they had turned a corner in pursuit of the Stanley Cup.

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“So far it seems no game carries over to the next,” Brendan Shanahan said. “We can’t just go out there, throw our sticks on the ice and expect to win.” Fox was slated to televise the Sunday matinee. No Wing wanted a Game 7, especially after the agony (but ultimate ecstasy) from the previous season, when Detroit won a Game 7 against the Blues on a Steve Yzerman goal in double overtime.

Worth noting: “We have to play like it’s a Game 7,” Shanahan told the Detroit News. “Sure, anything could happen in a seventh game,” Yzerman said. “But we’re in position to win a series, and it’s important to win it. That’s it. There’s no fear involved. We just want to win the next game.”

“We have a lot of desire to win,” Martin Lapointe said. “And I think our focus should only be on Game 6, not Game 7.” … The new Shanahan-Yzerman-Lapointe line contributed to the Wings’ first, fourth and fifth goals in Game 5. … Blues coach Joel Quenneville, who took over for Mike Keenan in January, contended that he felt no pressure as a first-year coach in his first playoff series, even against a Hall of Famer such as Scotty Bowman.

“It’s exciting,” Quenneville told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Sure, you have pressure to win because winning is what it’s all about. That’s our job. But you control what you can control. You prepare everyone to play their best game possible.”

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Off the ice: After Game 5, Darren McCarty forced Kirk Maltby to show off a new T-shirt. If featured caricatures of Maltby, Kris Draper and Joe Kocur with the slogan “The Grind Line.” Later, Maltby described the tee as “one of those where our heads are big and whatnot; you can kind of see us. I got my visor on, so you can see that’s me.” In Game 5, though, Bowman used McCarty on the team’s checking line most of the game instead of Kocur.

Famous last words: The Blues expected a huge boost from the boisterous fans at the Kiel Center, some of whom threw beer and spare change at the Wings bench during a Game 4 melee. Sniper Brett Hull told the Post-Dispatch: “The crowds have been great. They’ve put up with a lot of garbage for a couple of years, and we’re going to bring them back and show them that we’re the team that they used to love to watch.”

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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Even more to read: Red Wings beat reporter Helene St. James, who helped cover the 1997 Stanley Cup run, recently wrote “The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Detroit Red Wings.” Featuring numerous tales about the key figures from 1997, “The Big 50” is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. (Plenty of St. James’ prose also appears in “Stanleytown 25 Years Later.”)

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