Road to Stanleytown: Surprise hero lifts Detroit Red Wings over Ducks in Game 1 OT

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 17: May 2, 1997

The backstory: After a five-day break, the third-seeded Red Wings opened the Western Conference semifinals against the fourth-seeded Anaheim Mighty Ducks at Joe Louis Arena. Nobody expected a cakewalk. For starters, the Ducks boasted one of the NHL’s best neutral zone traps, a stifling defensive system that too often had proven to be kryptonite for Detroit’s potent offense. During the season, the Ducks owned the series, 3-0-1, and outscored the Wings, 7-3. And Anaheim’s Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne were the league’s hottest 1-2 scoring punch since January. So, naturally, Game 1 looked exactly like … the regular season against the Ducks and the start of the first round against the Blues.

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Game 1: New series, same script, more angst. Jason La Canfora wrote in the Free Press: “The Wings outplayed Anaheim throughout the game and produced more scoring chances. But the Ducks never pressed; they laid back, cleared the zone and dumped the puck.” Anaheim broke the ice when Kariya scored a power-play goal with one minute left in the second period. As expected, fans were fretting and Wings were shooting blanks.

With 8:59 left in the game, though, the tide finally turned on a goal by Sergei Fedorov, who had been flying all night, even though he had one goal in his past 15 games and two in his last 25 playoff games. At the time, in the regular season and playoffs against the Ducks, the Wings had scored three times on 158 shots and had gone 145 minutes, 15 seconds without scoring.

“I had eight shots and still not yet, still not yet,” Fedorov said. “Then I just put the shot on goal, and all of a sudden I scored. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I was going to score (again) or not.” He nearly untied it a minute later. That would happen 59 seconds into overtime for a 2-1 Detroit victory. Martin Lapointe, goalless against the Blues, began battling along the boards for the puck, then reached out at full extension to hit Brendan Shanahan streaking through the neutral zone. Lapointe sprang up and headed half the length of the ice toward the goal. Everyone at The Joe thought Shanahan, a former 50-goal scorer, would shoot — including Lapointe and Ducks goalie Guy Hebert, who cheated toward Shanahan coming to his right. But Shanahan passed to Lapointe.

“I didn’t even think; I just one-timed it,” Lapointe said. “There’s nothing like overtime, especially when you score the goal. You always want to be the hero.” Hebert admitted: “I really was thinking Shanny was going to shoot. I should have been a little better prepared for the pass and gotten across.”

Worth noting: Despite Kariya’s goal, the Wings pretty much neutralized the Ducks’ superstars, holding Selanne to two harmless third-period shots and saddling Kariya with a minus-2 rating. To check them, the Wings used three lines and, as much as possible, Nicklas Lidstrom and Vladimir Konstantinov on defense. … To add speed to the lineup, coach Scotty Bowman played right wing Doug Brown for the first time in the playoffs. He flashed his speed, helped kill penalties and celebrated on the ice when Fedorov scored.

“You gotta love the way Sergei played,” Brown said. “He had a superior game and helped lead us.” … Rookie defenseman Jamie Pushor went to the press box, but rookie defenseman Aaron Ward remained in the lineup. … More from Fedorov: “I feel great. Very edgy. I like that.”

Off the ice: “One finger can’t lift a pebble.” That was one of the two inspirational messages in the Anaheim locker room. As for the other  — “For the raindrop, joy is entering the river” — defenseman Bobby Dollas said, “I don’t get the raindrop one.”

Famous last words: Wings grinder Darren McCarty looked into his crystal ball: “Goal scorers like Sergei, once they get one, they usually get more. We hope that’s what happens.”

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.

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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.”)

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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