Road to Stanleytown: Mighty sweet victory in Game 3 puts 1997 Red Wings up 3-0 on Ducks

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 21: May 6, 1997

The backstory: Gordie, we’re not in Hockeytown anymore! The Western Conference semifinals shifted to Southern California for Game 3 and that meant 10:30 p.m. face-offs, warrior princesses and new heroes. Could the Red Wings put a three-games-to-none stranglehold on the Mighty Ducks? Could a Wings-Ducks game consist of only 60 minutes? Could Slava Kozlov and Doug Brown continue lighting the lamp? All three answers turned out to be yes — but the next morning’s water cooler conversation and sports-talk radio focused just as much on a wardrobe malfunction years before the term gained popularity and long before the explosion of social media.

Red Wings face roster decisions: Debating who stays and who goes in 2022 ]

Game 3: With their beaks against the wall, the Ducks built a two-goal lead in the first period — the first two-goal lead in the series — and for a switch, the Wings were the ones wailing about the officiating. The Ducks’ mostly quiet superstars — Paul Kariya at 11:19 and Teemu Selanne at 12:09 — scored 5-on-3 power-play goals. It all started at 9:34, when Vladimir Konstantinov committed an obvious tripping penalty. No problem there. But 62 seconds later, referee Bill McCreary slapped goalie Mike Vernon with a high-sticking penalty. Vernon skated to the ref, chewed him out and received a 10-minute misconduct. Kariya scored soon after on a one-timer from an impossible angle over Vernon’s stick-side shoulder. On the ensuing face-off, Nicklas Lidstrom raised his gloves and stick high on Selanne as he cruised along the boards. The Wings bench went nuts when Lidstrom was hit with a high-sticking penalty with 1:02 left on Vernon’s minor. Coach Scotty Bowman motioned that Selanne took a dive. Soon after, Kariya fed Selanne for a 2-0 lead, and the frenzied fans at the Pond quacked up. The night’s dramatics were only getting started. Kozlov, whose goal ended Game 2 in the third overtime, scored on a power play at 15:47. He won a battle along the boards, got off a shot, collected the rebound and fired it high past Mikhail Shtalenkov. In the second period, Ted Drury, after missing Game 2 with a nerve injury, restored the Ducks’ two-goal lead. But with the fans chanting “USA! USA!” as the Russians swarmed during a power play, Kozlov blasted a shot off a Duck and Igor Larionov poked the carom home. At 16:28, Brown tied it at 3 by scoring in his second straight game. The Wings outshot the Ducks, 23-6, in the period. And the onslaught continued in the final period. Sergei Fedorov got behind defenseman Dan Trebil, one of the rookie’s several costly mistakes, and beat Shtalenkov at 3:34. About 20 seconds later, Fedorov hit Kozlov with a pass, and he finished off a 90-foot breakaway with a backhand move. It was Kozlov’s fifth goal in his last five games. The Wings had their first two-goal lead and before long a three-game lead.

Worth noting: Free Press headline: Mighty sweet. … Kozlov (two goals, one assist), Fedorov (one goal, two assists) and Konstantinov (three assists) posted three-point nights. … “I’m so happy for Kozzie,” Larionov said, “because he was struggling all season long. He was kind of in the doghouse, but lately he has played the best hockey I’ve ever seen him play in Detroit. It’s hard for a young guy sometimes. I just told him this is the time to play the great hockey he can play.” … Bowman started with a new superstar line: Brendan Shanahan-Fedorov-Steve Yzerman. But a few shifts later the Russian Five were back together. … Grinder Joe Kocur didn’t play after he lost an edge early in the first period and crashed back-first into the boards. … Brown, 32, played only 49 regular-season games and none in the first round against St. Louis. His world changed against the Ducks. During a break in the series, he even caught a foul ball at Dodger Stadium. “You just keep waiting for your chance,” Brown said. “You have to keep believing in yourself and working hard. You try to practice and show the coaches what you can do and hope your number is called. It’s awful sitting out.”

GAME 2: Slava Kozlov ends classic marathon in 3OT 

GAME 1: Surprise hero lifts Wings over Ducks in OT

Off the ice: Years before Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup playoffs endured its version before Game 3. New Zealand actress Lucy Lawless, star of the syndicated “Xena: Warrior Princess” television show, wore a revealing costume with an Uncle Sam motif to sing the national anthem. This was how Steve Schrader reported the aftermath in the Free Press: “How revealing? As she hit the final notes of the anthem, Lawless threw open her blue blazer and, well, spilled out of the top of her strapless red costume for all of the television audience to see. The next day, Lawless pleaded ignorance during an interview with Dick Purtan on WOMC-FM (104.3). ‘You mean I’ve been flashing on national TV?’ she said. “I am horrified. It did not really come down, did it? Only a little popped out? Big deal.’ When Purtan’s crew described the incident in detail for her, Lawless said, ‘Oh, you lie. … I don’t need that kind of publicity. I get plenty of attention as it is. That costume was too damn small. My mother will cry.”

Famous last words: Ducks coach Ron Wilson remained irked that the Wings fired his father, Larry, and an uncle, Johnny, as coaches back in the day. Wilson pointed out he was born one month after the Wings won their last Stanley Cup in 1955. (Johnny was a left wing on that team, but he was dealt with Tony Leswick, Glen Skov and Benny Woit to Chicago after the season, a trade that produced almost nothing for the Wings.) “They haven’t won a Cup since I was born,” Wilson said. “Maybe that has something to do with it. Maybe that’s an omen. We just want to make sure it keeps going.”

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 (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 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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