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 24: May 9, 1997
The backstory: With hopes of nine or 10 days between series, the Red Wings flew back to the Motor City after completing their sweep of the Mighty Ducks at 3:27 a.m. Detroit time. Following their 3-2 victory in two overtimes, a red-eye flight on Red Bird and an off day at home, their attention could turn to the other Western Conference semifinal. Late that night, the bad news came from Edmonton, where the Colorado Avalanche defeated the Oilers, 3-2, for a three-games-to-one lead in their series. Worse yet, archvillain Claude Lemieux scored the decisive goal 8:35 into overtime. But even worse, the NHL said it might move up the Western Conference finals by a couple days if the Avs won Game 5. Nonetheless, coach Scotty Bowman gave the Wings the weekend off, the team’s first three-day break since the All-Star Game.
By the numbers: A final look the bizarre statistics from the Wings-Ducks series: 223-131 — The Wings’ edge in shots on goal, including 63-35 in the six overtimes. 5⅓ — How many games the sweep took in playing time when counting one hour, 19 minutes and 33 seconds of overtime. 40:49 — The amount of time the Wings held a lead. The Ducks led for 1:06:20 and it was tied for 3:32:24. 5 —The Wings’ margin of victory (13 goals to eight), thanks to outscoring the Ducks, 8-2, in third periods and overtimes. 73 — Shots on Ducks goalie Mikhail Shtalenkov in Game 4. 47 — Shots in the playoffs by Nicklas Lidstrom before scoring his first goal, which tied Game 4 in the third period. 17 — Points by the Russian Five in the series, on six goals and 11 assists. 27.3 —Doug Brown’s shooting percentage with three goals on 11 shots. 1.50 and .939 — Mike Vernon’s goals-against average and save percentage. 5 — Sergei Fedorov’s points and plus/minus rating for the series, which led both teams. (Next with four points were Slava Kozlov and Vladimir Konstantinov for Detroit and Paul Kariya and Dmitri Mironov for Anaheim. Next with plus-4 ratings were Igor Larionov, Slava Fetisov and Larry Murphy for Detroit.)
Out in Alberta: The top-seeded Avalanche coasted to victories against the seventh-seeded Oilers in Games 1 and 2 (5-1 and 4-1). But back home, the Oilers won Game 3, 4-3, and the Avalanche lost superstar Peter Forsberg to a concussion. The Oilers led, 2-1, in Game 4 until Lemieux set up a goal by Sandis Ozolinsh late in the second period. Then Lemieux ended it in overtime by corralling a rebound and squeezing it behind Curtis Joseph. That gave Lemieux nine goals in the playoffs — tops in the league — and a goal in six straight games. “This is a great opportunity for me to win three Cups in three years with two different teams,” said Lemieux, the playoff MVP when the Devils swept the Wings in 1995 and a key agitator when the Avs won in 1996. “I try not to think about it, but it would be huge.” Goalie Patrick Roy said: “Claude has played outstanding since the beginning of the playoffs. In the playoffs, you know he’s going to be there game after game.” Unless the Oilers won three straight games, the Western finals would open at Denver’s McNichols Arena, where Lemieux fractured Kris Draper face in the final game of the 1996 conference finals.
Off the ice: Not only did the Wings win all three overtime games against the Ducks, radio analyst Paul Woods correctly predicted on the air who would score the decisive goal in each instance: Martin Lapointe in Game 1, Kozlov in Game 2 and Brendan Shanahan in Game 4. His partner, Ken Kal, couldn’t believe it. “Last night I said, ‘OK, Swami, what’s your fearless prediction tonight?’” Kal recalled. “He says, ‘Well, it’s between Fedorov and Shanahan, and I think it’s going to be Shanahan. … It’s unbelievable, and I’m not sure just what to make of it. It’s probably his sense of the game, his great knowledge of who’s playing well and all of that. Hey, Woodsy knows his hockey. So, I’m sure not going to say he’s just lucky, although I guess there’s a little bit of luck involved. But when you pick three in a row, geez, you certainly have to know something.”
Famous last words: From associate coach Dave Lewis after the Ducks were eliminated: “We’ve got so many heart-and-soul guys. Brendan Shanahan, Darren McCarty, Joey Kocur, Vladdie Konstantinov. There’s so many character guys. They don’t seem to get rattled. It’s great to see the guys believe in themselves the way they do.”
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 Father’s Day gift for the Wings fanatic in your life!) Personalized copies available via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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