Detroit Red Wings begin quest to end drought
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 is celebrating and remembering the champs with our book: “Stanleytown: The Inside Story of How the Stanley Cup Returned to the Motor City After 41 Frustrating Seasons.”
Day 1: April 16, 1997
The backstory: For three weeks after the greatest night of hockey in the 18-year history of their building — Fight Night at The Joe — the Red Wings did little to buoy fans’ hopes that this would be the year the Stanley Cup finally returned to the Motor City. After that March 26 classic against the hated Colorado Avalanche, the Wings finished 3-3-3, scored only 18 goals in those nine games, hadn’t settled on Chris Osgood or Mike Vernon between the pipes, had abandoned the Russian Five as a unit and were playing their best two-way center, Sergei Fedorov, as a defenseman, leading him to declare heading into the playoffs: “It doesn’t matter whether I’m happy or not.” Detroit finished 38-26-18 with 94 points, a far cry from its 131 points from 1995-96. Still, they were the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and heavy favorites against No. 6 St. Louis. “You’ll see a totally different team in the playoffs, for sure,” forward Martin Lapointe said.
The Blues finished one game over .500 and gave up more goals than they scored, despite future Hall of Fame goalie Grant Fuhr.
Match 1: It wasn’t déjà vu all over again — it was far worse. In the 1990s, the Wings annually seemed to run into a hot goalie at the start of the playoffs. That Fuhr stopped all 30 shots in a 2-0 victory at The Joe wasn’t a shock. The shock was the Wings failed on seven power plays, committed 10 penalties, many of them retaliatory, and couldn’t create scoring chances. “We need more traffic in front,” said Fedorov, still on defense, except when the Russian Five reunited for a late power play (and couldn’t produce a shot). “We didn’t play totally disciplined,” enforcer Joe Kocur said. “You can’t win a game like that,” coach Scotty Bowman said.
Worth noting: Bowman went with Vernon over Osgood in goal, even though Osgood had played 55% of the team’s minutes to Vernon’s 39% and posted far superior statistics (23-13-9 for Osgood vs. 13-11-8 for Vernon, .910 vs. .899, 2.30 vs. 2.43 and six shutouts vs. zilch). Vernon played well, though, stopping 25 of 27 shots and stymieing the Blues on nine of 10 power plays. … Brett Hull assisted on each of the Blues’ goals. … The Free Press’s headline: Oh, blank!
Off the ice: The Wings’ latest playoff slogan — “Get Up!!” — landed like a dude with fans. The players, though, liked it, because they were given input after complaining about the previous year’s “I Want Stanley” slogan, which fans loved.
Famous Last Words: Resident Sports Department humorist Steve Schrader wrote: “That’s the slogan the marketing whizzes CAME UP!! with this year. We have a few more for the Wings: WAKE UP!! PUT UP or SHUT UP!! And don’t make us THROW UP!! again.”
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!)
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