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 19: May 4, 1997
The backstory: Although only Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals, the stakes were high for the Red Wings. Of immediate concern: They needed a victory to retain home-ice advantage before flying out to the Left Coast. For the bigger picture: They needed to avoid another long series. In 1995-96, despite their record-setting 62 victories, the Wings found themselves skating on empty at the start of the conference finals against Colorado because it took 13 combined games to dispatch Winnipeg and St. Louis. Game 2 against the trapping, dumping and stalling Mighty Ducks started as a Sunday matinee but it turned into a Sunday marathon. It lasted five hours and 40 minutes. How long was it? Keith Gave wrote in the Free Press: “This game was so long it preempted Fox’s ‘Married With Children’ so long they’ll have to rename it ‘Married With Grandchildren.’”
Game 2: Gave started his column this way: “Another day, another overtime. And another, and a third. Two games, four overtimes, and a pair of dramatic Stanley Cup victories for the good guys. And some people have the nerve to suggest this is boring hockey! Pullleease!” The Wings won, 3-2, after 91 seconds of the third overtime when Slava Kozlov scored on a power-play slap shot — the game’s 122nd shot and the Wings’ 71st. By that point, Kozlov had taken eight shots, hit a few posts and was repeatedly robbed by Guy Herbert — until a groin injury in the third period — and his backup, Mikhail Shtalenkov. A minute into the third overtime, after Doug Brown drew a hooking penalty driving to the net, following a nifty pass from Sergei Fedorov, the Wings sent out a slew of Russians and Martin Lapointe for the power play. Detroit had been 0-for-9 in the series with the man advantage. After the Ducks cleared their zone, Slava Fetisov skated the puck from his blue line, behind his goal and back to center ice, where he hit a streaking Kozlov down the right boards. Kozlov entered the zone, stopped near the end line and passed back to Vladimir Konstantinov at the point. In an instant, Konstantinov’s pass went back to Kozlov, who fired from near the face-off dot and beat Shtalenkov low.
“Yes, I know him from Russia,” Kozlov said. Did he know his weaknesses of him? “That is a secret.” Kozlov added: “I didn’t see the net. I just snapped it.” The game’s first goal came at 4:34 of the second period, when Ducks defenseman JJ Diagneault deflected a harmless Steve Yzerman shot past Herbert. Diagneault further earned the goat’s horns by hooking Brown in the third overtime. Anaheim’s Jari Kurri tied it at 4:18 of the third period, but Brown regained the lead at 12:14. With his first goal of the series, Teemu Selanne forced overtime with 3:07 left. The Anaheim goalies stopped 68 of 71 shots. Mike Vernon, who stayed energized by drinking half-and-half — Coke and water — and eating oranges and bananas, played brilliantly and stopped 49 of 51 shots. Kozlov, like Vernon, wasn’t fazed by the marathon afternoon. “No big deal,” he said. “Not for Red Wings. We have good shape. We can play couple more overtimes. No problem.”
Gave ended his column this way: “It might be tight, defensive hockey. There might not be many goals scored. But it doesn’t get much better than what the Wings and Ducks gave us. One game, but more than 100 minutes of a thrill ride they can’t give you at Disneyland. Boring indeed.”
Worth noting: With close-out victories in Games 5 and 6 against St. Louis and overtime triumphs in Games 1 and 2 against Anaheim, the Wings crafted their first four-game winning streak of the season. … In the second overtime, the Wings fired 17 shots on the Ducks, including the period’s first 10. … A pair of Russians recorded their first playoff points: Fetisov with two assists and Konstantinov with one. … The Ducks played without top-four defenseman Dave Karpa and forward Ted Drury, each saddled with shoulder injuries. … Anaheim’s Paul Kariya fired a game-high 11 shots but never scored.
Off the ice: The Free Press headline on its front page was “Over … and overtime.” why? Because of the day the Wings needed three overtimes for a 2-0 series lead, the Pistons of Grant Hill and Doug Collins lost the deciding game in a first-round series at Atlanta, 84-79.
Famous last words: The Ducks were steamed by a pair of questionable no-calls in the first overtime. Checker Warren Rychel wore a nasty shiner around his left eye because of Brendan Shanahan’s stick. “If it were me, they’d crucify me,” Rychel said. “If it were me that hit him, it’d be a whole different story.” Selanne, who seemed to be seriously hurt but returned in the second overtime, was slashed in the leg by Kirk Maltby. “That’s a two-handed baseball bat swing to the back of the guy’s legs,” said Ducks coach Ron Wilson. “That’s subject to supplementary discipline, I believe.”
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 email@example.com.
More to read: Another new Wings book arrived in April from 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 such 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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