In the spring of 1997 — a quarter of a century ago — the Detroit Red Wings embarked on their quest to end a 42-year Stanley Cup drought.
The Free Press commemorated this historic quest with a new book: “Stanleytown: The Inside Story of How the Stanley Cup Returned to Motor Town After a Frustrating 41 Seasons.”
Day 19: May 4, 1997
The backstory: Although it was only Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals, the stakes were high for the Red Wings. Immediate concern: they needed a win to maintain the home advantage before heading down the left rib. For the big picture: they had to avoid another long series. In 1995-96, despite their record 62 wins, the Wings found themselves skating empty early in the conference final against Colorado as it took 13 games combined to eliminate Winnipeg and St. Louis. Game 2 against the trapping, throwing and blocking Mighty Ducks started out as a Sunday matinee, but it turned into a Sunday marathon. It took five hours and 40 minutes. How long was that? Keith Gave wrote in the Free Press: “This game has gone on so long it’s outpaced Fox’s ‘Married With Children’ so long they’ll have to rename it ‘Married With Grandchildren’.
Game 2: Gave began his column with, “Another day, another overtime. And another, and a third. Two games, four overtimes and a pair of spectacular Stanley Cup wins for the good guys. And some people have the nerve to suggest it’s boring hockey! Take it easy!” The Wings won 3-2 after 91 seconds of third overtime when Slava Kozlov scored on a power-play slapshot – the 122nd shot of the game and the Wings’ 71st. At that time, Kozlov had taken eight shots, hit a few posts and been robbed several times by Guy Herbert – until a groin injury in the third period – and his replacement, Mikhail Shtalenkov.One minute into the third overtime, after Doug Brown took a penalty for hooking on the net, following a nifty pass from Sergei Fedorov, the Wings sent a flurry of Russians and Martin Lapointe on 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 streaky Kozlov on the right tapes. Kozlov entered the zone, stopped near the baseline and passed back to Vladimir Konstantinov at the point. In an instant, Konstantinov’s pass returned to Kozlov, who fired near the face-off spot and beat Shtalenkov low.
“Yes, I know him from Russia,” Kozlov said. Did he know his weaknesses? “It’s a secret.” Kozlov added: “I didn’t see the net. I just broke it. The first goal of the game came at 4:34 of the second period, when Ducks defenseman JJ Diagneault deflected a harmless shot from Steve Yzerman past Herbert. Diagneault also earned the horns of the goat by snagging Brown in third overtime. Anaheim’s Jari Kurri tied the game 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 to go. Anaheim goaltenders 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 punches. Kozlov, like Vernon, was unfazed by the marathon afternoon. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Not for the Red Wings. We have good form. We can play some extra overtime. No problem.”
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Gave ended his column this way: “It could be tight, defensive hockey. There may not be many goals scored. But it’s not getting much better than what the Wings and Ducks gave us. One game, but over 100 minutes of thrills that they can’t give you at Disneyland. Boring indeed.
To note: With decisive wins in Games 5 and 6 against St. Louis and overtime wins in Games 1 and 2 against Anaheim, the Wings achieved their first four-game winning streak of the season. … In second overtime, the Wings fired 17 shots on the Ducks, including the first 10 of the period. … Two Russians scored their first playoff points: Fetisov with two assists and Konstantinov with one. … The Ducks played without first-four defenseman Dave Karpa and forward Ted Drury, each struggling with shoulder injuries. … Anaheim’s Paul Kariya fired 11 shots, but never scored.
Off ice: The Free Press headline on its front page was “More…and Overtime.” Why? Due to the day the Wings needed three overtime 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 dodgy no-calls in the first overtime. Checker Warren Rychel wore a nasty minnow around his left eye because of Brendan Shanahan’s stick. “If it was me, they would crucify me,” Rychel said. “If it was me who hit him, that would be a whole different story.” Selanne, who looked badly injured but returned in the second overtime, suffered a leg injury from Kirk Maltby. “It’s a two-handed baseball bat to the back of the guy’s legs,” Ducks coach Ron Wilson said. “That is subject to additional discipline, I believe.”
Relive the Glory: The free press has designed a 208-page full-color hardcover collector’s book with new ideas and dynamic storytelling about the 1996-97 Wings. It’s titled, “Stanleytown 25 Years Later: The Inside Story on the Stanley Cup’s Return to the Motor City After 41 Frustrating Seasons.” It’s only $29.95 and it’s available at RedWings.PictorialBook.com. (This will make a great Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gift for the wing fanatic in your life!) Custom copies available via firstname.lastname@example.org.
More to read: Another new Wings book arrived in April from Gave, a longtime writer on hockey for the Free Press in the 1980s and 1990s: “Vlad the Impaler: More Epic Stories from Detroit’s 1997 Stanley Cup Winnings.” It is available through Amazon and other booksellers with a portion of the proceeds going to the Vladimir Konstantinov Special Needs Trust. (Much of Gave’s prose also appears in “Stanleytown 25 Years Later”.)
More to read: The 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 many stories about key characters from 1997, “The Big 50” is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. (A lot of St. James prose also appears in “Stanleytown 25 Years Later”.)
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