Welcome back to Last Word on Hockey’s summer series where we look at the biggest game in team history. Each day we will be back with a new team to look at. Looking at things like the lead-up, what happened, followed, and why it makes it the biggest game. The biggest game does not automatically mean a win, either. Sometimes, it can be a loss that set the franchise back massively. Sit back and enjoy as we break down all 31 team’s most important game. This is the Detroit Red Wings biggest game in franchise history. The full series is found here.
Detroit Red Wings Biggest Game in Franchise History
The Detroit Red Wings were a powerhouse and won Stanley Cups throughout the 1930s, 40s and 50s. However, the franchise hit a rough patch. They went through something called the “Dead Wings” era from the start of expansion in 1967 until the early 80s.
Fortunes improved when pizza magnate Mike Illitch bought the club in 1982 and Steve Yzerman was drafted in 1983. Detroit slowly built a winner and added Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman to the mix, but never seemed to make any headway in the post-season.
The Red Wings finally reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1995 but were swept by the New Jersey Devils. They won 62 games the next season but were dumped out of the playoffs by the Colorado Avalanche. Detroit would finally put it all together after getting Brendan Shanahan and Larry Murphy to compliment Yzerman and “The Russian Five.” The Red Wings coronation would finally happen during Game 4 of the 1997 Stanley Cup Final against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Leading up to Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final
Detroit would beat the rival St. Louis Blues in six games as Mike Vernon would set the tone by giving up only one goal in the first two games. The Red Wings would then dispatch the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in four straight games to set up a showdown with the rival Avalanche.
Vernon’s stellar play in goal helped the Red Wings take three in a row after dropping Game 1 in Denver. Detroit pounded Colorado 6-0 in Game 4 only for Colorado to return the favour in Game 5. Goals by Sergei Fedorov, Martin Lapointe, and Shanahan seal the series and a matchup with the Flyers.
The Red Wings established their dominance early with a pair of 4-2 wins at CoreState Center in Philadelphia. Detroit then put on an offensive show in Game 3 with a 6-1 drubbing of Philadelphia. Lapointe and Fedorov each scored twice to set up the clinching game at Joe Louis Arena.
June 7, 1997: Stanley Cup Final Game 4
The fans at “The Joe” could just about taste the end of their 42-year title drought. Even longtime announcer Bruce Martyn was brought back to call a part of the game on the radio with Ken Kal. Martyn had been the voice of the team through the teams lean years.
Nicklas Lidstrom broke the tension in the first period by scoring with only 33 seconds left in the period. Tomas Sandstrom had a goal disallowed just over midway through the second period that would have given the Red Wings a two-goal lead. However, it only set up for one of the most iconic playoff goals in recent memory.
Checking forward Darren McCarty got a pass from Sandstrom in the neutral zone. McCarty took the puck and deked around Flyers rookie defenceman Janne Niinimaa. The Burnaby, British Columbia native put the finishing touches only a goal that would make Mario Lemieux proud by getting Philadelphia goalie Ron Hextall to commit and then sliding the puck past him.
The goal brought the house down and it looked like it sealed that long-sought-after Stanley Cup. It brought memorable calls from ESPN’s Gary Thorne, CBC’s Bob Cole and Martyn, who was doing the game with Kal because Kal wanted Martyn to call a Cup-clinching game.
However, Stanley Cup playoff leading scorer Eric Lindros made things interesting with a goal with 15 seconds left to go in regulation. Lindros’ late-tally didn’t spoil the party as the Wings finally hoisted the silver chalice after many years. Vernon would take home the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP.
Detroit would win another Cup with another sweep in the 1998 Stanley Cup Final over the Washington Capitals. It was an emotional win for the club, who saw the career of defenceman Vladimir Konstantinov end in a limousine accident in the off-season.
The Red Wings would continue to be a factor in the late 90s and early 2000s. Detroit would add Stanley Cups in 2002 and 2008 as part of a 25-year post-season streak. Yzerman is now the team’s general manager and looking to bring the team back to the glory days of the 1990s.
1997 Season: Red Wing captain Steve Yzerman leads teammates around the ice with the Stanley Cup. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)