The Missing Rings is a series looking at some of the best teams in NHL history to not win the Stanley Cup. Whether they lose in the first round or game seven of the finals, these great teams have been forgotten because they could not win the big one. For the next installment, the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings are the focus.
The Missing Rings: 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings
The last time any hockey had been seen before the 2005-06 season was the 2004 Stanley Cup final. The entire 2004-05 season was canceled due to an owners lockout.
The Red Wings were the league’s best team racking up 109 points. The Wings were a veteran team filled with future hockey hall of fame players. Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Chris Chelios all dawned the winged wheel in 2003-04. Still, the future was bright with Pavel Datsyuk leading the team in scoring and Henrik Zetterberg beginning to emerge as well. While nobody on the team was setting the league on fire, they were a balanced team that could win any style of game.
The Wings were favored going into the playoffs, but they were not a runaway favorite as they had been in the past. Still, the Wings took care of the Nashville Predators in six games in the first round. In the Western Conference semi-final, Detroit met the Calgary Flames. The Wings offense went completely dry in the series, scoring only 12 goals. The Wings fell in six games, with Calgary shutting out Detroit in games five and six.
The 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings again entered the year as a Cup favorite. Still, coming off a lost season, nobody was quite sure how teams would look. The Wings as one of the more veteran teams seemed to use the year off to their advantage. Detroit dominated the NHL. 10 years after their dominant 1995-96 season, the Wings put up a similarly dominant season. The Wings put up a 58-16-8 record and 124 points. The closest team to the Wings was the Ottawa Senators, who finished 11 points behind Detroit.
Again, Detroit did not have players in the top 10 in league scoring, but they were deep and balanced. There were four players that scored over 80 points and eight players that scored at least 20 goals. Lidstrom continued to be considered the best defenceman in the league, winning his fourth Norris Trophy in five seasons (six technically, but again no hockey was played in 2004-05).
In net, Detroit was in a bit of a transition. Gone was Curtis Joseph and Dominik Hasek. The Wings had re-signed Chris Osgood in the off-season and had prospect Manny Legace. A pre-season injury to Osgood thrust Legace into the starting role. Legace embraced the challenge was his strong play earned him the starting role the Wings. Despite a strong season, Legace’s inexperience in the playoffs was seen as the biggest reason Detroit would falter.
What Went Wrong
The Wings would face the Edmonton Oilers in the first round. Edmonton squeaked into the postseason with 95 points, 29 fewer than Detroit. Detroit took game one 3-2 in double overtime. It was an ideal start for Detroit but more difficult than expected. The story of the game was Oilers goalie Dwayne Roloson. Roloson made 54 saves in the game to keep Edmonton alive. Roloson’s strong play was the story of the series. The Oilers tied the series in game two winning a 4-2 decision behind Roloson’s 33 saves. Edmonton took a series lead with a 4-3 double-overtime win.
It was becoming apparent that concerns about Manny Legace’s inexperience were becoming realized. Detroit was dominating the games, but Legacy seemed to always give up an inopportune goal while Roloson was keeping Edmonton alive every night.
Still, the Wings were a great team. Detroit would bounce back in game four with a 4-2 win. While this matchup was proving to be more difficult than anyone expected, Detroit had wrestled home-ice advantage back from Edmonton and still could avoid catastrophe.
Unfortunately, Roloson continued to outplay Legace. The Oilers would take game five 3-2. Roloson made 30 saves. Legace had a much quieter night, making only 16 saves. In game six, the Wings had a 3-2 lead with under four minutes to play. The Oilers rallied and scored two goals to lead with just over a minute left in the game. That was it, the Wings were upset in six games. The Wings dominated the league and series but as happens often enough, ran into a hot goalie that was the ultimate equalizer.
The Oilers would ride Roloson all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. They would lose Roloson in game one of the final and would fall in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Manny Legace took the brunt of the blame for Detroit’s loss. He was allowed to leave the team via free agency after the year. It was the end of an era for the Wings as long-time captain Steve Yzerman retired. Another long-time Wing would depart Detroit via free agency, Brendan Shanahan. Still, the Wings continued their strong play putting up 113 points the following season but would lose in the Western Conference Finals to eventual Cup champion Anaheim Ducks. The Wings would return to glory in 2007-08 winning the Stanley Cup.
10 years after the Wings best season (1995-96) they had another incredible season that ended in extreme disappointment. It’s interesting that Detroit has an incredible run of dominance, yet they were unable to immortalize their two best seasons.
While the Wings were able to keep their strong play going for a few more years, the fall from glory was not too far off. The Wing would again make the Cup final in 2008-09 but would fall to the Pittsburgh Penguins. While Detroit would continue to be competitive, their run as one of the NHL’s dominant teams was over.