The Detroit Red Wings of the mid-1990s were labeled as soft.
Critics said they lacked the toughness to win the Stanley Cup, even though they resided atop the NHL standings for much of the decade.
On March 26, 1997, the Wings said enough was enough.
That night represented more than just revenge on Claude Lemieux of the Colorado Avalanche. It was more than just drawing blood to avenge the facial injuries Kris Draper dealt by Lemieux in the 1996 Western Conference finals.
It was a chance to show the hockey world — and even themselves — they weren’t going to be pushovers.
[ Darren McCarty: Mike Babcock cost the Wings the Stanley Cup in 2009 ]
And one could argue that the Wings got the Stanley Cup monkey off their backs, not in early June, but on this late March night at Joe Louis Arena.
With every fist that Darren McCarty dropped on Lemieux in that first-period fracas, the confidence level seemed to rise, both for the Red Wings, and for their fan base.
Let’s look back at some of the finer details from that night:
Who started it?
Many remember that huge fight getting started by a tie-up between the Wings’ Igor Larionov and the Avs’ Peter Forsberg. But earlier in that first period, Detroit’s Jamie Pushor and Colorado’s Brent Severyn got things going with a mostly uneventful bout.
Pushor, in his first full season in the Wings’ defense corps, got a few short shots in before Severyn, a veteran winger, wrestled him to the ice.
It wasn’t the last fight for Severyn, who fought so hard against Aaron Ward in the second period he lost his jersey and all his upper-body pads.
Who really won the fight?
For the Wings, Mike Vernon and Chris Osgood were battling for the No. 1 goalie job. Osgood, 24, had a slightly better goals-against average (2.45 to 2.58) and save percentage (.910 to .899). But it was Vernon, 33, who won 16 games in the playoffs and took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Sure, you could point to Vernon’s experience. He was an All-Star with Calgary in the late 80s and won a Stanley Cup there, too. But he won over Wings fans on this night with his fight against Avs superstar Patrick Roy.
Roy intended to jump in to save Lemieux, but he was intercepted by Brendan Shanahan. Colorado’s Adam Foote jumped on Shanahan, but Roy was already in motion. And when one goalie goes, the other has to — Vernon answered the bell.
After the two netminders exchanged punches, equipment flung off, Vernon got the takedown and was awarded the win.
McCarty could score, too
McCarty told the Free Press ahead of the game: “I was always taught that the best time to get revenge on somebody is when they’re least expecting it.”
He found that revenge, not only against Lemieux, but against the entire Avalanche team. He scored the game-winner in overtime, on a nice feed from Shanahan (who scored the tying goal midway through the third period to force overtime).
Martin Lapointe, another one of the guys responsible for bringing the physicality for the Wings, scored twice that night and had only one roughing penalty.
The other star in that game? Colorado’s Valeri Kamensky, who had a hat trick.
Fight the power
Believe it or not, McCarty was assessed just two roughing penalties for his “run-in” with Lemieux. In the second period, McCarty squared off with Adam Deadmarsh, and both were given five-minute fighting majors. But because his earlier actions weren’t deemed a fight, McCarty was not kicked out of the game.
Severyn and Ward were not as lucky. Their aforementioned fight was the second for both and they were given game-misconducts.
He said it
Avalanche coach Marc Crawford was far from happy after the game. This, from Jason La Canfora’s game story the next day:
“I think that team has no heart,” said Crawford, who elbowed Ward after the game and tried to barge into the officials’ dressing room. “Detroit had the opportunity to do that in our building, but they didn’t. … I think they showed their true colors tonight. Everyone is gutless on that team, and I’d love to see them in the playoffs.”
Crawford should have been more careful about what he wished for: The Wings beat the Avs in six in the conference finals before sweeping the Flyers for their first Stanley Cup since 1954.
Contact Kirkland Crawford: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @HiKirkHere.
Published at Thu, 26 Mar 2020 15:13:52 +0000