Beat-up Detroit Red Wings ready for ‘Armageddon’ vs. Blues in Game 5


In the spring of 1997 — a quarter-century ago — the Detroit Red Wings embarked on their quest to end a 42-year Stanley Cup protection.

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 9: April 24, 1997

The backstory: The Blues practiced in St. Petersburg. Louis before heading to Detroit. The Red Wings practiced at Joe Louis Arena before reporting to a hotel for a 10 pm curfew. How big was Game 5 of this deadlocked first-round playoff series? Keith Gave wrote in the Free Press: “No one in the Red Wings dressing room is willing to dismiss this Stanley Cup playoff game as anything less than Armageddon.” Gave also wrote it might be “the most important game in the four-year tenure of coach Scotty Bowman — perhaps since the ill-fated Game 7 against San Jose in his first year.” Rumors percolated that another early elimination could lead to Bowman’s departure from behind the bench.

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Detroit Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman directs his team to their positions during practice, April 24, 1997 in Detroit.

Biscuit in the basket: Because the Wings had managed five goals in four games, the media’s focus continued to be Detroit’s inability to dent Grant Fuhr. “You don’t tell players how to score goals,” captain Steve Yzerman said. “You go out and do it.” Desperate for production, Bowman shuffled players checking around and rearranged his lines, leaving only the unit of Joe Kocur-Kris Draper-Kirk Maltby intact. Right wing Doug Brown, scratched the entire series, found himself centering Slava Kozlov and Tomas Sandstrom. The Russian Five didn’t practice together. Sergei Fedorov, scoreless in the series and with two goals in his past 24 playoff games, practiced with Yzerman and Darren McCarty. “It just doesn’t matter anymore,” Fedorov said. “I don’t think about who I play with anymore. I go out there, and I try to feel the shoulder of my new partner. I just go out there and play.”

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Detroit Red Wings goalies Mike Vernon, left, and Chris Osgood, right, talk at mid-ice during practice, April 24, 1997 in Detroit.

Detroit Red Wings goalies Mike Vernon, left, and Chris Osgood, right, talk at mid-ice during practice, April 24, 1997 in Detroit.

Worth noting: Bowman wouldn’t say whether Mike Vernon or Chris Osgood would be in goal, but Osgood, who saw 10 minutes of mop-up duty in Game 4, said “I’m done in this series.” … Center Pierre Turgeon was expected to return to the Blues’ lineup, his mysterious headaches suddenly gone. Forward Pavol Demitra was listed as iffy because of a broken finger. And defenseman Igor Kravchuk remained doubtful with torn rib cartilage. He was injured on a Game 2 check by McCarty. … Even defenseman supreme Nicklas Lidstrom felt the pressure to boost the Wings’ offense. “I can try to create more chances, jump up in the play and just be more involved,” said Lidstrom, who had one assist for the series, on Yzerman’s Game 3 winner. … Lidstorm and Vladimir Konstantinov, his usual partner, were a combined plus-49 in the regular season but a combined minus-6 in the playoffs.

Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom skates during practice, April 24, 1997 in Detroit.

Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom skates during practice, April 24, 1997 in Detroit.

Off the ice: Veteran defenseman Bob Rouse, in the middle of everything during the late Game 4 melee, said he did not expect the hostilities to carry over to Game 5 “because the playoffs are all about discipline.” He was involved in two toe-to-toe fights, numerous scrums and had Fuhr sitting on his back at one point. Rookie defenseman Aaron Ward didn’t enjoy his time on the bench during the mayhem. “After I got the third beer poured on me,” Ward said, “I turned around and I got hit in the face with a bunch of change.” He said he used his stick to point out the culprit so security could remove him.

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Famous last words: Bowman apparently didn’t want to say much about Fuhr or at least too much that made sense. He did say “we’ve done our homework” and “we don’t see a lot of goals with the style he has.” Then Bowman added: “We don’t want to talk too much about their goal, because you don’t want to focus away from that.”

The cover of the Free Press book, "Stanleytown, 25 Years Later."

The cover of the Free Press book, “Stanleytown, 25 Years Later.”

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 myersgene@comcast.net.

DAY 1: Wings begin quest to end 42-year cup drought

DAY 2: Bowman finally makes the Fedorov switch Wings need

DAY 3: How Wings finally solved Fuhr to take Game 2

DAY 4: Wings, Shanahan try to break St. Louis hearts

DAY 5: Yzerman, Wings take high road — and Game 3 vs. Blues

DAY 6: Wings ready for fateful Game 4 vs. Blues

DAY 7: Wings miss ‘great opportunity’ vs. Blues, massive brawl erupts

DAY 8: Yzerman delivers stern message to Wings

More to read: Another new Wings book arrived in April from Keith 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.”)

Detroit Red Wings'  Vladimir Konstantinov was still showing a black eye during practice, April 24, 1997 in Detroit.

Detroit Red Wings’ Vladimir Konstantinov was still showing a black eye during practice, April 24, 1997 in Detroit.

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 tales about 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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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: 1997 Detroit Red Wings ready for ‘Armageddon’ vs. STL Blues



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