Detroit Red Wings ready for new foe on 1997 title run


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 12: How 1997 Detroit Red Wings ended St. Louis Blues’ season

DAY 11: Wings prepare for pivotal Game 6 at Joe Louis Arena

Day 13: April 27, 1997

The backstory: With the St. Louis Blues finally in their rearview mirror, the Red Wings enjoyed an off day as they waited to learn their opponent in the Western Conference semifinals. A pair of Game 7s on April 29 would determine whether the third-seeded Wings would tangle with second-seeded Dallas, fourth-seeded Anaheim or fifth-seeded Phoenix. The bad news for Wings fans? Detroit struggled against all three teams during the regular season: 2-4-0 against Dallas, 0-3-1 against Anaheim and 2-2-1 against Phoenix. Detroit also had been outscored by all three — 19-16 by Dallas, 7-3 by Anaheim and 17-15 by Phoenix.

Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood shakes the hand of Blues forward Brett Hull at the end of Game 6 of the first round playoff series at the Kiel Center on April 27, 1997.

The schedule: At 8 the next night, Dallas was to host seventh-seeded Edmonton. If the Stars won, they would play the Wings, and Hockeytown fans could go to bed and skip the 10:30 pm game between Anaheim and Phoenix. But if the Stars lost to the Oilers, the Wings would play the Anaheim-Phoenix winner. With a Dallas victory, the semifinal pairings would be No. 1 Colorado vs. No. 4 Anaheim or No. 4 5 Phoenix AND No. 2 Dallas vs. No. 3 Detroit. With a Dallas loss, the semifinal pairings would be No. 1 Colorado vs. No. 7 Edmonton AND No. 3 Detroit vs. No. 4 Anaheim or No. 4 5 Phoenix. The semifinals were slated to start at week’s end.

Off the ice: The Wings made a bit of NHL history with their six-game elimination of the Blues. The bad news: They were the 31st team in the past 50 years to be shut out twice in a series. The good news: They become only the fifth such team to win their series. The other four: New Jersey in 1994 (vs. Boston), Philadelphia in 1973 (vs. the New York Islanders), Detroit in 1950 (vs. Toronto) and Toronto in 1945 (vs. Detroit in the Stanley Cup finals). The Dallas Stars, in their Game 7, had the chance to become the sixth team to win despite sustaining two shutouts.

In 1950, the Wings actually were shut out three times in the first five games against the Maple Leafs in the Cup semifinals, but they won the series by shutting out Toronto in Games 6 and 7. (The Wings then won the Cup over the New York Rangers on Pete Babando’s double-overtime goal in Game 7.)

Pete Babando played one season with the Detroit Red Wings in 1949-50.  He scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game 7 of double-overtime to seal the Red Wings'  fourth title.  He died Feb.  19, 2020 at 94 years old.

Pete Babando played one season with the Detroit Red Wings in 1949-50. He scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game 7 of double-overtime to seal the Red Wings’ fourth title. He died Feb. 19, 2020 at 94 years old.

WINGS TODAY: How Moritz Seider went from ‘a bit overwhelmed’ to NHL’s leading rookie

Famous last words: In his Octometer, Steve Schrader wrote in the Free Press: “It’s actually a good thing the Wings had a little trouble in the first round. It’ll make them stronger later on in the playoffs. We say that every year.” His Octometer used a scale of one to four octopi. This comment earned only one octopus.

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.

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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.”)

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 the 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: Why 1997 Detroit Red Wings spent a night scoreboard-watching





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