Red Wings’ Russian Five disproving playoffs myth with 1997 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 drought.

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 22: May 7, 1997

The backstory: After the Red Wings’ 5-3 victory in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals, the Mighty Ducks had one day to devise a strategy to send the series back to Detroit. “To sit here right now and say, ‘We’ve got to win four games against Detroit’ is a little bit overwhelming,” Ducks sniper Paul Kariya said. “Can we win one game? Yes, we can.” Only two teams in NHL history had rallied from three-games-to-none deficits: the New York Islanders in 1975 (against Pittsburgh) and the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942 (against Detroit in the Stanley Cup Finals). “You have to take it one game at a time,” Ducks coach Ron Wilson said. “It’s pretty bleak — especially the way the Red Wings are playing.” The other hottest topics on the eve of Game 4 were the stellar play of the Russian Five and the penalties in Game 3.

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Russian revision: With four goals in Game 3, the Russian Five continued to dominate the Ducks. That prompted Keith Gave to write in the Free Press: “Just as important, their impressive performance in these playoffs helps to bury the hideous myth about Russian players in the NHL.” Jimmy Develano, senior vice president for the Wings, spelled it out: “I’m so sick and tired of people saying the Russians don’t get up for the playoffs, that they don’t know the meaning of the Stanley Cup. Bull. They’ve been through the wars, these guys. They know how to win, and they’re here to win the Cup.” Gave continued: “Such suggestions are enough to make a Papa Bear growl, but Slava Fetisov — the elder statesman of the Russian Unit and former Red Army captain — just shrugs it off as more North American bigotry his comrades have to overcome.” Gave pointed out “they’re great targets for abuse in enemy arenas.” As in St. Louis, the fans at the Pond in Anaheim chanted “USA! USA!” when the Russian Five took center stage. “I hope they keep yelling ‘USA! USA!’ like that,” Devellano said. “They seem to really get a burr up their bottom.” To which Vladimir Konstantinov couldn’t dispute. “Yes, we hear it,” he said. “What are they cheering that for? We just try to score a goal right away, and get more attention from the stands.” In Game 3, Igor Larionov scored 10 seconds after the chant started. In St. Louis, Slava Kozlov scored his first goal during the chant. With two goals in Game 3, Kozlov had five goals in the past five games, which Konstantinov was quick to point out disproved the notion about Russians in the playoffs. “See how Slava is playing now compared to the regular season,” he said. “That’s the best example. He raises his level several steps up.”

[ Russian Five excerpt: How Sergei Fedorov escaped USSR for Red Wings ]

In the box: In Game 3, the Ducks built a 2-0 lead by scoring on 5-on-3 power plays. The Wings got back in the game with a pair of power-play goals. That prompted Wilson to criticize his charges: “We didn’t take marginal penalties; we took stupid penalties. If you take a bad penalty, like a needless one, a feel-good one when you punch a guy in the back of the head when you’re angry, the other team always scores. Detroit lost their composure for five minutes, and it was 2-0 for us. And then they regained their composure and that was experience on their part.” The Ducks’ first goal followed a high-sticking penalty on goalie Mike Vernon, who also picked up a 10-minute misconduct for sharing choice words with referee Bill McCreary. That prompted Darren McCarty to say: “There’s a few magic words out there, and we all possess them, we’ve all said them. He’s a pretty feisty guy. He’s a leader in the dressing room, and he was just showing his dissatisfaction — and obviously, McCreary wasn’t going to take his lip. Vernie’s as cool as they come. Nothing really rattles him. That’s about as hot as he gets, but he just blows it off and gets it done.”

GAME 3: Mighty sweet comeback victory puts Wings up 3-0

GAME 2: Slava Kozlov ends classic marathon in 3OT

GAME 1: Surprise hero lifts Wings over Ducks in OT

Red Wings forward Steve Yzerman and the Ducks’ Steve Rucchin in the first period during Game 3 of the playoff series against the Mighty Ducks in Anaheim, Calif., Tuesday, May 6, 1997.

Worth noting: Grinder Joe Kocur was ruled out for Game 4 because of back spasms, suffered when he lost an edge and slid back-first into the boards. … The Ducks hadn’t lost consecutive games at the Pond since early January. … Wilson credited Larionov as the reason Sergei Fedorov and Kozlov were playing their best hockey of the season. “He’s like the hub on their wheel; he’s the computer chip for them,” Wilson said. “Igor has made Fedorov a better player again. He’s a master at taking people out of position like a pied piper and getting the puck to the open man.”

Off the ice: The Los Angeles Times had a little something different about New Zealand actress Lucy Lawless, whose Uncle Sam costume revealed far too much cleavage as she belted out the final notes of the national anthem before Game 3. The Times’ report noted there was a fishing school of 10,000 pargo near Cerralvo Island — and that a certain warrior princess had “muscled in a 44-pounder.”

Famous last words: Sniper Teemu Selanne after Anaheim blew the series’ first two-goal lead: “I said to myself when we go up, 2-0, we have a good chance to win if we just play smart. We didn’t do that. There are 20 guys who didn’t finish the job. I’m disappointed.”

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

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

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: Road to Stanleytown: Red Wings’ Russian Five proving critics wrong



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