If you’ve followed the Detroit Red Wings for any amount of time, then surely you’ve heard the stories about their rivalry with the Colorado Avalanche. During the late 90’s/early 2000’s, there probably was not a more intense hatred between two teams throughout the entire spectrum of professional sports. It all started on May 18, 1996.
Claude Lemieux smokes Kris Draper from behind
Game six of the 1996 Western Conference finals featured the Red Wings and Avalanche. With the Avalanche holding a 3-2 series lead, game six got off to an inauspicious start. With Draper skating backwards along the bench, Lemieux caught an unexpecting Draper with a hit that drove his face into the top of the boards in front of the bench. Draper’s face was destroyed, and Lemieux had unknowingly lit the first match in what would become the rivalry of all rivalries. Lemieux received a two game suspension for the hit, but the price he would eventually pay was much worse than any suspension.
Darren McCarty exacts revenge on Lemieux
Hockey players have long memories. Darren McCarty proved that when he got the chance to finally get his hands on Lemieux on March 26, 1997, a day that will forever live in Red Wings history. After Igor Larionov and Peter Forsberg had a little tussle that resulted in both players going to the ice, McCarty finally had his chance at Lemieux. This was the infamous “turtle” event, in which McCarty got Lemieux to the ice, and pummeled him. Lemieux wanted nothing to do with the situation, leading to him laying on the ice in the turtled position, as McCarty threw punch after punch. Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy tried to come to his teammate’s aid, only to be tackled by Brendan Shanahan. Wings goalie Mike Vernon would make his way into the brawl by helping Shanahan in a scrum of his own, which would lead to the Vernon vs. Roy fight. Both goalies would land shots, with Vernon ending the fight with a takedown. In the end, Lemieux would need to be helped off the ice.
Wings defeat Avalanche 4-2 in 1997 Western Conference Finals
That same season, the two teams would meet in the Conference Finals, with the Red Wings taking the series en route to a Stanley Cup Championship. The series would see ups and downs for both sides, with both teams winning a game in the series by a 6-0 score. Detroit would secure the Conference Championship in game six with a 3-1 victory at the Joe.
McCarty vs Lemieux to start the game
The Avalanche paid another trip to the Joe on November 11, 1997. The Joe was packed, and they were treated to the continuation of a heated rivalry right from the get-go. On the opening faceoff, McCarty and Lemieux were lined up directly across from one another. The moment the puck dropped, so did their gloves. It was a good fight, with commentator Bill Clement even commenting that “Lemieux is not turtling this time”.
Chris Osgood takes on Patrick Roy
After watching Vernon vs Roy from the bench, Wings goaltender Chris Osgood got his chance to insert himself into the rivalry on April 1, 1998. What started as a simple after-the-whistle scrum between Bob Rouse and Warren Rychel would quickly escalate into another historical moment between the two teams. After watching the scrum right in front of him for a few seconds, Roy found his way into the action. This would draw Osgood out to center ice. Roy saw Osgood, and made his way over. The rest is history. Another goalie fight, this time featuring Osgood and Roy. After the game, Osgood said “I kind of had a feeling something would happen… It seemed like he wanted to start something, probably to redeem himself after losing to Vernon last year.”
Avalanche end Red Wings bid at three consecutive Stanley Cups
In the 1999 playoffs, the Wings and Avalanche would meet once again, this time in the conference semi-finals. At the time, the Red Wings had won two straight Stanley Cup championships. The Avalanche would make sure the Wings did not get three straight, winning the series four games to two.
After a three year cool-down period between the two teams, things ramped back up during a regular season match-up on March 23, 2002. Kirk Maltby found himself in the Avalanche crease, which Roy took exception to. This led to another net-front scrum, with Roy right in the middle of it all. Not to be left out of the fun, Wings goaltender Dominik Hasek skated all the way down the ice with his eyes set on Roy. He would slip and fall before getting his hands on Roy, but a full-on line brawl would ensue.
“The Goal Counts! The Goal Counts!”
The 2002 Western Conference finals featured who else but the Red Wings and Avalanche. With the Avs holding the 3-2 lead in the series, a pivotal moment occurred in the first period. Steve Yzerman‘s shot was gloved down by Roy, who proceeded to put his glove in the air, Statue of Liberty style, to show that he had the puck. One problem… he didn’t have the puck. Shanahan proceeded to drive the net and poke the puck home, giving the Wings a 1-0 lead. Detroit would eventually win the game by a final score of 2-0, leading to a game seven that nobody could have seen coming.
The Ultimate Game Seven
The date was May 31, 2002. It was game seven. The conclusion of a long playoff series, with a trip to the Stanley Cup finals on the line. But what was about to happen could not have been predicted. Tomas Holmstrom opened the scoring at the 1:57 mark of the first. A minute and 19 seconds later, Sergei Fedorov made it 2-0. Luc Robitaille scored at the 10:25 mark of the period. Tomas Holmstrom found the back of the net again a couple minutes later, and the rout was on. Detroit would score on Roy a total of six times before he was pulled, which came before the halfway point of the game. The Wings won game seven by a final score of 7-0, went on the Stanley Cup Finals, and beat the Carolina Hurricanes for the championship.
All these moments over the years have created memories that will forever be remembered by both Red Wings fans and players. Tonight’s alumni game between the Red Wings and Avalanche, which will be played at Coors Field in Denver, will give us a glimpse down memory lane. Seeing Lemieux and McCarty on the ice at the same time, as well as the other players who made the rivalry what it was, will be a very special moment for Wings fans. Are you ready, Hockeytown?