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The Red Wings’ Epic Comeback: Revisiting the Triumphant 1997 Stanley Cup Finals

For those of us who are old enough to remember, the 1996-1997 Detroit Red Wings season that ultimately culminated in their first Stanley Cup victory since the days of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Terry Sawchuk, and Sid Abel was one of the greatest moments of our lives. Not only were the 42 previous years of agony finally put in the past, but a new generation of Red Wings heroes forever etched their names into franchise lore.

Detroit Red Wings 1997 Stanley Cup

1997 SCF Game 1 Recap

The Red Wings were fresh off an emotional Western Conference Finals victory over their hated rival Colorado Avalanche. However, even still, most listed them as the underdogs to the powerful Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia Flyers. Most analysts figured that the infamous “Legion of Doom” line led by the imposing Eric Lindros along with John LeClair and Mikael Renberg would be too much for Detroit to handle, and most predictions were for the Flyers to be enjoying their first Cup win since the Broad Street Bullies days of the early ’70s.

Detroit didn’t get the message. Grind Line members Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby would combine for the game’s opening score, converting on a two-on-one rush that had Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall sprawling out of position. Despite an immediate response from Lindros, Detroit would regain the advantage thanks to Joey Kocur capitalizing on a brutal turnover from Kjell Samuelsson and roofing a backhand past Hextall.

Subsequent Detroit goals from Sergei Fedorov and Steve Yzerman would prove to be enough offense for Detroit, who jumped out to the 1-0 series lead with the 4-2 win.

1997 SCF Game 2 Recap

The Flyers clearly felt as though they were punched in the mouth by Detroit and made a move that some saw as a desperate maneuver by replacing Hextall in the net with backup Garth Snow for Game 2.

That move would immediately backfire, as sniper Brendan Shanahan beat Snow with a slapshot from just inside the blue line just minutes into the contest. And as coincidence would have it, the puck deflected off the skate of Paul Coffey, whom Detroit had traded the previous October along with Keith Primeau in exchange for Shahanan.

After Detroit took a 2-0 lead thanks to a power play goal from Yzerman, the Flyers were able to finally show some fight and clawed their way back into the game thanks to two straight late 1st period tallies from Rod Brind’Amour.

However, Detroit would once again take the lead with a goal that heavily brought into question Philadelphia’s goaltending. Maltby scored his second of the series by beating Hextall from long range in the second period, giving Detroit the lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The scoring would be capped by Shanahan’s second of the game, converting on a two-on-one rush with forward Martin Lapointe.

1997 SCF Game 3 Recap

The 19,983 fans that packed Joe Louis Arena for Game 3 of the Finals would soon be quieted by Leclair scoring his first goal of the series, giving the Flyers the 1-0 for the first time. But thanks to Yzerman, that lead lasted precisely 120 seconds. His goal would lead to the floodgates of offense being opened on Hextall, who was re-inserted into the starter’s position by head coach Terry Murray.

Yzerman’s goal was followed by tallies from Fedorov, Lapointe, Fedorov again, and then Shanahan, giving Detroit a commanding 5-1 advantage heading into the 3rd period.

Lapointe would once again strike in the game’s final frame, and by the time it was all said and done, Detroit’s 6-1 domination would put them just one win away from the Stanley Cup.

1997 SCF Game 4 Recap

June 7, 1997 will forever be remembered by Red Wings fans as the night that the 42-year curse finally came to a fitting end.

Nicklas Lidstrom opened the scoring late in the 1st period by beating Hextall with a slapshot from just inside the blue line, setting the stage for Darren McCarty to score one of the great goals in Stanley Cup Final history, giving the Red Wings a seemingly insurmountable 2-0 lead.

Though Lindros would finally score his first goal of the Finals with just seconds remaining in the contest, it was too little, too late. The image of Yzerman leaping into Vernon’s arms as the final horn sounded and the confetti began raining from the rafters of The Joe is iconic in Red Wings lore.

Vernon would earn the Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff MVP, and soon, it became time for Yzerman to finally get his hands on the prize that he’d waited 14 years for. The image of Yzerman’s wide grin with one of his front teeth missing lifting the Stanley Cup over his head will forever be remembered by those in attendance and for the millions watching worldwide.

Wrapping It Up: The Red Wings set the stage for a dynasty

Though an unthinkable tragedy would strike the organization less than a week later with the career-ending limousine accident that forever changed the lives of defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov and trainer Sergei Mnatsakanov, the Red Wings would use the terrible situation as a springboard to repeat as champions the following season in 1998.

By the time their postseason streak finally ended in 2017 at 25 consecutive playoff appearances, they’d won four Stanely Cup championships while adding another two Stanley Cup Finals appearances.

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