During its heyday, the rivalry between the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche was one of the fiercest and most bitter not only in hockey but in all of sports. Regular season games between the two always had playoff-like, atmosphere, and the two would battle in six playoff series between 1996 and 2008. Although it was nearly impossible to draw only five moments from the rivalry, here are what could be considered the top five moments in the battles between them from a Detroit perspective.
Coaches Scotty Bowman and Marc Crawford’s war of words
Game 4 of the 1997 Western Conference Finals was a whitewash. The Red Wings handily defeated the Avalanche by a 6-0 score, giving them a 3-1 series lead. Late in the third period after yet another fight broke out, Avalanche coach Marc Crawford, visibly frustrated by the pounding his team received, began to scream at Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman from across the bench. He would have to be restrained by his own players and a linesman. Bowman humored Crawford and allowed him to finish his tantrum before calmly saying,”I knew your father before you did, and I don’t think he’d be very proud of how you’re acting.” Crawford’s actions would cost him $10,000 in fines.
Osgood’s bout with Roy
April 1, 1998, was another entry into the highlight reel of this legendary rivalry. During yet another brawl between the two, Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy decided to try and seek revenge for losing his fight against Mike Vernon the previous season by taking on the Red Wings new starting goaltender, Chris Osgood. As he did with Vernon, Roy had a considerable size advantage over Osgood, but that didn’t prevent him from ending up underneath the Detroit goaltender (again) once the dust settled. Osgood held his own and received the same ovation from the Joe Louis Arena crowd that Vernon received a year prior.
1997 Western Conference Finals Game 6
Following Detroit’s 6-0 rout of the Avalanche in Game 4 of the 1997 Western Conference Finals, they were a victory away from dispatching their rival to go to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Avalanche, however, would return the favor in Game 5, defeating the Red Wings by an identical 6-0 score to extend the series to a sixth game in Detroit. A scoreless first period set the stage for winger Martin Lapointe, who took a pass from Igor Larionov and blasted a shot past the glove of Patrick Roy for the game’s opening score. Roy, unable to believe he was just beaten, was seen checking his catching glove for holes, of which there were none. Sergei Fedorov’s third-period goal would extend Detroit’s lead to 2-0. Colorado would cut the lead in half, but Brendan Shanahan sealed the deal with an empty-net goal, sending the Hockeytown crowd into a frenzy and assuring Detroit the win. They would go on to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers in a sweep for their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.
2002 Western Conference Finals Game 7
The matchup that the hockey world was salivating for ended with one of the most lopsided victories in the history of Stanley Cup Playoff Game Sevens. A back and forth series saw the two teams split the first four games, leading to the Avalanche stunning the Red Wings in Game 5 on a Peter Forsberg overtime goal to take a 3-2 series lead back home to Denver. Detroit had other ideas, defeating the Avalanche 2-0 on the backs of a Dominik Hasek shutout and Patrick Roy’s ill-fated “Statue of Liberty” play, setting the stage for a winner-take-all showdown at Joe Louis Arena for a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Red Wings scored on their first two shots and led by an astounding 4-0 score after 20 minutes. Two more quick goals in the second period sent Roy to the showers, much to the delight of the Hockeytown crowd. A third-period goal by rookie Pavel Datsyuk extended the lead to 7-0, adding insult to injury. Dominik Hasek earned his fifth shutout of the 2002 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Detroit would go on to defeat the Carolina Hurricanes in five games to earn their third Stanley Cup title in six years.
Fight Night at the Joe
In the defining moment of the hatred between these two clubs, no date stands out more than March 26, 1997. A single word defines this game to this day – vengeance.
Detroit was still seething from the previous year’s playoff series, in particular at Avalanche forward Claude Lemieux for his dirty hit from behind that rearranged Kris Draper’s face. The Avalanche had defeated the Red Wings in the team’s first three matchups of the 1996-97 season and wanted number four. Detroit had other plans.
A wrestling match between skilled forwards Igor Larionov and Peter Forsberg set the stage for Darren McCarty to exact revenge on Lemieux, beating him into a pulp while Lemieux infamously “turtled”. Patrick Roy immediately skated out to assist his forward and was greeted by a flying Brendan Shanahan, who then squared off with defenseman Adam Foote. Mike Vernon soon got in on the fun, and the two goaltenders went at it at center ice. Adam Deadmarsh and Vladimir Konstantinov would scrap before the period ended, and the game would feature an additional five fights before regulation ended tied at 5-5.
Detroit would emerge victories, defeating the Avalanche 6-5 in overtime, with the game winner appropriately being scored by Darren McCarty.