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 23: May 8, 1997
The backstory: The Red Wings certainly had history on their side for Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals. With a 3-0 advantage over the Mighty Ducks, the Wings would need an epic collapse to miss their third straight trip to the conference finals. Only two teams in NHL history had rallied from 3-0 deficits: the New York Islanders in 1975 (against Pittsburgh) and the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942 (against Detroit in the Stanley Cup Final). But the Ducks, by far at their best on their home ice at Anaheim’s Pond, had been a tenacious and annoying opponent with their trapping, dumping and stalling tactics. The Wings’ three victories had come by a razor’s edge: in overtime, in triple overtime and by rallying from a two-goal deficit. The Ducks had led far longer than the Wings in the series. Still, with one more victory, the Wings could fly back to Detroit for a long rest, halfway possibly to their first Stanley Cup title in 42 years. The Wings would get their Game 4 victory — but not without another titanic struggle and only with the latest goal in franchise history.
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Game 4: The Wings completed their sweep of the Ducks at 3:27 a.m. Detroit time — 62 minutes later than rookie Mud Bruneteau’s goal in the sixth overtime beat the Maroons, 1-0, at the Montreal Forum in the 1936 Stanley Cup semifinals. Jason La Canfora wrote in the Free Press: “While you were sleeping, the Red Wings were scarfing down bananas and water, preparing to play their fifth period of hockey. While you were sleeping, Martin Lapointe was addressing his teammates between periods, urging a hero to step up. While you were sleeping, Brendan Shanahan scored 17:03 into the second overtime, giving the Wings a 3-2 victory and a four-game sweep of Anaheim.” Before Shanahan recorded his second series-clinching goal of the playoffs, the Wings had to overcome two deficits, pepper Mikhail Shtalenkov with 73 shots and see another of their biggest stars end a goal drought. Before all that, the teams traded first-period goals by Joe Sacco for the Ducks and Doug Brown for the Wings. It was Brown’s third goal in as many games. Brian Bellows put the Ducks ahead, 2-1, on a power play late in the second period. But Nicklas Lidstrom, stopped on his first 47 shots in the playoffs, backhanded a loose puck in the slot past Shtalenkov with 10:51 left in the final period. The scoreboard wouldn’t change for another 48 minutes of action. “We were happy to be going to overtime,” Brown said, “because we were down twice during the game. We’ve been in overtime a lot during the season and obviously in the playoffs. We were confident.” Although not victorious in the first overtime. So, Lapointe, who scored 59 seconds into overtime in Game 1, decided to speak up. “Our guys were saying that somebody needs to get it,” associate coach Dave Lewis said. “Somebody do it. Lapointe stood up and said a few words. Marty went through it in Game 1, and he knew from experience how it felt. He was saying, ‘It’s a great feeling, guys. Somebody’s going to get it. It’s in here. Somebody’s going to get it.’” That somebody turned out to be Shanahan, with assists from Lapointe and Steve Yzerman. Detroit unloaded a 16-shot barrage in the second overtime and held the Ducks without a shot for 17 of the game’s final 20 minutes. At 17:03, after a wild free-for-all with goalmouth shots from Lapointe and Yzerman, Shanahan popped home a shot from the edge of the crease. Video review revealed he removed a skate from the crease in a nick of time. “I hope people stayed up to watch it,” Shanahan said. “The way I saw it was just a scramble in front. I just tried to get loose, and I pushed myself away from some guy and the puck just popped out. … I just found myself open and it was a nice gift as the result of the hard work of Marty and Stevie.”
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Worth noting: After Shanahan’s goal, players mobbed him near the Ducks’ net. Other players swarmed goalie Mike Vernon at the other end of the ice. “It’s funny,” Kris Draper said, “because in situations like that, a lot of times everyone goes to the goal-scorer. But Vernie was the shorter skate, so a lot of guys took advantage of that. We had half the guys going to Vernie and half going to Shanahan, and then everyone just sort of came together. That was a special moment.” … Back spasms sidelined grinder Joe Kocur for Game 4. His place was taken by forward Tim Taylor, leader of the Black Aces, the players regularly relegated to watching from the press box. … A good omen? Bruneteau’s goal at 2:25 a.m. in 1936 completed a three-game sweep of the Maroons for the Wings. Detroit then beat the Maple Leafs for its first Stanley Cup. … The elimination of the Ducks marked the seventh four-game sweep in the Wings’ history — but only their third since last winning the Stanley Cup in 1955. That year, they swept the Leafs in the semifinals before beating the Canadiens for the Cup in seven games. Detroit swept early round series with Chicago in 1987 and San Jose in 1995.
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Off the ice: Kocur injured his back in Game 3 when he lost an edge and slammed back-first into the boards. “It’s been sore for a while,” he said. “Hitting the boards just made it a little worse.” Trainer John Wharton attributed Kocur’s fall to a bad patch of ice. “No, I just took a shot and lost my balance,” Kocur said. “It wasn’t the ice. No, no, no, not a chance. It was strictly me. (Wharton) gave me the olive branch, but it’s the wrong kind of tree right now.”
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Famous last words: Anaheim defenseman Bobby Dollas, a Wing from 1990-93 until the Ducks selected him in the expansion draft, praised his former team. “They’re as good as I’ve ever seen them,” he said. “There are a lot of unselfish people on that team right now, and that might have been the problem maybe in the past — guys worrying about statistics and things like that. Now they have a lot of guys putting the team ahead of their personal goals, and they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
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 email@example.com.
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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: 1997 Red Wings: Remembering Brendan Shanahan’s goal while you slept