July 30, 2008

The Triple Deke's Top 10 Red Wings Games

For the hockey fan portion of me, summer is starting to feel abnormally long. It doesn't seem like it should. "Long" summers are supposed to follow playoff exits to the Avalanche and Chris Pronger's teams, not Stanley Cup championships. So to pass the time, just for the sake of doing something new on this blog, and to commemorate our 100th post, I bring you the Top 10 Wings games that I have seen in life.

Some of the games are out of left field, some are rather cliche. In order to make the list, the games had to fit under a scattered, arbitrary umbrella of senseless criteria that would be too painful to outline. So just read it. (Oh, and I tried to go into as much detail as I could, writing it off and on for about a week, so this post ended up being my longest ever, just to give a heads up. I think it has more words than all four Monster Blood's combined.)


#10 ~ 1997 Western Conference Finals, Game 2: Red Wings 4-2 Avalanche

Of all of the renowned Wings/Avs games that have been played over the years (and you can bet there will be a few on this list) I'm not sure how many people truly remember this one. After crushing the high hopes of the 62-win Red Wings in the Conference Finals the year before, Colorado got off to another good start in this series by winning the first game 2-1 on the legs of a stellar Patrick Roy performance. And early on in Game 2 they appeared ready to take the Wings down the same miserable path to another disappointing playoff finish.

They started the game by jumping out to a very demoralizing 2-0 lead. To make matters worse, Roy was still rocking his invincibility cloak. I specifically remember an instance where the entire right side of the net was left open after a skirmish in front, and what looked like a surefire goal was erased by a ridiculous diving save that made me nearly scream "No fucking way" in front of my mom. So, yes, things looked bad. After seeming to outplay Colorado in the first game only to come away with a loss, they were staring a zero-games-to-two hole right in the mouth. Their stupid arena was loud, and their stupid players were more than confident that they were in the Wings' heads. They were, after all, the favorites to win this series as well as the defending champs.

A fortuitous bounce would turn the game around, however. The Wings got an opportunity to get back in the game in the 2nd period when Mike Ricci took a penalty for excessive cock sucking. On the powerplay, Igor Larionov got credit for a goal that deflected off a defenseman near the goalmouth on an attempted pass. It didn't matter that the goal was lucky or even a cheap one -- all that mattered was that the Wings had some life in a game and a series that was spiraling out of control much too early for them to accept. Now, going into the 2nd intermission, they had something positive to fall back on while being surrounded by the shit storm that was the Colorado Avalanche.

In the 3rd, the Wings were granted another power play and again took advantage, as their hard work finally began to pay off. Sergei Fedorov one-timed a shot by Patrick Roy to put the series on its head. It was a full 180 degree turn in momentum; the Avs were in complete psychological control only a period ago, and now their bid for a 2-0 lead had taken a massive hit. In the history of huge momentum swings, this one is up near the top -- I, and I assume many others were not feeling a single drop of confidence when things were at their bleakest. Now we were a goal away from stealing a game in Colorado and taking home ice away from them.

Later into the 3rd, one of the sickest Red Wing goals in history took place. Steve Yzerman glided into the Colorado zone with a man in front of him around the left faceoff circle. Looking to just put a puck on net, he swooped to the outside and around the defenseman, and then tried to go short side on Roy. It hit his shoulder and bounced behind the net, but Yzerman was still eying a scoring chance. That's when he shat all over the state of Colorado: He banked it in to give the Wings a 3-2 lead. It was un-fucking-real. Roy was on his knees, with his back not quite up against the post, and Stevie saw fit to careen the puck right off of Roy's ass. I can't tell you how many times I tried to recreate this goal in my driveway, it drove my friends insane. Rather than shoot from the front of the net like a normal person, I would continuously take the puck behind the net, wasting minutes on end trying to bait somebody into reasonable banking position. More times than not I would just miss my target completely and hit somebody in the eye or the nuts.

As the 3rd period wound down, the theatrics weren't over with. Nicklas Lidstrom saved planet Earth when Mike Vernon was caught out of the net and he bailed him out by making an impromptu stick save. I saved my shit-stained underwear from this game as a memento.

Darren McCarty capped off a phenomenal turnaround by owning Roy on a breakaway, roofing it glove side to seal the game: 4-2 Wings.



#9 ~ 1998 Western Conference Semifinals, Game 3: Red Wings 3-2 Blues (2 OT)

This game makes the cut for two specific images that will be burned in my brain for as long as I have a memory of such trivial things as hockey games.

The contest got underway when Darren McCarty scored early in the 1st period. You may remember it as that goal where he absolutely destroyed Grant Fuhr afterward in a collision, as he was tripped and stumbled into the goaltender, sending sticks flying into the air and the net back into the boards.

The Blues responded with a bomb from Al Macinnis at the point. It was a blazing shot. Hardly a screen in front of Osgood, too. Macinnis' shots didn't require screens -- they were so frightening that goaltenders welcomed as many bodies that could fit between the shot and the crease.

But this Macinnis goal is not the one that this game is remembered for. The first thing I recall about this game is that old Al had an even bigger bomb with the Wings leading 2-1 with only one minute to play in regulation. Al "Fucking" Macinnis, as he's now referred to, decided that his 100 mph slapshot was so balls-out amazing that he could score from anywhere in the arena. He picked his spot, right on the red line at center ice, and let go a screaming howitzer of a shot. It caught Osgood a bit off-guard and found it's way under his left arm. Tie game, 2-2. I remember vividly how much this goal sucked. It really, truly, seriously sucked. Up to this point in the playoffs, this being the Wings 9th game, they had struggled with the Coyotes before putting them away in six, split the first two games against St. Louis at home, and now this. It was hard to be optimistic when your goalie was letting in soft goal after soft goal. I thought this game was done and that the Blues would only need a few minutes of OT to oust the Wings.

After a long 3rd intermission, the dreaded overtime had arrived. Taunting chants of "OOZZZZZ -- GOOOOOD" rang throughout the arena. I waited for the Blues to just finish off the Wings so I could go pout myself to sleep. The Blues' Craig Conroy, it appeared, was ready to play the role of executioner.

Entering the circle on Osgood's left, Conroy fought off a Wing defenseman and shot it low and wide on goal. It slid past Osgood......it hit the post.......it slid all the way across the goal line....it hit the other post.......and came back out. Unbelievable.

I thought it was in. Conroy thought it was in. The crowd thought it was in. So we had a review of the shot: The second thing I recall about this game is the overhead replay of this memorable "no goal." To this point, after only seeing it live, I assumed the worst, that it had gone in. It sure looked like it did to me. But that overhead angle -- wow. Seeing the puck slide directly across the goal line and not go in was chilling. It was also invigorating; I was in a disheveled heap on the couch and shot back to life when I saw the replay. Maybe that was the only Blues chance, I thought.

In the 2nd overtime, Brendan Shanahan saved the day. Coming down on Grant Fuhr's right, he fired it low and hit his spot. Game over. Sadness over. Blues: in shambles. The Wings would go on to win the series in six games, beating St. Louis in the postseason for the 3rd straight year.



#8 ~ 1997 Western Conference Finals, Game 6: Red Wings 3-1 Avalanche

I already went over this one a couple of weeks ago, and also linked a video of this game there. In that post, I said that this would be one of my top 5 favorite Wings games if I ever made such a list, and that's when I got the idea to compile a Top 10. Turns out that estimation was a little off, as you see it at #8 here. But nonetheless this is still a very memorable game, one that has burned up my VCR over the years with continuous playback.

It's on the list more so for it's importance and significance than it is for how well it was played. By winning this game, the Wings would advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, but perhaps equally important was that they would sever any remaining psychological hold that the Avalanche had on them. Over the course of the series, the Wings had outplayed Colorado and appeared to have the upper hand. But when the Avs resurrected themselves for a 6-0 defeat in Denver in Game 5, the series had a much different feel to it. Now, with a 3 games to 2 lead, the Wings had to either finish off the Avs at the Joe or take their chances with a Game 7 in Colorado. A Game 7, needless to say, would have sucked balls.

So under the circumstances, and backed by an inspiring pregame rally by Scotty Bowman, the Wings played one of the most emotionally charged games I've ever seen them play. You could tell that each and every player would've rather got bent over by Mike Ilitch one by one than go back to Colorado. After a tense, scoreless 1st period in which Patrick Roy made numerous big saves, the Wings broke through in the 2nd when a scorching Marty LaPointe slapshot burned right through Roy and into the net for a 1-0 lead. The goal was as much a relief as anything. I remember watching this game in the living room of our old house, and right as Lapointe scored my dad went by the window, mowing the lawn. Why he was mowing the lawn at like 9 in the evening I don't know. But what I remember was that he (not a hockey fan, mind you) was wearing head phones, listening to the game, and gave a mini fist-pump in celebration. Even to this day he claims to not like hockey, but he still watches Red Wings playoff games for some weird, unknown reason to our family. He's a strange dude.

The game stayed 1-0 until Sergei Fedorov scored a gargantuan goal, with a little help from his two wingers Slava Kozlov and Doug Brown. During this Cup run the line of Kozlov/Fedorov/Brown played a huge roll, particularly in the last two series, and finished the playoffs with a combined 39 points in 20 games. Most of those points came from the two Russians but Doug Brown's forechecking was an invaluable compliment, and his effort was on full display for this goal: Involved in a scramble along the boards, Brown managed to kick the puck to an oncoming Kozlov, who then faked going to the net, swooped behind it, and delivered a perfect centering feed to Fedorov. Sergei was stoned on the initial attempt, but pounded in the rebound for the goal. My favorite part of this whole game was the bench reaction to this goal; they looked as excited as I was the first time I beat Super Mario 3.

After a terrifying Avalanche goal to make things 2-1, Brendan Shanahan effectively ended the series with an empty netter that was about as gratifying as an empty netter has ever felt. The Joe was rocking, like it had literally come to life. Like I have mentioned before, the Red Wings and their fans really, really, really wanted to win this series. The weight of this game's inclusion on the list is mostly held in how big this series-clincher proved to be in the long run of this rivalry. Not only did it propel the Wings to their first Cup in four decades, it also was a huge response to last year's playoff disappointment.



#7 ~ 1998 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 2: Red Wings 5-4 Capitals (OT)

In the simplest sense, Game 2 of the '98 Finals was one marked by ups and downs. The Red Wings were coming off a 2-1 victory in Game 1, a game that played like a typical "feeling-out" contest. This game, however, started out much differently. The Wings had all of the momentum in their favor, jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a goal from Steve Yzerman, and were pouring all of the pressure on the underdog Capitals by getting an endless number of scoring chances. But Olaf Kolzig kept Washington in the game long enough for Peter Bondra to tally another "soft" goal against Chris Osgood, which seemed to be the gameplan for every fucking team in '98: "Just wait things out, keep it close, and Osgood will eventually fuck things up." Now the Caps had some confidence.

They took the lead when Used Tampon...I mean Chris Simon scored, and then got a two goal advantage when former Wing Adam Oats perfected a roofing job. What in the hell was this shit? The Capitals? Seriously?

Just when things couldn't get worse, the Wings took a penalty. No fear, though, because Steve Yzerman scored again on a 2-on-1 to make it 3-2. I breathed a half-sigh of relief.

It was only half-sigh because I couldn't even fucking exhale before Washington scored their next goal. 28 seconds later, some shoddy defensive coverage led to a little tic-tac-toe play behind the net, and Joe Juneau scored to make it 4-2. It was back to "what the hell is this shit" mode.
But the Wings wouldn't give up. Marty Lapointe picked up a loose puck in traffic in front of the net and scored to make it 4-3. At this point the game was growing larger and larger in epic-ness, to the point where you knew you were watching something you wouldn't likely forget. Every big moment began to play off the next one, as the game kept trying to outdo itself. And if the game wasn't wild enough: Esa Tikkanen......wow, dude. Wow.

Every Wings fan remembers Tikkanen for his phenomenal gaff in the 3rd period. He skated in alone on Ozzie. He wound up for a slapshot, faked it, and went wide. Ozzie was 10 feet out of the net. Tikkanen had an empty look. And then he fucked it up. It was here where we knew the Wings were going to find a way to pull it out. Doug Brown then came up huge minutes later as he stole the puck in the Caps' zone, went short-side high on Kolzig and blew the roof off JLA. What an individual effort. He could've handed out 10,000 dollars to each fan there and they wouldn't have been half as happy as they were after that goal.

Then we had overtime. Of the 10 games on this list, 6 of them go to OT, (I'm a bit of an overtime whore, so what) but this is the only one where I was close to 100% certain that we would win. Kris Draper didn't let this one go on for too long as he was wide open on top of the crease for a tip-in after a Marty Lapointe centering pass. The Caps might as well have canceled the rest of the series because there was absolutely no way that they were going to come back from this. The Wings won the series in a sweep and hoisted the Cup for the 2nd straight year.



#6 ~ 2008 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 5: Red Wings 3-4 Penguins (3 OT)

This is where I take a brief, perhaps odd turn. Most Red Wings fans, even years from now, will choose to treat this game as if it never happened. I can't.

First of all, this isn’t entirely a list of my 10 favorite Red Wings games. The other nine pretty much fall in that order, but overall, this is a list of the 10 most memorable Wings games that I have seen, whether those memories are good, or, in this case, outright horrifying. Secondly, this game was, from a hockey fan’s standpoint, sublime entertainment. Sure I skipped class the next day because I was so downtrodden and mentally pummeled, but let’s not concentrate on that for now.

My convoluted recap of the game is here and the follow-up post to that one is here, so I’ll leave out any sort of game summary in this segment. The first one should not have been done -- I did it literally within two hours of the game ending, which was an impossibly bad idea. But after re-reading all of my blubbering, and ignoring the fact that just looking at it gave me vaginitis, I still stand by the basic points of everything I said. The game was extraordinary, it was bone-crushingly intense, and it reached a dramatic level that only a handful of other Detroit games have in my lifetime.

The only thing I take back is the title: “I Hate Sports.” It wasn’t even a joke when I wrote it. I was mad at an imaginary physical entity that resembled “sports”, and I wanted to punch this figure in the face repeatedly. But in fact, when I detach the Red Wings from my memories of this game and look at it simply as two teams playing for a championship, this game represented everything that I love about sports. It was so unpredictable, at times expertly played, and provided great theatrical entertainment. I'm still scarred by it, as all Red Wings fans will be for as long as they follow this team, but that on its own doesn't describe how I remember the game. The litany of emotions that my friends and I went through while watching it -- the good and the bad -- stretched across a wider spectrum than any game previous to it, and I think for that reason alone I can’t leave it off of my Top 10.



#5 ~ 2002 Western Conference Finals, Game 7: Red Wings 7-0 Avalanche

Now we're to the part where, if you're a Wings fan, you might be able to guess what the remaining games will be. Hey, this wasn't an attempt to be "edgy" or anything.

(But seriously though, I've done my best so far to make this an actual ranking. Like most people, I can't turn away from a list, whether it be sports-related or like the Top 10 Episodes of Perfect Strangers or something. But I fucking hate it when you see Top 10's and other lists like that on TV or the Internet where they clearly didn't put any thought into the actual ranking of whatever they're listing. That's supposed to be the whole point of it, right? They just throw some shit together and end up with a complete mess. So, I tried to not do that, and I tried to literally make it so #9 was better than #10, # 8 was better than #9, and so on. Whether you disagree or whatever, that's fine, but as long as we ever have any sort of list here at TTD (you know what, fuck it -- I want to do that "Perfect Strangers" thing next) you can be assured that it carries the integrity of a meticulously calculated order of the most insignificant shit you have ever read. For some reason I take pride in that. Let's just move on...)

So yeah, the game. This glorious game. The last meaningful Wings/Avs postseason game to date (the Massacre of 2008 doesn't count....series' have to last longer than 2 and half hours to be considered "meaningful"). The previous six games set the stage for what felt like the biggest game I had ever watched. I recall watching this one alone, in my basement, away from all human contact. I didn't want to talk to anybody. As far as I was concerned, as a 16 year-old guy who couldn't so much as look at a girl without wetting myself let alone get a date with one, this was the most important night in the history of our solar system. Yes, I can see how that's a little self-centered. So be it. Waiting for this night was worse than waiting for 100 Christmas mornings put together.

But less than 2 minutes in, all of the tension was relinquished. Tomas Holmstrom tipped in a point shot to open up the scoring. This tip-in was perhaps the finest I have ever seen: the shot appeared to be going wide; Homer was fighting for position in front of Patrick Roy, per usual, and desperately reached for the puck to deflect it, as he was in mid-air, falling down. 1-0 Wings.

Only a couple moments later, Sergei Fedorov scored on a slapper from the left wing. Absolutely delirious. Roy fucked up on the shot (really, really fucked up) and just tried to punch it away with his blocker. It hit the inside of his hand and bounced into the net. 2-0 Wings.

Luc Robataille had the next one. It was a 5-hole wrister from in close -- not Patrick Roy's best start, to say the least. He was clearly, visibly bothered by this wretched beginning. 3-0 Wings, still the 1st period. Was this seriously happening?

Then another Homer goal, still in the 1st period. This was getting ridiculous....I had a permanent smile on my face that lasted from this until Ron Francis scored in OT in game 1 of the Cup Finals a few days later. The funny thing was that Homer wasn't initially credited for either of his goals, so he was one goal away from a hat trick while not officially having scored yet. The Joe was drunk with joy, by the way: 4-0 Wings.

More goals were still on the way. Olausson and Hull this period. Meanwhile, the Dominator was shutting things down on his end, but it wasn't like there was much to do. Unfathomably it was 6-0 going into the 3rd...it felt like one big party. A young Pavel Datsyuk finished off the onslaught with a power play goal near the end. It was fucking 7 to nothing. Never before in a Wings game had I seen something this unexpected happen. Few times in life had I felt happier than I did on this night. The Avalanche still might have had more series wins after this one (3-2), but the Wings had won what is widely considered one of the better conference finals (if not series' in general) of all time. They also finished it in ass-whooping fashion, winning the final two games of the series by a combined score of 9-0.



#4 ~ 2002 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 3: Red Wings 3-2 Hurricanes (3 OT)

Our next stop takes place only three games later, right in the heart of hick country. The Wings could only manage a split in Detroit, after Carolina stole Game 1 and the Wings had to use a late goal to secure Game 2. This set up an intensely played Game 3; the hits were hard and frequent as the 'Canes tried to play up to their drunken fans. It worked, for most of regulation.

The Hurricanes struck first on a goal from Josef Vasicek that went under Hasek's right arm. "Ugghh" was my response. The Wings were roughly 100 times more talented than the Canes, but they had a great playoff run as the 8th seed out of the East, and then they had a pretty good Cup Finals too all things considered. Anytime they had a lead they went into New Jersey Devils mode and shut things down. Even with a talented bunch like the 2002 Red Wings, it still wasn't that fun trying to come back on them.

In the 2nd period with the Canes still leading 1-0, Igor Larionov scored on a perfect one timer in front of the goal to tie it up. The centering pass was delivered by Brett Hull, who made a nice individual play to retain the puck in the corner before finding an open Igor. The game remained a tie until the 3rd period when Jeff O'Neill decided to be a dick...he was was on the receiving end of a brilliant lead pass that split the Red Wing defense right at the blue line, carried it in on Hasek and put Carolina up 2-1. This team just wouldn't quit being annoying as fuck.

I couldn't believe the Wings were about to go down 2 games to 1 to these guys. They were minutes away from defeat and the crowd seized their opportunity to be as humanly loud as possible. Scary times indeed. I don't want to say I lost hope entirely, but I was at the least resigned to the fact that a miracle wasn't going to come.

The Wings had a late faceoff with under two minutes to play in the Carolina zone. Steve Yzerman won it back to Sergei Fedorov, who swung it around to Nick Lidstrom, who took a hopeful shot from the point.....and it went in! Holy fuck, it went in the net! Less than 90 seconds left in the game and the Red Wings had magically tied it, as Brett Hull pulled a Tomas Holmstrom and deflected the puck past Arturs Irbe. Wow I was stoked. The Canes weren't too rattled though, as they had amassed 7 overtime victories this playoff season. We were in for a battle that would turn into an epic, triple overtime showdown.

The overtimes are a complete blur to me. I remember watching this game with Brent, and things got a little stir crazy watching a five hour long hockey game with the stakes this high. The longer it went the more insane we felt. And the longer it went, the more devastating it would be for the losing team. There were a couple of "oh, shit" moments in the 2nd OT when the Wings got a power play but couldn't score, and then the obligatory Carolina power play was granted later on, but nothing came of it.

In the 3rd and final overtime, the game was 30 seconds away from becoming the longest in Stanley Cup Finals history when Igor Larionov, aged 41, notched his second goal of the game. My reaction to this can be best described as relief + whatever the verbal equivalent to going "fa;lkdjfopicjv;kafj;aoidjd;kafjd;fijad;fkcioewe" on your keyboard is. Happy doesn't begin to describe how we were after the puck going in. The Wings owned the Canes in Game 4 winning 3-0, then they beat them 3-1 to win the Cup in Game 5.



#3 ~ 1997 Regular Season, March 26: Red Wings 6-5 Avalanche (OT)

It was about as big of a game as a non-playoff game can be. The Avalanche were our newly minted arch nemesis, a branding that was complete after Claude Lemieux saw fit to erase Kris Draper's face the year before in the Conference Finals. They went on to win the Cup, and then they beat the Wings the first three times they played them in 1996-97. God, we hated this team. Roy, Lemieux, Ricci, Foote, Keane, Forsberg, Crawford.....my computer is vomiting out the DVD tray as I type these names. Just to grasp an idea of how huge this game really was, here's a few notes to start off with:

- This is a regular season game with its own Wikipedia entry. That alone should say a lot.

- When you simply search "Red Wings" on Google video, the brawls from this game are the first things you see.

- Most people remember this one for the bloodbath it was. But it was also a really good game, one that featured a 2-goal 3rd period comeback and and overtime winner. It wasn't all about the brawls.

The Avalanche were going for the season sweep against Detroit. After losing the '96 Conference Finals, a regular season 4-game sweep would've been particularly hard to deal with for the Red Wings, and confidence would likely be at a historic low for this group that had been battling throughout the '90s for that elusive Cup.

The 1997 Wings were a different group than the '96 team, not so much in personnel as just a change in direction and mentality. The addition of Brendan Shanahan at the beginning of the year helped make them a tougher team, hopefully to bolster a perceived weakness of how "soft" everyone thought they were. After falling to tougher teams like New Jersey and Colorado, if the Wings couldn't get it done with this mix of skill and strength, then it was going to be hard to believe that they ever would. Sure, this was only a regular season game. But it was a regular season game in name only. The Wings needed this one for their playoff psyche.

The brawling got underway in the 1st period with the Avs leading 1-0. The heavy stuff ensued when Peter Forsberg took on poor little Igor, and all hell began to break loose. Darren McCarty sought revenge for Claude Lemieux's homicide attempt on Draper by pummeling him with punches at center ice (McCarty somehow eluded an ejected, I'll never know how). In the video you may mistake this scene as one in which Mac is continuously punching a turtle. This is not the case -- it is indeed Claude Lemieux. Patrick Roy saw the opportunity to play hero by racing to Lemieux's aid, but Shanahan cut him off and they both collided. Mike Vernon came out, because when one goalie does, the other one HAS to, and the two netminders squared off. Adam Foote got involved but he was ejected when his bulbous nose poked one of the referee's eyes out. This whole thing was surreal. It was like watching WWF, like it had story lines and shit.

There was more fighting in the 2nd, as well as 6 goals between the two teams. The Avalanche were leading 4-2 as time was winding down, but Nick Lidstrom scored to cut the lead to one. Shanahan and McCarty were both given more fighting majors, as was Jamie Pushor, Aaron Ward and Tomas Holmstrom.

But the Wings just couldn't seem to get on top of things. "Peckerhead" Valeri Kamensky actually picked up a hat trick in this game, which didn't help matters. It was 5-3 in the 3rd when Marty Lapointe struck back with a rebound goal, and then seconds after that Brendan Shanahan snuck one in on the left side of Patrick Roy's skate to tie the game at 5. The Wings had evened the score literally and figuratively and were a goal away from winning one hell of a contest.

It went to overtime. It only took 39 seconds for the trio of Igor, Shanny, and McCarty to run a nice little play that finished with Mac one-timing Joe Louis Arena into the stratosphere. This was such an incredible game to watch, and the ending was a perfect fit to cap off everything else. It was also Mike Vernon's 300th win -- a game in which the Avs scored 5 times on 19 shots. The Wings only finished the regular year with 38 wins (good enough for the 3 seed in the West), but this one felt like it counted for 10.



#2 ~ 1997 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 4: Red Wings 2-1 Flyers

For a game that was ultimately decided by just one goal, this one was never in doubt. 42 years had passed since the Red Wings had last won the Stanley Cup, and if you thought they were going to lose with the Cup in Joe Louis arena, you're fucking silly. There was 0% chance they were losing this game. None. Doesn't sound all that suspenseful or dramatic, but that's not what it was about. It was about the culmination of a decade-long journey that had this Wings team searching for respectability and eventually a triumphant reward. The light at the end of the tunnel was blinding as the Wings took on the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 4 with a 3 games to 0 lead.

This was the most competitive game of the series. In the three others the Wings humiliated and dominated the Flyers. They looked as confident as we had ever seen them. But Philly wasn't going to go down easily.

Brendan Shanahan got everybody out of their seat early when he rang a shot off the crossbar. I think I remember saying "Wow" about 50 times.

Philly picked up their play after being whatever is less than completely shitty in Game 3. They could only hold off the Wings for so long, though, as Nick Lidstrom deployed a missile from the blue line to make it 1-0. Batshitcrazytime.

Steve Yzerman played this game like a possessed person. He's the main reason why we weren't going to lose this game. He played about as well as you can without scoring. There was a sequence in the 2nd period where he took a shot, it slowly bounced toward the outside post after the initial save, and then Tomas Sandstrom picked up the puck at the side of net and swirled a wrap around on goal. jI still remember the collective scream of the crowd as everybody thought it went in: If you watch the video of the game, it's around the 3 minute mark

Only seconds later, after a review to see if that shot went in, Darren McCarty scored arguably the biggest goal in Red Wings history. 11 years later I still don't believe that this was actually Mac. I think his soul was taken over by some other-worldly force and did it for him. The fact that he pulled a move like that in the clinching game of the Stanley Cup Finals is what makes it so absurd.

The Flyers made it interesting by scoring with 14 seconds left, on a goal that saw Eric Lindros enter the arena for the first time in the series. It didn't matter. 14 seconds later the Red Wings finally reached the summit and had the greatest celebration of all time. I would've given anything to be at JLA that night, but settling for watching it on TV with my friends wasn't too bad. We heard fireworks going on in our neighborhood for hours afterward. As you can tell, 1997 was kind of a big deal, what with 4 games from that year making the list. I haven't watched another season that had so many memorable moments, games and players as that one, before or since. What a year, what a team.



#1 ~ 1996 Western Conference Semifinals, Game 7: Red Wings 1-0 Blues (2 OT)

I'd be shitting you if I dubbed any other game as The Triple Deke's #1. This is the game that made me a Red Wings fan for life.

The Red Wings annihilated the competition up until this point, winning a record number of regular season games. They had the Russian Five, an up-and-coming Chris Osgood, Yzerman, Bowman, Ciccarelli and of course, the incomparable Bob Rouse.

But the St. Louis Blues, now with Wayne Gretzky, didn't really give a damn. After falling behind 2-0 in the series, they took Detroit to the limit -- owning a 3 games to 2 lead with a chance to upset the Wings in St. Louis in Game 6. The Wings prevailed and escaped back to JLA for one final showdown that would either end in a huge sigh of relief or a complete fucking riot. They simply could not (NNNOOOOOOTTT) lose this game. They failed in 1994 with a hyped team that lost in the first round to San Jose in 7....then they breezed through everybody en route to the Stanley Cup Finals in '95 only to be embarrassed by the Neutral Zone Devils....then they regrouped and won an astounding 62 games (in a time with no shootout wins). For the team to get the fans hopes up so high yet again and fail in the 2nd round to the fucking Blues would've been beyond disastrous.

The game actually started out a bit choppy. A number of whistles halted play early and took the crowd out of it. But once things got rolling, we were given a goaltender duel for the ages (a particularly fine performance by the usually average Jon Casey). Through 4 periods we saw scoring chance after scoring chance, but no goals to speak of. Casey was robbing people left and right. Ozzie kept us in it with a few timely saves when he was called upon. But Casey, as they say, was standing on his head. It appeared that nothing could be done to beat this man.

By the start of the 2nd overtime, I couldn't take anymore. With my dad sitting in the living room with me I had already plotted this elaborate excuse for why I couldn't go to school the next day if the Wings lost. It was going to involve some wild portrayal of irrevocable psychological damage that had been done to me by Tony Twist and his St. Louis cronies.

Fedorov nearly ended the game with a wide open one-timer on the doorstep. When you're in the 5th period of a game, and you wait through an intermission and seconds later you have a scoring chance like that, you just get tired of having your hopes shot down like that. I was at the point where I didn't believe Jon Casey would ever blink.

****

Vladimir Konstantinov has the puck deep in the Detroit end. He completely duffs a pass to Bob Errey who's standing along the boards in the neutral zone. Gretzky eyes the mistake, and reaches behind to steal the pass. It bounces off his stick. Steve Yzerman pounces on it and gathers some speed through center ice. You can almost read his mind as he says, "I've had it with this" and let's go a picture perfect slapshot as he hits the blue line. Jon Casey never sees it -- this was the only way he could be beat on this night. Not a rebound, not an odd-man-rush, not a power play, not a one-timer. It has to be this shot. And it sizzles over his right shoulder into the net.

****

The celebratory victory pile behind the net was awesome. I think that whenever a celebration is so extreme that the mass of humans crumble into a pile, it always enhances the moment. It certainly does here. Yzerman was tackled after the shot went in and he happily jumped around the corner. I think I sprained my foot jumping off of our couch, for what it's worth.

This game was the definition of tense. It's the game that got me obsessively hooked on hockey; the game that made me an overtime whore; the game that made me want to play hockey every summer afternoon on the street with my friends and shoot 100 slapshots until I could finally pick that top corner like Yzerman did. The impact of this game was so enormous, not just on me but for anybody who idolized Steve Yzerman. It defined his career and made him a legend. Not only that, but if he doesn't score, the Wings don't play Colorado in the round after that, and perhaps that little rivalry never happens. Just something to think about.


________________________________________

The Triple Deke's Top 10 Red Wings Games -- research:

- hockeydb.com
- hockey-reference.com
- USA today hockey archive
- YouTube
- Wikipedia
- my memory, which for some reason only remembers stupid shit like this and not schoolwork

4 comments:

Hockey Joe said...

Great list and great writing. It's also perfectly convenient that your top five are all in the Red Wings DVD boxed set that came out a few years ago.

While I get what you're saying about Game 5 this year, and I know what you're saying, but as a Red Wings fan, to me, that game will never see the light of day on any list of games I want to watch again. The only list that game goes on is one of games I'd like erased from my memory.

Cameron Kittle said...

great list of games. there will never be a team other than the Red Wings that I can watch over and over again even when I know everything that's going to happen. I also liked how you threw in the game 5 from the finals this year. i paid 500 bucks just for a ticket and flew out to detroit from new hampshire, where i live now, just to see that game. so, needless to say, it sucked. but, as you wrote, from a purely hockey fan's perspective, it had everything you'd want in a game. it also helps that they won two nights later.

keep up the good blogging and if you're ever bored and want to check out a similar blog, mine is http://motorcitysports19.blogspot.com

Momojoe said...

Yeah, I know this post is WAAAAY late, but I just got into reading your stuff, so bite me. This is (nearly) the perfect list, but I am not going to comment on any game except #1.

At this point, I have been a Red Wings fan for roughly 25 years. I was there when we were the Dead Things, I was there in '85-'86 when we were last. Yeah, thats right. LAST. 14 points out of "Second From Last". I had a John Ogrodnick sweater that I wore all the time, even though it stunk like a dead skunk buried in a pile of cow shit...and I stopped wearing it. My mom (with barely concealed joy) casually asked where it was, when she knew damn well that she had beat it into submission hours ago and it was currently on it's third "soak" cycle in the washing machine.

So as you can see, the suck meter was pinned and lock-wired in the "Sucks So Bad That 'Sucks' Doesn't Come Close to Describing How Bad It Sucks" position. Stevie Y was supposed to be our savior! He was going to be the next Gretzky, right? Gordie Howe HIMSELF said so! So while the lowest point for you was when the puck skittered across the goal line in OT in '96 against St. Louis, remember that it could have been much, much worse. You could have seen the win total not break out of the teens.

But I digress...the 2OT game against STL made me realize just how fucked up I was, thinking about Stevie Y like that. When the light went on and the crowd went mental, I stood rooted, shocked, and the FIRST thing I really felt was sorrow for the way I had treated Stevie in my head for the past 10 years. Turns out he WAS the savior after all.

This is by far my favorite game also, and this season was the culmination of a long wait for a lot of people. Little did we know that it was only the beginning...

Anonymous said...

Don't worry momojoe, I am even farther behind on reading the genious that is The Triple Deke.