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 commemorated this historic quest with a new book: “Stanleytown: The Inside Story of How the Stanley Cup Returned to Motor Town After 41 Frustrating Seasons.”
Day 38: May 23, 1997
The backstory: The time had come for the Colorado Avalanche and their coach to pay the piper. After their dismal 6-0 loss in Game 4 at Joe Louis Arena, the Avs had a day to fly around the country and figure out how to extend their reign as Stanley Cup champions. Their boss, Marc Crawford, had to swallow his pride, publicly apologize and pay a $10,000 fine after he tried to storm the Red Wings bench, yelling at Scotty Bowman and drawing comparisons coast to coast with a madman. Yes, within a week, hockey life had hardened in the Rockies. Yes, the prohibitive underdog Wings led the Western Conference Finals, three games to one. Yes, only 13 times in NHL history – out of 156 instances, or 8.3% of the time – has a team overcome Doom’s 3-1 deficit. But…still…the Wings expected the Avs to make their best effort yet in Game 5. And…for the record…the Avs had the proof within them that comebacks could happen. The Penguins were the last team to recover from a 3-1 hole, bouncing back against the Capitals in a first-round series in 1995, which they also did in 1992. In these Washington teams are were Keith Jones, a former Western Michigan Bronco and Avalanche second-line forward until he injured his knee in the playoffs. “Keith Jones was one of those Washington teams,” Avs captain Joe Sakic told the media. “If you want, we can bring him here.”
Truth and consequences: Despite the 204 penalty minutes, bloodshed and batting in the third period of Game 4, the NHL did not suspend or fine any player. Crawford also escaped major punishment, except for his fine for climbing the glass that separated the benches, which counted under league rules as “dishonorable” conduct. Crawford, however, apologized for his trashing. And Bowman, of all people, offered an olive branch when going back on a rebuke to Crawford. “I embarrassed the league and more importantly I embarrassed my team,” Crawford said. “And for that, I’m sorry. There is no way to justify such a thing. If you try, it’s wrong. I was wrong.” During the incident, with his eyes bulging, his arms flailing and his vocal cords exploding, Crawford was stung when Bowman told him, “I knew your father before you, and I don’t don’t think he’d be too proud of what you’re doing right now. A day later, Bowman reconsidered how Floyd Crawford might view the incident. “Again, maybe he would ( proud),” Bowman said, “because he’s a competitor. His father was an ultra-competitor. Bowman knew the elder Crawford from his junior years with Belleville, Ontario. “He played a lot like (Vladimir) Konstantinov. He just hated losing and he didn’t give an inch. Marc Crawford’s brother, Lou, played in the Buffalo organization when Bowman was general manager.” are tough people,” he said. “Emotions go away, and sometimes they break.” Crawford also said he was ready to apologize directly to Bowman. “If anyone one feels the need for me to apologize, I will,” he said. “I’m sorry. I am really. … You can’t justify it.
The last Stand? As for Game 5 in Denver, the Wings said all the right things, including that the chaos of Game 4 would not continue. “There’s too much at stake for all that other stuff,” said grinder Joe Kocur, who earned 14 penalty minutes and contributed an assist in Game 4. “But it’s going to be a tough, physical game.” Martin Lapointe said: “They will be ready to play. … They won’t want to take stupid penalties. Larry Murphy said: “It’s an old cliché, but the fourth win is always the hardest to get. It is certainly true in this case. The Avs, meanwhile, replaced their bluster and bravado with a dose of modesty. Well, except maybe for defender Adam Foote, who said, “We’re not going to give them credit for something they didn’t do. We know what we have to do. We just have to do it. But Sakic said: “Obviously they’re playing a lot better as a team than us right now. We played tight. But we have a chance to regroup and win at home. Then we can take care of the next one. Crawford said: “Our challenge in Game 5 is to find a way to get our guys to play better. … It starts with playing real sound in our ending. … There is no doubt in our minds that we are capable of playing better.
To note: Center Igor Larionov was scheduled to play in Game 5 despite a monstrous welt on his left calf, the result of a vicious gash from Mike Keane during third period violence. “He’s not big in stature,” coach John Wharton said, “but he’s big in heart and big in courage.” … Colorado superstar Peter Forsberg missed practice with what the tight-lipped Avs called a charley horse. However, he was dizzy after Game 4, had trouble walking to the team bus, and suffered a concussion two weeks earlier. The Free Press added: “He was the target of heavy hitting by the Wings, mostly within the rules, and had just one assist in the series.”
To the East : After Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Drew Sharp wrote from Madison Square Garden, “As if there wasn’t already enough to build the legend that is becoming Eric Lindros, the megastar has used the last 6.8 seconds to send mouths everywhere gaping in astonishment. Lindros put the Flyers on the brink of their first Stanley Cup Final in a decade by scoring a power-play goal in the dying seconds for a 3-2 win over the Rangers and a 3-1 series lead . The Flyers went powerplay with 1:35 left in regulation because Jeff Beukeboom’s high stick hit John LeClair in the face and drew blood. Mike Richter made several saves, but Rangers couldn’t clear the area with 15 seconds left. Ron Brind’Amour, the former Spartan, hit LeClair to the left of Richter, but not liking his angle, he slipped a pass into the slot to Lindros. His backhand cleared the dipping right shoulder of Adam Graves and Richter for his fourth goal in two games. “That might be the biggest goal I’ve had in my career,” Lindros said. “You might consider it luck, but sometimes you need luck to win.”
Off ice: Before his birthday on May 3, Slava Kozlov had scored two goals in seven playoff games. Since turning 25, he has registered six goals and two assists in seven games. Kozlov had a theory about his increased production, in addition to increased ice time and playing more often than not with other Russians. A pet stone with the word “believe” engraved on it was now in his locker. “On my birthday, May 3, a lady mailed it to me,” Kozlov said. “I just keep it and put it in my locker. It’s lucky, I think.
Famous Last Words: Read more about the violence of Game 4. De Kocur: “No one is proud of it. Fights are down in the league, but it’s still going to happen. From Brendan Shanahan: “When you’re in the middle, it’s hard to be objective. We were definitely all right in the middle. Nobody wants anyone to get hurt, but sometimes emotions do escalate. D’Arthur Pincus, vice-president of public relations of the NHL: “We understand that this is an intense series. Do we prefer it? Do we want this to happen? No. We’re sorry this happened.
Relive the Glory: The free press has designed a 208-page full-color hardcover collector’s book with new perspectives and dynamic storytelling on the Wings of 1996-1997. It’s titled, “Stanleytown 25 Years Later: The Inside Story on the Stanley Cup’s Return to Motor Town After 41 Frustrating Seasons.” It’s only $29.95 and it’s available at RedWings.PictorialBook.com. (This will make a great Father’s Day gift for the Wings fanatic in your life!) Custom copies available via [email protected]
More to read: Another new Wings book arrived in April from Keith Gave, a longtime writer on hockey for the Free Press in the 1980s and 1990s: “Vlad the Impaler: More Epic Stories from Detroit’s 1997 Stanley Cup Winning.” It is available through Amazon and other booksellers with a portion of the proceeds going to the Vladimir Konstantinov Special Needs Trust. (Much of Gave’s prose also appears in “Stanleytown 25 Years Later”.)
More to read: The 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 stories about key characters from 1997, “The Big 50” is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. (A lot of St. James prose also appears in “Stanleytown 25 Years Later”.)
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