Detroit Red Wings: 16 Greatest Playoff Moments in Franchise History

PJ Sapienza@@pjsapiContributor IIIMay 6, 2012

Detroit Red Wings: 16 Greatest Playoff Moments in Franchise History

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    Hockeytown has been in mourning for a few weeks now as the journey to the Stanley Cup has continued on without our beloved team. While the blow was lessened when it became known that the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Crosbys also lost, it is still difficult to watch the playoffs move on without the Red Wings.

    In an effort to lift the spirits of the winged wheeled faithful, now seems like the perfect time to dip into the past with a view of some of the better times for the team.

    Here is a list of 16 of the greatest playoffs moments in Red Wings history. Sit back and enjoy. A few of these videos will definitely get the heart pumping and bring back some great memories

16. Lidstrom Changes the Series

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    The Red Wings entered the 2002 playoffs with a Hall of Fame roster but were caught looking ahead. They matched up with the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, and while they were heavily favored they lost the first two games at home.

    In Game 3, they were tied 1-1 when Nick Lidstrom scored a series- and season-saving goal.  At the 1:30 mark in the video, Lidstrom is seen scoring from center ice. This helped break the invincibility of Canucks goalie Dan Cloutier.

    The Red Wings would go on to win the next four games on their way to the Stanley Cup.

15. Cleary’s Game Winner

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    In 2009, the Red Wings were the defending Stanley Cup champions and were looking for a repeat run to the top.

    In the second round the Red Wings were in a tough battle with the Anaheim Ducks and faced a Game 7. The game was tied at three with three minutes to go. Dan Cleary took up a spot in front of the goalie. The evil Chris Pronger releases on him in order to chase Henrik Zetterberg near the corner.

    The puck then came back to the middle where Cleary, with some help from goalies Jonas Hiller’s pad, pushed the puck into the back of the net. The Red Wings would hold on over the furious final minutes and would move on to meet the Chicago Blackhawks in the Conference Finals.

14. Steve Yzerman from Behind

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    In the 1997 playoffs, the Red Wings matched up with their bitter rivals, the Colorado Avalanche. The previous season the Avalanche won the matchup and the Stanley Cup. That series was marred by the hit Claude Lemieux had on Kris Draper that sparked the rivalry.

    This series happened only a few weeks after the Red Wings had pummeled the Avalanche in what is now remembered as Fight Night at the Joe.

    The Avalanche won the first game of the series, and Game 2 was tied. Steve Yzerman raced down the ice before firing a shot, only to see goalie Patrick Roy make the save. The rebound, though, bounced behind the net, where Yzerman was able to bank it off of him for the goal. 

    The Wings would go on to win the game and the series.

13. Bowman the Puppet Master

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    While the entire video is well worth the time to watch, the events for this moment are at the 6:30 mark.

    This also is in the 1997 series between the Avalanche and Red Wings. The Red Wings are about to win this game 6-0, and Colorado coach Marc Crawford has had it.

    He can be seen leaning over the divider just screaming at Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman.  It is amazing that Bowman was able to keep from laughing as he knows he is now in Crawford’s head. Long thought of as a master manipulator, Bowman once again has outwitted another coach to the point of total frustration.

12. Death to the Dead Wings

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    The Detroit Red Wings had spent the 1970s and early 1980s as one of the bottom teams in the league. The team was far from the Hockeytown name it has today and was labeled the Dead Wings.

    That began to change in 1987, when the team was able to sweep their rival Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs. It was significant in that it was the team’s first playoff series win in 10 years. 

    While it would still be another 10 years until they would win the Stanley Cup, this was a major step in helping them bury the Dead Wing era. The team would begin making regular appearances into the later rounds of the playoffs as they continued growing toward a championship.

    They were able to reach the Conference Finals before losing to the Edmonton Oilers.

11. Dominator Holds Court

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    The Red Wings and Avalanche were matched up in yet another playoff series. Coming into the season the Red Wings had amassed an aging but Hall of Fame-caliber roster with the likes of Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille and Dominik Hasek, who joined Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan and Nick Lidstrom.

    The team had to play from behind in most of the series with the Avalanche but still had a 3-2 series lead. In Game 6, the Avalanche tried pulling out all the stops against the Wings. They even forced the refs to measure Hasek's stick during the game as they claimed it was illegal.

    The ploy did not work as the stick was legal and the attempt failed to rattle Hasek. He posted a shutout to clinch the series, and the team moved on to win another Stanley Cup

10. Game 7 Thrillers

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    It is hard to pick which one is better, so these two moments get to share a spot. Both involve Game 7 winners in the Stanley Cup Finals.

    The first was in 1950 when the Red Wings found themselves in a Game 7 battle with the New York Rangers. This Red Wings team had to constantly battle back as they were down by two goals in both Games 6 and 7 yet fought back to win both games.

    They reached the second overtime when Pete Babando found the back of the net to give the Red Wings the win and the Stanley Cup. This was the first Stanley Cup final to be decided in overtime.

     In 1954 the team once again faced a Game 7 that went into overtime. This time it was against the Montreal Canadiens. Tony Leswick would score the game winner. The team would them go on a major Cup drought as they would not raise it again until 1997.

9. The Professor Teaches

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    The Detroit Red Wings were matched up against the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2002 Stanley Cup finals. The series was tied 1-1 as it switched back to Carolina for Game 3.

    It was a hard-fought game. Hurricane goalie Arturs Irbe would stop 50 shots in the game. As the game entered the third overtime, Igot Larionov turned back the clock as he came flying down the ice with great speed.

    Before Irbe knew it, the puck was behind him and the Red Wings had a 2-1 series lead.

8. Normie Goes Nuts

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    We delve way back in the Red Wings history here. Normie Smith played goalie for the team in the 1930s and helped the team win their first Stanley Cup.

    He also played in one of the most amazing games in playoff history. The Red Wings would face the Montreal Maroons on their way to the championship. Smith held them scoreless with 92 saves through regulation and then through overtime after overtime. It was not until the sixth overtime that the Red Wings were able to win the game.

    Smith’s streak was impressive. He followed this game with another shutout. In total he would go 248 minutes without giving up a goal. He set the tone for the Red Wings' championship run that year.

7. No Time to Celebrate

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    While we could blame the lack of video on this one to the fact that it happened back in 1936, chances are the guys working the cameras would have fallen asleep by the time the game’s first goal was scored anyways.

    In Game 1 of the first round, the Montreal Maroons and Detroit Red Wings would face off.  This game would end up being the longest in playoff history. The teams would remain scoreless through regulation and six overtime periods.

    Finally, rookie Mud Brueneteau was able to score at the 16:30 mark of that sixth overtime. It is hard to imagine much of a celebration as exhaustion must have taken over. Brueneteau had just been called up to the team two weeks earlier.

6. A Tradition Is Born

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    In 1952, one of the greatest fan traditions in sports started in Detroit. At the time, a team needed eight wins to capture the Stanley Cup. Brothers Pete and Jerry Cusimano owned a fish store and felt that an octopus needed to be thrown onto the ice.

    The eight tentacles represented the eight wins the team needed. Not only would the Red Wings go onto win the Stanley Cup, they would do so by going a perfect 8-0. 

    The tradition has grown since then, with the octopus gaining the name Al and becoming a major part of the Red Wings marketing efforts.

5. You Never Forget Your First

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    The Red Wings had been one of the bottom teams in the NHL for years. They had been near bankruptcy several times until 1932 when James Norris would buy the team. He, along with Jack Adams, would help turn the team around.

    Norris would change the name of the team to the Red Wings in 1932, and with that the mindset of the franchise.

    In 1936 they finally reached their goal of a championship when they beat the Montreal Maroons and Toronto Maple Leafs to win it all.

    The franchise now has 11 Stanley Cups, the most of any US team. They are third to Toronto and Montreal in league history, but unlike those other two teams, they Wings have been able to actually win multiple cups in the modern game.

4. One for Vladdie

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    The Red Wings ended their 42-year draught in 1997 when they finally lifted the Stanley Cup.  The celebration was short lived as days after winning the cup, a limousine accident would forever change the team. Teammates Slava Fetisov and Vladimir Konstantinov, along with team trainer Sergei Mnatsakanov, were injured in the crash. 

    Mnatsakanov and Konstantinov would receive the worst injuries due to severe head trauma.  Konstantinov would be in a coma for weeks and has never regained full function. As the 1997-98 season went on, Konstantinov was able to start making some appearances at the Joe Louis Arena.

    When the team was able to win the Cup for a second straight year, team captain Steve Yzerman skated around with the cup. He decided the next person to hold the cup should be Konstantinov, who had been wheeled onto the ice in his in order to enjoy the moment with his former teammates.

    Seeing Vladdie with the Stanley Cup is a moment that no Red Wings fan will ever forget.

3. Who Knew He Had Those Moves

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    Darren McCarty was not known as a goal scorer. He was a gritty player who averaged just fewer than 12 goals a year with the team. His main role on the team was that of a tough defensive player with an even tougher fist.

    He did have a better scoring touch then most realized, but nobody expected such a move out of him. After this play, though, Janne Niinimaa and Ron Hextall certainly knew better. This goal in Game 4 of the 1997 finals would be the game-, series- and cup-winning goal. It finally brought the Stanley Cup back to Detroit for the first time since 1954.

2. The Captain

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    Steve Yzerman ended Wayne Gretzky and the St Louis Blues' season in 1996. The goal came in double overtime of Game 7.

    After stealing the puck from Gretzky, Yzerman let loose a blast from just inside the blue line, winning the game and series for the team.

    Sixteen years later and this is still one of the most favored clips that is shown at Joe Louis Arena. You can feel the goosebumps of every fan as they watch and remember where they were the night of the shot.

1. Finally

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    The Red Wings had been on a tremendous run in the 1950s, winning the Cup four times in six seasons. In the 1960s they would reach the finals four times over six seasons but came up short every time. The 1970s and '80s would be the dark ages for the team.

    In 1997, the team reached the finals again. They had failed in their previous six attempts, but this Steve Yzerman-led team would not go home empty handed.

    While the entire video captures more than a moment, the 2:23 mark is where the magic happens. Yzerman lifts the Stanley Cup, thus wiping away the losses to New Jersey, Colorado and the Oilers in the late 1980s as well as 52 years of other heart breaking moments. Every fan in Hockeytown felt their weight lifted as Yzerman raised the cup.


    PJ Sapienza is a featured columnist covering the Detroit Red Wings as well as many other sports. You can follow him on Twitter.

    To read his most recent articles, see:

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