The 5 Greatest Playoff Series in Detroit Red Wings History

Daniel WilliamsContributor IIIMarch 12, 2014

The 5 Greatest Playoff Series in Detroit Red Wings History

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    TOM PIDGEON/Associated Press

    The Detroit Red Wings are battling to extend their playoff streak to 23 consecutive seasons.

    With the amount of injuries they’ve sustained over the course of this season, they’re in for quite a melee down the stretch.

    In its 88 seasons, Detroit has amassed plenty of playoff victories with several memorable moments.

    Thinking back to its four championships in the 1950s and multiple runs in the 1990s, Detroit has certainly earned the title of Hockeytown.

    With 17 games remaining in the season, the Red Wings are in the unfamiliar territory of fighting for their playoff lives. Over the past 22 seasons they have proved they’re capable of elevating their level of play.

    Clutch performances, resilience and plenty of animosity have contributed to all of Detroit’s greatest playoff series.

    Whether it was the team’s perseverance, an individual’s effort or a significant moment in history, it has shaped the face of the organization.

    Before 2014’s playoff destiny is determined, here are the five greatest playoff series in Detroit Red Wings history.

5. 1997 Stanley Cup Final Sweep of Philadelphia

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    TOM PIDGEON/Associated Press

    Two memorable, albeit unsuccessful, seasons in the mid-90s changed the course for Detroit near the end of the decade.

    The Wings lost in the 1995 Stanley Cup Final to the New Jersey Devils. The following season they set an NHL record with 62 wins but fell in the Western Conference Final to the Colorado Avalanche.

    In 1997, Detroit surpassed the hated Avalanche in six games and faced the Philadelphia Flyers for the Stanley Cup.

    The Flyers had lost just three games through the first three rounds of the playoffs, led by the “Legion of Doom” line with Eric Lindros, John LeClair and Mikael Renberg.

    Having been on the losing end just two years prior, Detroit knew what it took to win and swept the Flyers in four games—outscoring Philadelphia 16-6.

    Darren McCarty scored a memorable goal, giving Detroit a 2-0 lead in the second period of Game 4. It stood as the game-winner and Cup-clincher.

    This series makes the list because of the significance of the victory. Having come so close in 1995 and a record regular season in 1996, Detroit ended a 42-year championship drought.

    The win restored Detroit among the league’s best while adding to an already storied past. After suffering through their most miserable stretch known as the “Dead Wings,” the Red Wings pulled through and rewrote the history books.

    While it may not have been a dramatic, edge-of-your-seat series, Red Wings fans can’t discount the greatness they beheld when the clock ran out in Game 4.

4. 1952 Stanley Cup Final Sweep of Montreal

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    Associated Press

    The Detroit Red Wings finished No. 1 in the league during the regular season and were prepared to make their case for the Stanley Cup.

    In its way stood the Toronto Maple Leafs, who Detroit swept, then the defending champion Montreal Canadiens.

    The Wings didn’t just battle the Canadiens, but made a statement in the form of a four-game sweep to win the Stanley Cup.

    Detroit not only outscored Montreal 11-2, but shut out its high-powered offense the final two games. Terry Sawchuk won all eight playoff games, surrendering just five goals with four shutouts.

    Sweeping both the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens was a significant feat. Over the 28 seasons from 1942-1969, Toronto and Montreal combined for 22 Stanley Cup titles.

    Detroit’s win in 1952 was its second of four in a six-year span and first of three in four years.

    The significance also comes in the birth of a historic Red Wings tradition.

    During Game 4 on April 15, 1952, two store owners in Detroit’s Eastern Market threw an octopus on the ice at Olympia Stadium. The octopus’ eight legs signified the eight wins necessary to capture the Stanley Cup during the time.

    The octopus is now a symbol of luck and success, while even becoming a team mascot. Joe Louis Arena building operations manager Al Sobotka is known for swinging octopi over his head to rile up the crowd.

    It was an amazing achievement that earns the No. 4 spot and the beginning of a celebrated tradition that helped mold and define Hockeytown.

3. 1987 Division Final vs. Toronto

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    Prior to the 1986-87 season, the Detroit Red Wings hired Jacques Demers as their head coach.

    The season before, the Red Wings missed the playoffs for the 16th time in 20 seasons. In those four playoff appearances, they never survived the second round.

    All of that would change.

    Demers took over the Red Wings and led them to a four-game sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks in the division semifinals. Detroit would meet the Toronto Maple Leafs in the division finals.

    Toronto and Detroit were already bitter rivals, but the animosity between Demers and Maple Leafs head coach John Brophy was palpable.

    With the Leafs leading 5-0 in Game 2, Brophy signaled a “choke” sign over to Demers. The Leafs would win the game, 7-2, and add to the antipathy between the clubs.

    The teams would swap the next two games, and Toronto would head to Detroit with a 3-1 series lead.

    Detroit won the final three games with smothering defense and two shutouts from Glen Hanlon, clinching the series in seven games.

    The Red Wings advanced to the Campbell Conference Finals, where they lost to the Edmonton Oilers in five games.

    The win over the Maple Leafs was a turning point for the franchise, and they would miss the playoffs just once in the next 25 seasons.

    Detroit’s ability to overcome a substantial deficit was the catalyst for its future success and another installment in the bitter rivalry with Toronto.

    The hostility, resilience and ultimate victory made for a remarkable series, worthy of the No. 3 spot.

2. 1996 Western Conference Semifinal vs. St. Louis

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    MARY BUTKUS/Associated Press

    After a regular season for the ages, the Wings ran into a few tough postseason tests.

    After setting an NHL record with 62 wins in the regular season, Detroit dispatched a tough eighth seed in the Winnipeg Jets in six games.

    When it met the St. Louis Blues in the conference semifinals, it was in for another long, hard-fought series.

    Detroit jumped out to a 2-0 series lead and dominated Game 2, 8-3. The Blues responded with three straight wins, each by just one goal. With its back against the wall, Detroit won Game 6 in St. Louis, 4-2.

    Game 7 back in Detroit was nothing short of dramatic, tense and epic.

    The teams skated to a scoreless tie through regulation and one overtime period. Just over a minute into the second overtime session, Wayne Gretzky turned the puck over outside the Detroit zone.

    Steve Yzerman jumped on the loose puck and as he crossed into St. Louis territory, he blasted the shot that no Red Wings fan will ever forget.

    His shot beat goaltender Jon Casey over the right shoulder, just under the crossbar to send Detroit to the Western Conference Final in heroic fashion.

    This series had everything. It was two teams that were more than familiar with each other, plenty of star power and five games decided by one goal.

    Detroit was able to evade elimination and win via one of the most legendary goals in team history. But there remains one more series that had everything involved here and more.

1. 2002 Western Conference Final vs. Colorado

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    There is only one word that can describe the rivalry between the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche—hate.

    It was their fifth postseason meeting in seven seasons, with Colorado having won three of the first four. They were the top two seeds in the West, and it was inevitable they’d meet in the conference finals.

    Darren McCarty was the unlikely hero of Game 1, tallying a natural hat trick in the third period to secure a 5-3 Detroit win.

    Three of the next four games went to overtime, and when the dust settled, Colorado headed home with a 3-2 series lead.

    Game 6 would feature one of the biggest and strangest bloopers in goaltender Patrick Roy’s career.

    Late in the first period, Roy made a diving save on Steve Yzerman at the top of his goal crease. Thinking he had possession of the puck, Roy raised his hand to signify he made the save.

    The puck lay on the ice until Brendan Shanahan poked it into the gaping net for a 1-0 lead. The play was dubbed the “Statue of Liberty.” Detroit added an insurance marker, winning 2-0 and forcing a decisive Game 7 back in Detroit.

    Hockeytown exacted its revenge in Game 7, dominating from the opening faceoff en route to a 7-0 victory.

    Detroit would advance to the Stanley Cup Final, defeating the Carolina Hurricanes in five games.

    This series put Detroit on even footing with Colorado, and to embarrass such a detested opponent made the victory even sweeter.

    Vengeance rang true for Detroit throughout the series. Even though it won the Stanley Cup, the toughest and finest triumph was that over bitter rival the Colorado Avalanche.