Growing up in Metro Detroit through the 90s could be described as dismal and depressing for any aspiring fan. Motown's beloved Tigers were past their success of the Sparky Anderson led teams of yesteryear, now fans were forced to don jerseys of can't miss stars like Justin Thompson or Bobby Higginson. Despite boasting a budding superstar in Grant Hill, the Pistons never could achieve any playoff relevance without a supporting cast. All the while, Barry Sanders—possibly the most electric and exciting back in league history—sold out Lions games for years. Sanders retired with one playoff win, coming in 1991. Detroit was a sports city living on past achievements and pipe dreams for the future until an unexpected group returned a sense of pride to the Motor City.
Early in the decade, a dormant franchise began to emerge from the depths of Joe Louis Arena. Built around hometown hero Steve Yzerman, the Detroit Red Wings front office put the pieces in places for a spot in history with hockey's great teams. The addition of future Hall-of-Famers Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan, and Igor Larionov, transformed the Red Wings into the class of the NHL. A league record 62 wins in 1995-1996, followed by back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in '97 and '98 brought fans to their collective feet, packing the Joe to rally around the Wings every night.
Ten Years Later—six years removed from 2002's triumph over the Carolina Hurricanes for the franchise's 10th Cup—not much has changed. The Red Wings are still the envy of opposing fans, general managers and owners. Since their last title the Wings have averaged an NHL best 51 wins a season en route to the Presidents' Trophy—handed to the team with the best regular season record—three times.
So why the sense of lost opportunities in Hockeytown? The bottom line reads zero. And as a Detroit hockey fan the bottom line is all that matters. In each of the past four playoff seasons the Red Wings have squandered home-ice advantage and have been defeated by the eventual Western Conference champion.
On to this season, despite retirement of Stevie Y, defections of star players such as Shanahan, Robert Lang and Mathieu Schneider. The Wings have coasted to a league best 39-10-4 mark, 14 points ahead of the rest of the NHL. Led by Lidstrom and budding superstars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Add to the equation the emergence of young talent such as Jiri Hudler and Valterri Filpulla, and the dominant net-minding tandem of future Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood, Coach Mike Babcock has the Wings entering the playoffs as the favorite to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup.
With all of that being said, one might have to look between the lines for an argument against Detroit's 11th title. But with all of that being said the Wings game simply has no holes. Statistically the Red Wings dominate the league. On pace to 60 wins the Hasek-Osgood tandem has given up just over two goals per contest, while the high powered attack—anchored by Datsyuk's NHL best 46 assists—is averaging 3.3 each night out. On special teams the Red Wings Power Play ranks 3rd while the Penalty Kill places 9th in the NHL. The defense has the ability to shut down a team as evidenced by Detroit outshooting their opponents in 46 of their 53 contests this year.
Despite the numbers telling a truth this year, the statistics always seem to be in the Wings favor. In each of their past four playoff exits, Detroit has run into emerging goaltenders making a name for themselves. Miikka Kiprusoff, Jean-Sebastian Giguere and Dwayne Roloson each led their teams to the Stanley Cup Finals by dominating the Wings along the way. With prospective first round matchups having Detroit facing the likes of Kiprusoff, Former NHL MVP Jose Theodore, or Vezina candidate Roberto Luongo, Babcock will have to rely on the hot hand of Osgood or the Dominator to place his team atop the NHL again.