As 2011 draws to a close, I take a look at the top teams of a decade ago. In the first article of this series we travel to Motor City to take a look at the dominant Detroit Red Wings team of 2001.
The Red Wings lineup oozed talent in every position. With the likes of Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille and Steve Yzerman among the talent on their roster, the 2001 Red Wings were one of the most talented squads in NHL history.
The bedrock of the team lay in defense. The leadership of Chris Chelios paired with the play-making ability of Sweden's Nicklas Lidstrom (who ended the season with a team-leading 50 assists), provided the Red Wings with the perfect platform to score 251 while only conceding 187, the third lowest mark in the NHL.
If this wasn't enough, the talent was backed up in the net by multiple Hart Trophy winner Dominik Hasek, in his first season after coming to Detroit from the Buffalo Sabres.
The strength of the team lay not just in its players, but its coach. In eight-time (soon to become nine-time) Stanley Cup winner Scotty Bowman, Detroit had possibly the greatest coach in NHL history.
Following a disappointing season which ended with the Wings' losing to the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs, Detroit was under immense pressure to succeed with such a talented pool of players.
The Red Wings' did not disappoint, getting off to a lightning start which saw them lose just twice in October and they rarely dipped below this form for the rest of the regular season.
After dominating the regular season, Detroit finished with 116 points, 15 points ahead of every other team in the NHL and easily securing the Presidents' Trophy and top seed in the Western Conference.
Chris Chelios ended the season with the leagues leading plus/minus rating. While not having any of the leading scorers in the league, all of Detroit's forward lines chipped in. Shanahan led the team with 37 goals but was run close by Federov (31), Hull (30) and Robitaille (30).
The Red Wings made a stuttering start to the Western Conference quarter-finals, falling into a 2-0 deficit against the Vancouver Canucks. Heading to Vancouver for Game Three gave Detroit the push they needed. A 3-1 win gave Detroit the momentum they needed to go on and win the next three games.
They moved on to face Central Division rival St. Louis in the semi-finals. Two goals and an assist from Shanahan secured a 4-0 trouncing of the Blues in the fifth game to take the Wings to the Western Conference finals and a showdown with the old enemy, the Colorado Avalanche.
After six close fought, dramatic games, in which the score was never more than two goals in favor of either team, the Campbell Bowl would come down to Game Seven in Detroit.
After scoring with the first two shots of the game courtesy of a Holmstrom goal just 1:57 into the game and a Federov slap shot seconds later, it looked like this would be Detroit's night. Two more goals were added before the first period was over, and Detroit showed no sign of letting Colorado back into the game.
A distraught Patrick Roy would be punished further as the Red Wings' scored twice more before he was replaced by David Aebischer. One more was added to finish the game 7-0 in one of the biggest Game Seven blowouts of all time.
At the other end of the ice, Hasek would quietly record his fifth postseason shutout, setting an NHL record.
Carolina had finished the regular season 25 points behind Detroit, which was the largest gap in the Finals since the New York Rangers held a 27-point advantage over Vancouver in 1994
The two met in June and the underdogs got off to a good start, defeating Detroit 3-2 in overtime. The favorites would not be kept quiet however and took the next four games to secure the Cup in game five.
Detroit would secure their tenth Stanley Cup in a fairly straightforward manner, wining game five 3-1 thanks to two goals from Shanahan and one from Holmstrom.
Bowman would announce his retirement after nine Stanley Cup wins dating all the way back to 1973. While Lidstrom was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP.
Ten years later, the 2001-02 Red Wings' remain one of the best all-around teams ever to grace the ice in the NHL. A team with such talent will not be seen again with the salary cap in place. If more proof was needed then a trip to Toronto should suffice. Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Igor Larionov and Luc Robitaille have all been inducted into The Hockey Hall of Fame and more will likely follow.
If you're a football fan, be sure to check out my look back at the 2001-02 New England Patriots here
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