May 28, 2008

1997: Red Wings Win First Cup In 42 Years

The year is 1997. It has been 42 years since the last Stanley Cup championship in Detroit. Yes, since Gordie Howe's hey days in the 1950s, times were tough in Detroit.

Steve Yzerman's arrival in the late 1980s put the "hockey" back in "Hockeytown," but playoff success was harder to come by. But this year would be different. After 14 long, long years, the Stanley Cup returned to Detroit as well.

Yzerman and his Wings had to go through several playoff disappointments and a maturation period in order to finally ascend to the top of the heap, but as Stevie Y would be sure to echo, it was all worth the wait.

While Yzerman was the inspirational leader and captain, Sergei Fedorov was the superstar, leading the team with 20 points in the playoffs, including 3 goals and 6 points in the 4 game finals. Fedorov was the shining jewel of the Red Wings' famous Russian Five man unit featuring Slava Kozlov, Vladimir Konstantinov and veteran legends Igor Larionov and Viacheslav Fetisov.

Brendan Shanahan's 17 points trailed only Fedorov on the Wings scoring stat sheet, while a young Nicklas Lidstrom was a standout on the blue line.

But the Conn Smythe trophy went to goaltender Mike Vernon, who had grabbed the starter's role away from Chris Osgood in the regular season.

The Wings advanced to the finals by knocking off the Blues, Ducks before qualifying for the finals at the expense of their arch rivals from Colorado. The Wings faced Eric Lindros and the Philadelphia Flyers in an anti-climatic final.

After a 42 years with Stanley Cup celebrations, Hockeytown was prepared to party hard all summer long. But all Cup-related happiness came to and end a few nights later as a limousine carrying Fetisov, Konstantinov and team masseuse Sergi Mnatsakanov crashed into a tree. Fetisov recovered fully, but Konstantinov lost most of his motor skills and has been mostly wheelchair bound ever since.

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