Red Wings Overtime Thriller In 1996 Lit The Fuse In Hockeytown
22 years ago today, the Detroit Red Wings played one of the most important and pivotal games in the history of professional sports in Detroit. On May 16, 1996 an anxious crowd gathered for game 7 of the NHL's Western Conference semi-finals at Joe Louis Arena. The game went scoreless through three periods and a hockey fan's dream, unless you are a fan of the teams involved, took place. A heart stopping win-or-go-home playoff overtime. The match stayed scoreless through the first overtime and for a minute and 14 seconds into the second overtime. Then it happened.
No one could imagine what lied ahead for the Red Wings, but momentum was rising and one goal set the stage for the future of Detroit's pro hockey franchise.
In the 1995-96 season the Red Wings won 62 games, the most regular season wins for a team in NHL history. They entered the playoffs as strong contenders for the Stanley Cup, but still had some history to shake off. The Red Wings were swept in the 1995 Stanley Cup finals by the underdog New Jersey Devils, continuing a lengthy 41 year title drought dating back to 1955. At that point, their title drought was worse than the one the Detroit Lions still own.
This 1-0 double overtime victory over the St. Louis Blues didn't lead the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup though. That would happen a year later, but this game was the spark and the next series was the fuel. Along with four NHL titles to come, Red Wings fans had no idea what was brewing as Detroit met Colorado for the Western Conference Finals. They lost the series in six games, and the Avalanche went on to win the cup. But as the Red Wings bowed out in game 6, the groundwork for one of the most infamous brawls in sports was laid when Claude Lemieux slammed Kris Draper into the boards breaking several bones in his face. Justice was served on March 26, 1997.
The 1996-97 regular season was not nearly as successful for the Red Wings, but the team exercised their demons. They defeated their new hated rival Colorado 4 games to 2 in the Western Conference finals and brought home the Stanley Cup with a sweep over Philadelphia. They would repeat in 1998 and two more would follow in 2002 and 2008. The Red Wings spent a good decade as a dynasty in the NHL winning titles, making deep playoff runs almost every season and continuing a playoff streak that lasted 25 years.
But if it hadn't been for that one goal by Captain Steve Yzerman to take the Red Wings to that fateful series against the Colorado Avalanche, Red Wings history as we know it could be very different. This game recap article by the New York Times written the day after the double OT playoff win has some neat perspective of where the franchise was in 1996 before Hockeytown became a household name when it was slapped on the ice at Joe Louis Arena prior to the 1996-97 season.