When you talk about historic moments at Joe Louis Arena, a vast majority of Detroit Red Wings fans would put March 26, 1997, atop the list.
That was the night the Wings beat the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche 6-5 in overtime and Detroit forward Darren McCarty put a beating on Colorado counterpart Claude Lemieux during a first-period line brawl, exacting revenge for the facial injuries suffered by Detroit’s Kris Draper when he was hit into the boards in the deciding game of the 1996 Western Conference final.
The Wings would go on to beat the Avalanche in the 1997 Western Conference final en route to their first Stanley Cup win since 1955, and from 1996-2002, the Detroit-Colorado rivalry featured some of the fiercest hockey ever played, as the two teams split five Stanley Cup titles over that span.
Nearly 20 years later, as the Avalanche arrive at Joe Louis Arena for the final time to face the Wings on Saturday afternoon, no such drama will unfold.
Colorado is currently 30th overall in the NHL, poised as favorites to win the draft lottery. Detroit is doing a slow bleed of its own, about to miss the playoffs for the first time since the 1989-90 season.
“We thought we would be in a better position by now,” Detroit forward Tomas Tatar said. “It’s hard, you know, but we dug ourselves into this position, so we need to get out by ourselves. We have to work harder, we have to work on some stuff and we have to do some changes.”
The Wings come home off a 5-4 shootout win over the Arizona Coyotes, improving to an NHL-best 8-0 in the shootout.
“Thomas Vanek’s not here anymore, but he added an element,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said of their shootout success. “(Frans) Nielsen’s done a good job, (Gus) Nyquist’s done a good job. So we’ve got guys that can score in the shootout and our goalies have done a good job stopping them.”
The Avalanche are also in a winning frame of mind after Wednesday’s 3-1 triumph at the Pepsi Center over the Red Wings.
Colorado has won three of its last five games.
“I like some of the things we’re doing,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar told the Denver Post. “We’re playing with a little more passion and energy, I feel like lately.”
With the playoffs out of the question, both teams are giving auditions to rookies with an eye toward the future. Defenseman Randy Russo was recalled from AHL Grand Rapids by the Wings last week and is skating in a pairing with fellow rookie Xavier Ouellet.
“We played together all year last year (in Grand Rapids),” Ouellet said. “We have pretty good chemistry. We kind of know where we are on the ice. It makes it kind of easy.”
Avalanche forward J.T. Compher, a former captain with the Michigan Wolverines, recorded his first NHL goal in the win over the Wings and defenseman Anton Lindholm made his NHL debut in the same game.
“It’s a good feeling to have the first game in the bag,” Lindholm told the Denver Post. “I was nervous coming in and certainly did some overthinking my first couple of shifts, but I thought I played a pretty decent game.”
-- by AP Stats for FoxSports.com --