Top series-changing moments in modern Red Wings playoff era

The Detroit Red Wings celebrate a goal during the 1997 Western Conference Finals versus the Colorado Avalanche.

The Detroit Red Wings celebrate a goal during the 1997 Western Conference Finals versus the Colorado Avalanche.

So the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup.

Man! It can drive a Wings fan wild if you think back to the second-round series. The 3-1 series lead. The one-goal lead entering the third period of Game 6. The poor line change by Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson in Game 7.

So many chances, so close to an upset. But there weren’t any moments to crack our list of “Top 10 Series-Changing Moments” since the Red Wings 22-year playoff streak began.

Here’s Nos. 10-6, sorted by biggest impact. Next week, we will present the top five.

Situation: 1998 Stanley Cup Finals vs. Washington, Game 2

It stands as one of the all-time best Red Wings playoff games in the Yzerman Era. The Wings fell behind 3-1 through two periods, as shock waves rippled through Joe Louis Arena.

Then a wild third period unfolded.

Yzerman scored a short-handed goal to narrow the deficit to 3-2, but just 28 seconds later, Washington’s Joe Juneau fired a shot past Chris Osgood to make it 4-2.

Sixty-three seconds later, Martin Lapointe cut the gap to 4-3.

“One of the most incredible third periods you’ll see in any game, much less, in the Stanley Cup Finals,” ESPN announcer Gary Thorne declared.

With precisely 10 minutes left in regulation, Esa Tikkanen picked up a turnover at center ice and moved toward Osgood. Tikkanen, who won four Cups with Edmonton and one with the N.Y. Rangers, made a fake-slap-shot move that sprawled Ozzie to the ice.

Tikkanen cut to his left to avoid Osgood’s outstretched body and flailing stick, then sent the puck toward the open net … and missed the right post by inches.

The Joe went crazy.

Doug Brown tied the game with 4:14 left, and on the Wings’ 60th shot of the night, Kris Draper won it at the 15:24 mark of overtime.

“This is what you dream about as a little kid playing hockey,” Draper told the media.

If Tikkanen buries the puck into a gaping goal, Washington most likely wins, creates an even series and maybe builds confidence heading back to the MCI Center. Instead, the Caps left with a deflating overtime defeat.

“We had the win right on Esa Tikkanen’s stick,” Caps coach Ron Wilson said to reporters.

The Wings won both games in Washington to secure back-to-back Stanley Cup titles, then made a teary-eyed presentation to fallen teammate Vladimir Konstantinov.

Situation: 2003 first round vs. Anaheim, Game 1

The entire Joe Louis Arena crowd thought the game was over. The red light went on. The goal horn sounded. The Wings bench emptied.

Luc Robitaille cruised to the top of the circle, blasted a slap shot that beat Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere and it appeared the Wings had an overtime victory in Game 1.

But the puck never went in.

It hit the cross bar, ricocheted sharply off the right post and bounced to the ice.

One-hundredth of a centimeter lower, and the Wings win. Instead, video review confirmed “no goal,” and the Ducks prevailed in triple overtime when Paul Kariya scored at the 3:18 mark.

“Sometimes, you just get lucky,” Giguere said after the game about Robitaille’s ricochet.

Anaheim fed off a Curtis Joseph come-out-of-the-net blunder for a one-goal victory in Game 3, then pulled off the shocking sweep of the defending Cup champion Wings with a Game 4 overtime victory.

Situation: 1999 second round vs. Colorado, Game 3

The Wings won both Games 1 and 2 in Colorado for a commanding 2-0 series lead and went back to The Joe thinking sweep.

The two-time defending champions looked invincible, dominating Colorado 4-0 in Game 2. Nothing went wrong, not even with Chris Osgood out with an injury.

It was 1-0 Wings in Game 3 when Yzerman scored 7:07 into the game. The Joe was buzzing when Brendan Shanahan centered a puck through the crease, past two Colorado defensemen and into the slot. Here came Yzerman, as Patrick Roy lost an edge and fell into the net. The crowd was in mid-celebration as the puck took flight, and …


The sound still rings in our ear today. It wasn’t the typical “ping” sound off the post, just an odd “CLUNK!” when Yzerman hit the connection of the right post and crossbar.

It’s almost like the entire series changed from that point forward. Precisely 67 seconds later, Colorado tied the game. By the end of the period, they had a 2-1 lead, then a 5-1 lead just 5:05 into the second period.

Imagine if Yzerman finds the back of the net. Does Colorado fold, down 2-0 in the game? Do the Wings pour on the scoring?

The Avalanche would shock Detroit with four straight wins, exposing Bill Ranford in Game 3 and Game 4 (6-2), then took advantage of a half-healthy Osgood in Game 5 (3-0) and Game 6 (5-2). The sick thing is: The Wings outshot Colorado in each defeat.

Situation: 1995 Stanley Cup Finals vs. New Jersey, Game 2

After dropping Game 1, the Wings held a 2-1 lead in the third period of Game 2. Dino Ciccarelli delighted the Wings faithful with an epic battle in the corner with New Jersey tough guy Scott Stevens. It appeared a tied series was on the horizon during Detroit’s first trip to the Cup Finals since 1966.

Then everything unraveled.

Shawn Burr entangled with New Jersey defenseman Scott Niedermayer behind the Devils’ net. Niedermayer’s stick was caught in Burr’s armpit. Instead of throwing it to the ice, Burr loosened his arm, and appeared to give it back to Niedermayer, who immediately grabbed a loose puck, burst through center ice, into the Wings’ zone, put a shot on net, burned past Paul Coffey, then corralled a rebound off the lively Joe Louis Arena end boards and slammed it past Mike Vernon to tie the game 2-2 with 10:13 left in regulation. New Jersey then took advantage of another Red Wings blunder: Paul Coffey blocked a shot and lay on the ice, writhing in pain, thus causing a de facto power play for the Devils, who scored the game-winner courtesy of Jim Dowd with 1:24 left.

Burr never played another game in Detroit.

“They accused me of handing a stick back to one of their players, and then he skated through our whole team and scored a goal,” Burr told reporters. “And that’s not what happened. It was one of those things where I had a stick in my hand and I didn’t know who’s it was, so I kind of threw it away and it went to a guy.”

Wings coach Scotty Bowman had a different take. When assessing the breakdown on the goal, he said, “We even gave (Niedermayer) his stick back after he lost it.”

If that doesn’t happen, the Wings likely tied the series to guarantee a Game 5 at The Joe. Who knows how the series finished if it was tied 1-1.

Situation: 1997 Western Conference Finals vs. Colorado, Game 2

After dropping Game 1 of the series, it was a must-win for the Wings, who lost the previous postseason to Colorado despite a record-breaking 62-win regular season.

The game was tied 2-2 as the ice tilted in the Wings’ favor (final shots: 40-17, Wings). Steve Yzerman scooped a puck in the right corner of his zone, dodged a fore-checker inside the circles with a swooping-graceful motion, and headed up-ice.

Stevie Y cruised into the Avalanche zone, knifed through Sandis Ozolinsh and put a shot on Patrick Roy. Yzerman’s momentum took him behind the net, and the puck squirted to him. Instinctively, he banked it off the right leg pad of Roy, across the goal line, into the net, and the Wings were ahead 3-2 with precisely 4:00 remaining.

How does Game 2 unfold without Yzerman’s end-to-end rush? The Avalanche were still full of confidence and had the Wings’number at the time.

The Wings would seal the game with 1:17 left on Darren McCarty’s breakaway goal – yet another example of D-Mac owning the rights to Roy – and the Wings were 4-2 winners, the series tied a game apiece. They would win both Games 3 and 4 in Joe Louis Arena, then clinch the series on Brendan Shanahan’s euphoric empty-net goal in Game 6 to reach the Stanley Cup Finals and win the franchise’s first title since 1955.

Next week: Nos. 5-1

2 replies on “Top series-changing moments in modern Red Wings playoff era

Comments are closed.