Patrick Roy yelps, Vladdy laughs before game 4
In the spring of 1997, a quarter century ago, the Detroit Red Wings embarked on their quest to end a 42-year Stanley Cup drought.
The Free Press has commemorated this historic quest with a new book: “Stanleytown: The Inside Story of How the Stanley Cup Returned to the Motor City After 41 Frustrating Seasons.”
Day 36: May 21, 1997
The backstory: In the 1991 playoffs, the Red Wings defeated the Blues, 4-3, in Game 4 at Joe Louis Arena for a 3-1 first-round lead. Forget for a moment that the Wings lost the series by losing Games 5, 6 and 7 by a combined score of 12-3. Rarely in the team’s recent history have the Wings played a fourth game at home with the opportunity to take a 3-1 series lead, which is most often the bad luck deficit in the NHL. But in one night, the Wings would have that opportunity against the defending Stanley Cup champion Avalanche in the Western Conference Final. In 1966, in the Cup final, the Wings could have taken the advantage, 3-1, over Montreal but lost, 2-1 (and were eliminated in six games). In 1964, in the semi-finals, the Wings could have gone up, 3-1, on Chicago but lost, 3-2 in overtime (but advanced in seven games). And in the 1964 Cup Final, the Wings could have gone up, 3-1, over Toronto but lost, 4-2 (and were eliminated in seven games). In 1961, in the semi-finals, the Wings could have gone up, 3-1, over Toronto and won, 4-1 (and qualified in five games). Thus, for only the sixth time in 36 years, the Wings were able to take a 3-1 lead at home. They had succeeded twice and failed three times. Only two Wings remained from the 1991 team: Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov. On the eve of Game 4, Colorado goaltender Patrick Roy and coach Marc Crawford continued to yelp. For Detroit, defender Vladimir Konstantinov admitted he wanted to be seen as “the bad boy”.
DAY 35:Avalanche coach accuses Wings’ Vladimir Konstantinov of dirty tricks
Dejected but provocative: Despite the two-game deficit against one of the Avs, Roy did not lack bravado. Keith Gave described him in the Free Press: “If the late comedic actor John Belushi spoke with a French accent, he would sound a lot like Patrick Roy. Remember that scene in the movie “Animal House” when Belushi’s Bluto Blutarsky gave the famous brotherhood speech: “Done? It’s not over until we say it’s over. Well, Roy delivered that speech in so many cocky words, basically telling the Red Wings to do their best or expect the worst. Coming as close to guaranteeing a win as a guy can get without actually saying the words, Roy squarely checked on the Wings blame. “Everybody’s ready for Game 4,” Roy said, speaking in no-nonsense terms to his teammates and taunting the Wings. “I really want to see how ready Detroit is to play. That’s what I want to see. Uh, Patrick, Detroit enters the Stanley Cup semifinals 2-1, mate. “It kinda makes me laugh at the media reaction saying we have issues and all that,” Roy said. “We don’t care what has happened so far. This is what will happen by the end of the series. And it’s time for us to win. Such a speech does not surprise anyone in the Wings locker room.
Crawfordspeak: Crawford on Game 4: “We’re going to be better in a lot of areas. We will better anticipate. We’ll go to the net better. We will be better as a team against the Detroit Red Wings. That’s what it will take. Crawford on Roy: “What makes him great with Patrick is that he confirms everything he says. Patrick is a great competitor. When he speaks, people listen. He’s a very charismatic guy. He does a great job as the leader of our team. He doesn’t speak just to be heard. He speaks when he has something to say.
Crawford vs. Konstantinov: A day after Crawford said Konstantinov was a master of dirty tricks and deserved a penalty every shift, Konstantinov continued to smile and laugh. “He thinks I’m bad?” I like it,” said the Vladinator. “I want to be the bad boy.” Bend the rules? “A hockey game is cheating. If you don’t cheat, you can’t win. You have to go out and do things that nobody knows. Time in the penalty area? “The referee has been paying attention to me all the time for six years. I know what to do. I just need to control my emotions a bit, try to skate when they hit from behind after the whistle. Konstantinov s took offense when a reporter tried to compare him to Colorado antagonist Claude Lemieux because of how they irritated opponents. “No,” he said emphatically. “We’re different. Very different.”
BEHIND THE STORY:Vladimir Konstantinov and his indescribable battle after a fateful limousine accident
FIVE RUSSIANS:How Konstantinov faked cancer to join the Red Wings
They said it: De Lemieux: “When you start looking for the answer next to you, the problem is probably within you. We have leaders on this team, and I’m one of them. I have to step it up; I have to play better. The other guys know they have to play better and the whole band has to play better. We have solved this problem and we are ready for it. From Konstantinov: “I remember last year. They never talked about our players or anything. They just went out and played along. Now they talk and talk. I think the reason they start talking is that there is something wrong. Our team? We just go out and play. From Kris Draper: “Respect is earned, and the way it was last year, they beat us in six games. They not only earned the respect of this hockey club, but the respect of all the league….Why should they respect our hockey club?I hope we can go out and win it though.
Off ice: From early January to mid-March, the Wings lost or tied 11 games they led in the third period. That’s not the character trait of a Stanley Cup contender. When associate coach Barry Smith returned in early April after a three-month sabbatical to coach in Sweden, he questioned the Wings’ conditioning. “The attitude at that time was, ‘OK, time to put the hammer down,'” Smith said. “Let’s start doing the extra things we need to do.” That meant hitting stationary bikes after games. That meant pumping iron in the weight room. “Give the boys credit,” Smith said. “They did it” In the playoffs, the Wings had dominated the third period and overtime. “We’re seeing the benefits of conditioning in the playoffs,” coach John Wharton said. The Wings outscored the teams, 14-6 in the third period and 3-0 in overtime. They had outshot teams, 208-143, in those stretches. Their defense had been outstanding, led by Mike Vernon’s 1.08 goals-against average and .958 save percentage during those periods. Wharton said he was also impressed with the players’ eating habits before and after games and how well they rested, especially on the road. The health leader, naturally, was Yzerman at 32. “You see Stevie Y get on the bike,” Draper said, “and it makes training a lot easier.”
Famous Last Words: From Konstantinov: “Last year we had a great team and many great players. This year we have a lot of guys who can manage players. We can be ahead of them. It’s very important to do the dirty work like that so that skillful players can score goals.
Relive the Glory: The Free Press has crafted a 208-page full-color hardcover collector’s book with fresh ideas and dynamic storytelling about the 1996-97 Wings. It’s titled, “Stanleytown 25 Years Later: The Inside Story on the Stanley Cup’s Return to the Motor City After 41 Frustrating Seasons.” It’s only $29.95 and it’s available at RedWings.PictorialBook.com. (This will make a great Father’s Day gift for the Wings fanatic in your life!) Custom copies available via [email protected]
More to read: Another new Wings book arrived in April from Keith Gave, a longtime writer on hockey for the Free Press in the 1980s and 1990s: “Vlad The Impaler: More Epic Tales from Detroit’s ’97 Stanley Cup Conquest.” It is available through Amazon and other booksellers with a portion of the proceeds going to the Vladimir Konstantinov Special Needs Trust. (Much of Gave’s prose also appears in “Stanleytown 25 Years Later”.)
More to read: The Red Wings beat reporter Helene St. James, who helped cover the 1997 Stanley Cup run, recently wrote “The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Detroit Red Wings.” Featuring many stories about key characters from 1997, “The Big 50” is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. (A lot of St. James prose also appears in “Stanleytown 25 Years Later”.)
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