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Detroit Red Wings vs. Colorado Avalanche: A Retrospective

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ESPN’s E60 will air a look back at the Detroit Red Wings vs. Colorado Avalanche rivalry on June 26th. Entitled Unrivaled, the one-hour special will take a look back at the rivalry that spanned a decade and a half. For Red Wings fans, in particular, it will be a nostalgic look back at a time period that would bring about them winning their first Stanley Cup championship in 42 years.

Darren McCarty and Claude Lemieux played a pivotal role in the Red Wings vs. Avalanche rivalry

This Red Wings vs. Avalanche rivalry dates back to the 1990s. Its origin can be traced back to Vyacheslav Kozlov slamming Adam Foote’s head into the glass at McNichols Arena in Denver, Colorado. There was no penalty called on the play so Claude Lemieux would exact some revenge by sucker-punching Kozlov in the mouth. Kozlov would return in this game even though he needed 20 stitches to close the cut to score a goal. Revenge is something that Lemieux would become familiar with later on in the rivalry.

Lemieux’s elbow on Kris Draper was the event that sent the rivalry that had been simmering bubbling over the edge. During game 6 of the 1996 Western Conference Finals, Lemieux hit Draper from behind and the cut needed 30 stitches, a broken cheekbone, jaw, and nose, and several broken teeth. Draper would miss the rest of the season and would need several months in order to return to play. Lemieux said he was coming in too fast before the hit and was not able to stop. He also said that the win was the most satisfying.

Roughly one year later the head coaches for the teams would become the story of the rivalry. Head coach of the Red Wings Scotty Bowman directed his ire toward Marc Crawford of the Avalanche. The Red Wings would win this game by a score of 6-0 in route to a 3-1 series lead. At the time Crawford thought that Bowman was creating a controversy where there was none.

Veteran winger Dino Ciccarelli was quoted after the series as saying “I can’t believe I shook his freakin’ hand.” The handshake line is something that happens after every playoff series in hockey. Whatever happens during a series is put aside because of the amount of hard work that is put into getting to that point in an NHL season by both teams. Little did Ciccarelli know that the Red Wings vs. Avalanche rivalry would last more than just this one season.

Dubbed ‘Fight Night at the Joe,’ the most infamous event in the Red Wings vs. Avalanche rivalry happened on March 26th, 1997. The fact that the location of the event is named after a famous boxer is apropos. It will have been 9,223 days since the fight when the documentary airs on ESPN. Darren McCarty was waiting for the right time to exact his revenge on Lemieux. After only receiving two minor penalties for the “fight” with Lemieux, McCarty would score the game-winning goal in overtime.

The trailer for the documentary ends with an emotional note with Vladimir Konstantinov saying that his favorite part of the rivalry was when the Red Wings beat the Avalanche. Konstantinov was injured in a limousine accident after the first of the Red Wings’ Stanley Cup championships. He is now limited to a few words and needs 24/7 care.

The Red Wings used the tragedy of what happened to Konstantinov as motivation throughout the 1997-98 season. The team would defeat the Philadelphia Flyers in 4 games to win their second Stanley Cup in a row. Captain Steve Yzerman won the Conn Smythe as the most valuable player in the playoffs. After lifting the Stanley Cup Yzerman would lead the team to a picture at center ice around Konstantinov. This was the second of 3 Stanley Cups that Bowman would win with the Red Wings.

McCarty seems to have mellowed out since March 26th, 1997. He and Lemieux even had a watch party to watch the Red Wings vs. Avalanche game that happened to be on the 25th anniversary of Fight Night at the Joe. Lemieux is now an agent and one of his young clients is Moritz Seider, a defenseman for the Red Wings. He scored the goal that sealed game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals when the Red Wings swept the Flyers.

But, is the rivalry between the two teams over? The rosters of both teams have been turned over many times throughout the years. Neither the captain of the Red Wings Dylan Larkin or Gabriel Landeskog of the Avalanche were even alive when this game happened. The two teams are not even in the same conference as the Red Wings moved east. It remains to be seen whether or not they can one day meet in the Stanley Cup Finals.

This look back comes as the Avalanche have just beaten the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Red Wings, on the other hand, are rebuilding and one day hoping to be back to the playoffs. What will not be matched if the Red Wings and Avalanche meet up again in the playoffs is the vitriol that was felt between the two teams in this time period.

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