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1997 Stanley Cup Finals

The 1997 Stanley Cup Finals determined the winner of the Stanley Cup and the champion of the National Hockey League (NHL) for the 1996–97 NHL season. The Stanley Cup winners were the Detroit Red Wings, who swept the Philadelphia Flyers in four games and won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 42 years. Detroit is also the last team to win the Cup without having home ice advantage in the Finals.

Paths to the Final

The Flyers arrived into the Finals having beaten their perennial rivals, the New York Rangers in a memorable five-game Eastern Conference Final series. Eric Lindros and Wayne Gretzky each recorded a hat trick in the set, but the size, strength and discipline of Philadelphia trumped the veteran savvy of the Blueshirts. Philadelphia rose to the top on the back of a 17-game unbeaten streak in December and January, and despite losing the Atlantic Division title to New Jersey, had an easy time with Pittsburgh and Buffalo in the first two rounds.

Detroit was the dark-horse in the Western Conference, the third-seed behind Dallas and Colorado. The Red Wings made their second trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in three years by besting the Avalanche in an often brutal six-game Western Conference Finals. Despite winning 62 games the year before, Detroit won only 38 in 1996–97 but got tougher with the addition of Brendan Shanahan and the departure of several players whom head coach Scotty Bowman blamed for their loss to Colorado a year prior. The Wings dispatched a fractured St. Louis Blues team and a surprising Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to reach the conference finals for the third straight season.

The teams had never faced each other in the playoffs prior to the season; even in the early days of expansion beyond the Original Six, the clubs never made the postseason when the NHL employed its cross-over format between East and West divisions. Nor had they met in the two year experiment to rank NHL playoff teams 1 through 16 in 1980 and 1981.

Detroit was looking for its first Cup win since 1955, and to avenge the shocking four-game sweep to New Jersey in 1995. Philadelphia was trying to win its first Cup since 1975 in its first Finals appearance in 10 years.

The series

Game one

Game one in Philadelphia took place exactly 10 years after the Flyers' emotional game seven loss to the Edmonton Oilers in the 1987 Finals, and the omen was a bad one for the start of the 1997 series. Although Rod Brind'Amour and John LeClair netted a goal each for the home team, Philly goaltender Ron Hextall allowed a bad 60-foot goal to Steve Yzerman which made the score 4–2 early in the third period and seemed to lift the Wings' collective spirit in a 4–2 win. Sergei Fedorov scored the winner and was named the games' first star.

Game two

Although Brind'Amour scored a pair of power-play goals late in the first period which sent the CoreStates Center into a frenzy, Red Wing forward Brendan Shanahan scored a pair of goals himself which sent the Wings to another 4–2 victory and a 2–0 series lead heading back to Joe Louis Arena.

Game three

LeClair put the Flyers up 1–0 with a goal early in the first period, but the Flyers slowly unraveled. Third-line winger Martin Lapointe blew a shot past Hextall late in the period to give the Wings a 3–1 advantage. The Wings tacked on two more in the second and added one in the third for a commanding 6–1 win and three games to none series advantage.

In his post-game comments, Flyers head coach Terry Murray was quoted as saying the team was "basically in a choking situation," which many writers, broadcasters, fans as well as Flyers management took to mean Murray called out his own players as chokers. The manner in which they played compounded by the insurmountable series deficit along with the Wings' seeming dominance in stretches of the first two games as well as most of game three lent credence to the claim. However, with a decade in between, it is more likely Murray equated the 3–0 series hole as being stuck in a room without oxygen where it's hard to breathe, rather than an explicit implication of his players. Sergei Fedorov scored the winner and posted a 4-point night. He was named the games' first star.

Game four

The Red Wings controlled the game from the get-go, forging ahead 1–0 after one period and employing the left-wing lock to keep the Flyers' mix of big and speedy forwards at bay. Darren McCarty's second-period tally effectively sealed the deal. The burly checker faked out Flyers rookie defenceman Janne Niinimaa inside the blue line, swooped around him, then did a quick cutback in front of Hextall in his crease to slip the puck into the net. Eric Lindros would score his lone goal of the series with under 30 seconds to play. The 2–1 win brought Detroit its eighth Stanley Cup, and its first in 42 seasons.

Sergei Fedorov led the Wings in playoff scoring with 20 points. Detroit goaltender Mike Vernon, who had been in net for the whole of the Wings' aborted 1995 playoff run, and relegated to the bench the year before, earned vindication and his first Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP by holding Philadelphia to six goals in four games.

Detroit Red Wings 1997 Stanley Cup Champions

References

  • (2000). Total Stanley Cup. NHL.
  • Podnieks, Andrew; Hockey Hall of Fame (2004). Lord Stanley's Cup. Triumph Books, 12, 50. ISBN 1–55168–261–3.

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