After a full lockout during what would have been the 2004-2005 season, two very important things happened. First, the Pittsburgh Penguins were gifted the first overall pick in the upcoming draft in a full thirty team lottery. With these honours they were able to select Sidney Crosby. The second and even more important change, was the introduction of the salary cap.
This was a real test for the Detroit Red Wings. This was a team who traditionally purchased UFAs and repeatedly dealt big at the deadline no matter what the dollar amount was. This was a huge advantage and the 2002 cup win was probably the last time we’ll see nine (!!) Hall of Fame players on the same team at once. The general consensus was that with these new dollar restrictions and the retiring/moving on of some key players by these years, Detroit’s reign as a perennial contender was due to come to an end.
We know now that this wasn’t the case.
The 2007-2008 season was the peak reign of the Euro Twins:
I don’t know what’s crazier, Datsyuk scoring at nearly a 1.2 points-per-game pace or that he played 82 regular season games. Only Shanahan had scored 40+ goals in a season since 1995 at this point but thankfully Zettterberg netted a monstrous 43.
This was a great mix of vets (Lidstrom, Rafalski and later Stuart) alongside Detroit’s seemingly unknown European arsenal (Franzen, Hudler). Hasek and Osgood split the season although neither had impressive numbers. Osgood’s .914 S% in 43 games was a little better than Hasek’s .902 S% in 41 outings. Despite these numbers, the Wings still managed to concede the fewest amount of goals that year.
This season was full of milestones as well for the team. Another President’s Trophy with an impressive 115 point season. Chelios appeared in his 1600th NHL game, Holmstrom and Hasek played in their 700th NHL games and Lidstrom managed his 700th NHL assist. The 2007-2008 Wings are quite simply one of the most dominant teams of the post-lockout era.
ROUND 1 – NASHVILLE PREDATORS
On paper this was supposed to be an easy series. Nashville though always gave Detroit issues and would continue to for many years. Weber and Suter were still playing as one of the leagues best pairings but past Radulov and Erat there wasn’t a ton of firepower on the young franchise. Detroit took the first two at home no problem, but after two losses in Nashville, Dominik Hasek would be replaced by Chris Osgood for what would become one of Osgood’s most dominant performances ever so late in his career. Osgood was post a .981 S% in the series to start what would be just one of many unbelievable playoff performances.
They may have stumbled, but the Wings managed to wrap this one up nicely in 6 games to advance to the next round. Game 5 marked the beginning of what would be the beginning of Johan Franzen as phenom playoff performer:
ROUND 2 – THE COLORADO AVALANCHE
Now, this rivalry may have been past its glory days, but any Wings fan gets excited about an opportunity to stomp the Avs. Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Franzen would combine for 27 points in the sweep of the Avs, with Franzen scoring 9 goals (hattricks in games 2 and 4) in just four games. There are some real beauties in there:
The only thing better than the 8-2 stomping Detroit delivered in game 7 would have been if Patrick Roy was in net but hey, we’ll take it. This series was short and sweet and the confidence was building.
CONFERENCE FINALS – THE DALLAS STARS
This was a good Stars team once again meeting a good Red Wings team deep in the playoffs. Brenden Morrow, Brad Richards, a young Loui Eriksson, Mike Modano and Marty Turco led this mix of grinders and skilled forwards. While the were able to hinder Franzen’s goal scoring tear, they left Zetterberg and Datsyuk open to pick the team apart game by game. The Euro Twins would combine for 14 points in what would be a 6 game series that stayed relatively close most nights.
Do you think the Red Wings brain trust sat together last summer watching this and thinking to themselves, “Yep, let’s sign Richards and play him on the point for the power-play”:
The team was firing on all cylinders at this point. Their stars were their best players, their secondary scoring was as deadly as it gets and their blue line and goaltending were top notch. But there was another juggernaut brewing in the east and they were piecing together an even more impressive run.
STANLEY CUP FINAL – THE PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
The 2007-2008 Pittsburgh Penguins had their first season where the star power had really taken control of the league. By the time they reached the Stanley Cup Finals they had only lost two games in three rounds. For all the waves Detroit was making in the west, it was actually the Penguins who went into this finals with momentum. Even though Crosby only played in 53 games that season, he still managed 72 points while Malkin put together a monstrous 106 point season (good for second in the league) in his sophomore outing. This team also featured peak Marian Hossa, Sergei Gonchar and Max Talbot alongside a young Jordan Staal and Chris Letang with goaltending sensation Mark-Andre Fleury backstopping it all.
Detroit came out strong though, with Chris Osgood posting a shutout in both game 1 and game 2 of the series. The scoring was beginning to spread itself out a little more because so much of this series was about the matchups. Zetterberg specifically really transformed himself from elite offensive threat to ultimate defensive pest, repeatedly getting under the skin of Pittsburgh’s wonder-child Sidney Crosby.
With Sid and Malkin shut down, plays like this became common place from Detroit’s depth:
At the same time Detroit’s elite, in their more durable days, continued their focused play:
Pittsburgh managed to take game 3 at home and take away a bit of the momentum. They came out strong again in game 4 and things were looking less certain for the Wings than they previously had. That was until Henrik Zetterberg put together what is now referred to as “The Conn Smythe Shift”. The Penguins found themselves with a 1:00- plus 5-on-3 power play down a goal in game 4 with lots of time in the third. Seemingly the power play that could shift this entire series was about to take place and it did, only the momentum swung the opposite direction thanks to Z:
Game 5 was a heartbreaker. With thirty seconds remaining and the goalie pulled, Talbot managed to tie the game and send it to OT. It took 3OT periods for the Pens to finally end it with a PPG and send it back to Pittsburgh for game 6.
Detroit went back to Pittsburgh determined. They put their heads down and went to work with the same winning formula that got them there in the first place. Their defence was solid as Rafalski netted the first goal of the game. The secondary scoring was there for them again as Filppula scored a grimy one to get them up 2-0 and in true Zetterberg fashion, he managed the GWG to seal the cup once again for the Detroit Red Wings:
With everyone on the Penguins too concerned with trying to scrum after every single whistle, no one paid attention to the puck sitting behind Fleury. As Orpik opts for the headlock instead of shoving that puck back into Fleury’s pads, chaos ensues and ends with the puck in the net for what would be the Stanley Cup winning goal.
Although Zetterberg would go on to win the Conn Smythe trophy, his incredible performance often has people forgetting that this was a team effort top to bottom. Franzen’s 11 goals beat the previous record shared by Hull and Fedorov and he did it in less games than both. Franzen’s 9 goals vs the Avalanche beat a Gordie Howe team record for most goals in a series and him doing it in 4 games set a new NHL record as well. Meanwhile, Zetterberg’s 27 playoff points beat the previous record of 24 held by Yzerman and Fedorov. Kronwall’s 15 playoff assists beat a record set by his two teammates, Chelios and Lidstrom.
Most importantly though, and often the most overlooked aspect, was Chris Osgood’s performance in this playoffs. He became Detroit’s leader in post-season wins beating Hall of Fame legend Terry Sawchuk. He posted two shutouts and a .930 save percentage in the finals series vs one of the most potent offences in the NHL and did so at a point in his career when many thought he was done. His contribution to the Red Wings over his long career, doesn’t get much better than this run.
This win was important because it proved a lot of things. It proved the Wings could win in a post-salary cap era. It proved that their model was working and that even with the departure of mega-stars like Yzerman, Fedorov and Shanahan, they were still a threat. It gives Red Wings fans even now a little hope. All those who lived through the glory years from 1997-2002 who thought maybe that was it for a while. Those same fans who even now are questioning the direction of a team without Datsyuk and where they’ll be in a few years as Zetterberg and Kronwall eventually move on as well. It’s a reminder that they’ve been here before and hopefully, they’ll be able to do it all over again.