DETROIT – It’s back.
The Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche will rekindle one of the NHL’s best rivalries on Thursday night in Game 1 of a Western Conference semifinal. Detroit and Colorado met in five post-seasons between 1996-2002 – with the Avs advancing three times – and the franchises combined to win five Stanley Cups during that seven-year stretch.
“We pushed each other to be the best,” Red Wings forward Darren McCarty said Wednesday before facing Colorado for a sixth time in the playoffs. “It was a slugfest back and forth – figuratively.”
Blood, brawls – involving even goaltenders – and broken bones made the matchups that much more interesting.
“You hated a few of those guys on that team,” McCarty said. “But you had the utmost respect for them.”
McCarty said he hated Claude Lemieux, who broke Kris Draper’s nose and jaw with a blind-sided check into the boards, and acknowledged he’s still loathed in Denver.
Draper and McCarty are two of the eight players who helped the Red Wings beat Colorado in the 2002 conference finals and win their third title in six years.
The Avs have just four players – Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote and Milan Hejduk – still around from the previous matchup in the playoffs.
“If you’re part of that, you remember that. You know the buzz in both cities,” Sakic said. “The newer guys that weren’t around for those series are going to get a taste of it right away.”
Joel Quenneville agreed.
He experienced the rivalry behind the bench as an assistant on Colorado’s Stanley Cup-winning team in 1996.
“The guys that haven’t felt it or seen it will immediately capture the feeling, the excitement, the meaning of a shift,” Quenneville said. “The building will be loud and crazy.
“There are a lot of good things going into it, but whether you’ve been a part of it or not, you’ll be able to feel it.”
Both teams needed six games to advance to the second round and each scored 17 goals and gave up 12.
Detroit, the NHL’s top-seeded team, won the final two games of the series to get past the Nashville Predators. Dominik Hasek was pulled in Game 4 and was replaced – until further notice – by Chris Osgood, who allowed only a goal in Games 5-6.
Jose Theodore helped the sixth-seeded Avs knock off the third-seeded Minnesota with a 1.88 goals-against average.
They got a boost into the playoffs and in the first round from their moves before the trading deadline, bringing back Forsberg, Foote and adding Ruslan Salei.
Colorado is hoping the trio helps the franchise get past Detroit and into the conference finals for the first time since its championship season in 2001.
The Red Wings had their way in the regular season with the Avs, beating them in all four games and shutting them out in the last three meetings. Colorado hasn’t scored a goal against Detroit since Dec. 27, starting a scoreless streak that is at 214-plus minutes entering the series.
“They’re a totally different team,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said, dismissing the season series as an advantage. “I don’t believe there’s any transfer whatsoever.”