Today’s memory involves my favorite playoff series of all time – the 2002 Western Conference Finals. It was a true clash of the titans. Red Wings vs. Avalanche. Dominik Hasek. Patrick Roy. Steve Yzerman. Joe Sakic. Nicklas Lidstrom. Rob Blake. I could do this all day but I’m sure at some point you’d like to actually read about the memory I have of this series.
After an exhilarating regular season, the postseason matchup that everyone wanted to see was the Detroit Red Wings vs. the Colorado Avalanche. There were Hall of Famers all over the ice. For the Wings, you had Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, Brett Hull, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Dominik Hasek, Igor Larionov, Luc Robitaille, and coach Scotty Bowman. The Avs counted with Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Rob Blake, Alex Tanguay, Chris Drury, Adam Foote, and Milan Hejduk. All of hockey tuned in to this series.
For the Wings, it was the chance to avenge a disappointing 2001 playoffs that saw them fall in the 1st round to the Los Angeles Kings. In the offseason, Wings GM Ken Holland added Hall of Famers Dominik Hasek, Brett Hull, and Luc Robitaille as well as bringing up talented rookie Pavel Datsyuk. It essentially became Stanley Cup or bust for Detroit. For the Avs, well, they were the defending Stanley Cup Champions and it was a chance to add a 3rd championship in 6 years. Time was starting to run out on the Avs aging roster so they knew that this was one of their last true shots at a championship.
The two teams met in the Western Conference Finals that year, just as it should be. The Wings survived tests from the young Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues. The Avs vanquished the Kings and Sharks in 7 games. The stage was set, and the players were raring to go.
The first 5 games of the series couldn’t have had more beautiful hockey played. Game 1 saw Detroit’s Darren McCarty record a natural hat trick to lead the Wings to a 5-3 win. Game 2 saw the Avs’ Chris Drury come up clutch in OT to give the Avs a 4-3 win. Game 3 had another role player step up for the Wings as defenseman Fredrik Olausson scored in OT to give the Wings as 2-1 win. Game 4 had Colorado’s stars outplay the Wings as Sakic and Drury tallied in the 3rd to give the Avs a 3-2 win. In the pivotal Game 5, after the Wings’ Brendan Shanahan missed an open net with 1:40 left in regulation, the Avs’ Peter Forsberg scored 6 minutes into OT to send the Avs home with a 3-2 series lead.
Game 6 was in Colorado and the defending Stanley Cup champs were a win away from returning to the Cup Finals and sending their rivals home early. The Wings were determined to get the series back to Detroit for a Game 7. The Wings carried the play in the first period, but they just couldn’t find the back of the net. Then, with under a minute to go, Steve Yzerman found himself all alone in front of the net. He held on to the puck, and fired high only to be robbed by Roy. Roy had been magnificent the last few games, stopping 125 of 130 shots the past 3 games. In typical Roy fashion, he held the puck up high for the ref to see in his glove (known as the Statue of Liberty). Only this time…Roy didn’t have it in his glove. The puck squirted loose and Shanahan jammed it in. The Wings went on to take Game 6 2-0, Game 7 by a 7-0 laugher and the rest is history.
I’ll never forget that play by Roy. Up until that point, I thought that the Wings were never going to score on him again. Then, Roy decided to showboat a bit and it cost him. But it didn’t just cost him a goal; it cost him and the Avs the series. The Wings received new life after that goal and scored the final 9 goals of the series. I think that if Roy just covers that puck up, we would have had an entirely different series.
Patrick Roy was the guy that everyone loved to hate in Detroit when we couldn’t hate Claude Lemieux. To see him mess up on that big of a stage and have it dramatically affect that series – well Wings fans couldn’t have asked for anything better. His Game 7 humiliation in Detroit only served as icing on the cake. After all of his battles with Detroit, Patrick Roy finished his final playoff game against the Wings on the bench after allowing 6 goals in 26 minutes and 28 seconds. Wings fans wouldn’t have it any other way.