Red Wings History: 20th Anniversary of the 2002 Stanley Cup Victory

Detroit Red Wings. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images/NHLI)
Detroit Red Wings. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images/NHLI) /

On June 13, 2002 the Detroit Red Wings won their 10th Stanley Cup in front of their home fans at Joe Louis Arena.  At the beginning of the season, this team winning the Cup seemed like a foregone conclusion.  The 2001-2002 version of the Red Wings is considered to be one of the greatest teams in the history of the NHL.

This team featured 9 future hall of famers, 10 if you count Pavel Datsyuk once he is inducted.  Make that 11 if you include coach Scotty Bowman who was inducted in 1991.  Steve Yzerman, Nick Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shannahan, Brett Hull, Igor Larianov, Chris Chelios, Luc Robitaille and Domink Hasek are all now members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Red Wings cruised through the regular season, winning the President’s Trophy by 15 points.  They posted a +64 goal differential, coming 2nd in scoring and 3rd in goals against.  This team seemed unstoppable.

The road to the cup was not a smooth one at first.  The Red Wings went down 2-0 in their first round series against the 8th seed Vancouver Canucks.  In game 2, the Wings lost 5-3 and got booed by their fans on home ice.  One Red Wing stood out in this game…

Steve Yzerman was not going to allow his team to play this way.  In the 3rd period of game 2, he went out and played every shift like a mad man, throwing hits and giving it everything he had.  All while playing with a bad knee that severely hampered his skating.  Every player to a man noticed this and must have been embarrassed.  True leaders show up when they are needed the most.  Steve Yzerman did exactly that in this game.

The next game in Vancouver featured the turning point of the series and the playoffs.  Late in the 2nd period of a 1-1 tie game, Nick Lidstrom fired a slap shot from center ice that Vancouver goalie Dan Cloutier misread and let in.  After that, the team steamrolled, winning 8 of the next 9 games and advanced to the Western Conference Finals.

Only one giant hurdle stood between the Wings and the Stanley Cup Final.  Their arch nemesis and defending champion Colorado Avalanche.  This was the matchup everyone wanted to see.

Before we dive into this, lets backtrack to February 2002 where team Canada won their first men’s hockey gold medal in 50 years at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

The gold medal game against the USA brought about this iconic photo of Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shannahan, Chris Chelios and Brett Hull.  I still remember Bob Cole saying “They’re all from you know where.”  We sure did know!  As a Canadian and a Wings fan, I couldn’t wait for Yzerman and Shannahan to get the chance to win Olympic gold and the Stanley Cup in the same year.

Two standout players for Canada were Steve Yzerman and Colorado captain Joe Sakic, the latter being named tournament MVP.  Noticeably absent was Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy who opted not to play for Canada in the Olympics so he could be rested for the NHL playoffs.  This turned out to be Roy’s 2nd worst decision of 2002…

For the first 5 games of the Western Conference Final, Patrick Roy outdueled Domink Hasek and seemed unbeatable.  Detroit went into Denver down 3-2 in the series for a must win game 6.

Late in the first period, Roy made a superhuman glove save stopping Steve Yzerman from putting the puck into a seemingly empty net.  Roy decided to do some showboating and raised his arm “statue of liberty” style to show the fans he had the puck in his glove.  This turned out to be Roy’s worst decision of 2002.  He dropped the puck in the crease.  Brendan Shannahan was there to bang the puck home.  Detroit went on to win the game 2-0 and momentum shifted massively in their favor.

This rivalry had everything you could ever ask for and then some.  Everything except a 7th game.  This game finally happened on May 31, 2002.  I don’t think I have ever been so nervous or excited for a game in my life.

The game turned into the biggest disaster of Patrick Roy’s career.  It was 2-0 Detroit less than 5 minutes into the game.  By the end of the first period, it was 4-0.  Colorado coach Bob Hartley didn’t make the same mistake that Mario Tremblay did in 1995 and mercifully pulled Roy after 6 goals midway through the 2nd period.

This game ended up being one of the most lopsided game 7’s in the history of sports.  Detroit cruised to a 7-0 win in front of home fans who mercilessly chanted “Paaaaatrick” while Roy sat on the bench for the 2nd half of the game.  If ever I have experienced schadenfreude in my life, it was in this moment.

Aside from twice winning the cup on home ice, this is my favorite game in the history of Joe Louis Arena.  No disrespect to the 2002 Eastern Conference champion Carolina Hurricanes but the Stanley Cup was effectively won on this night.

In the Cup final, the Red Wings went on to beat the Carolina Hurricanes in 5 games.  Steve Yzerman hoisted his 3rd Stanley Cup in 6 years.  In one of the more memorable moments in Stanley Cup presentation history, Yzerman had his daughter Isabella join him in hoisting the Cup in front of home fans at Joe Louis Arena.

This team won by committee.  The Conn Smythe trophy went to a very deserving Nick Lidstrom.  It could have just as easily went to Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shannahan, Dominik Hasek or Steve Yzerman.

No disrespect to the perfect human but I would have picked Yzerman as the MVP.  He showed unbelievable determination and grit in these playoffs, all while playing with 1 functioning knee.  The captain lived up to his nickname by leading a team filled with alphas.  Not an easy feat and possibly the greatest of Yzerman’s career.

2002 was a great year for the Red Wings, possibly their greatest.  The NHL salary cap was implemented a few years later to prevent teams from stockpiling superstars the way the Red Wings did.  We will likely never see another NHL team with this much talent ever again.

20 years later, no team has even come close.