The last team that won three consecutive Stanley Cups was the New York Islanders from 1981-83, and they even added one more in 1984. The Edmonton Oilers, Pittsburgh Penguins (both had two attempts), and Detroit Red Wings until this season, were the only franchises since the Islanders to win back-to-back championships and have a chance to three-peat. In 2022, as the Tampa Bay Lightning attempt to win their third consecutive Stanley Cup, it provokes memories of the 1998-99 Red Wings season. Here is a look back at that team and what prevented them from joining the Islanders as winners of three straight Cups.
The Red Wings went through quite an emotional journey upon becoming back-to-back champions, as they suffered a humbling sweep by the New Jersey Devils in the 1995 Stanley Cup Final. The next season they endured a gut-wrenching hit by Claude Lemieux on forward Kris Draper, resulting in a bitter series loss to rival Colorado in the Western Conference Final. The Red Wings finally persevered the next season defeating the Avalanche in the playoffs and eventually sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers for the 1997 Stanley Cup, the franchise’s first in 42 years.
Days after the Cup celebration, a limo containing defensemen Vladimir Konstantinov and Slava Fetisov hit a tree on its way home from a golf outing. Konstantinov spent several weeks in a coma and his promising hockey career was cut short due to paralysis suffered in the accident. The 1997-98 season was fueled by that accident, as the Red Wings defeated the Washington Capitals in four games to win their ninth Stanley Cup in franchise history.
1998-99 Regular Season and Trade Deadline
On top of the hockey world, Red Wings management made a bold move in the summer of 1998 by signing 6-foot-6 defenseman Uwe Krupp away from the rival Avalanche to fill the lofty void on the blue line left by Konstantinov’s absence. Unfortunately, Krupp only played in 22 games that season due to a herniated disk in what would turn out to be one of the biggest free-agent busts in Red Wings history. In a tough Western Conference, they were still having a successful season but saw an opportunity to improve the roster as the trade deadline approached.
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There was no salary cap at the time and Detroit was not content with winning just two Stanley Cups. So, the Red Wings made a bold move at the trade deadline, much to the displeasure of the rest of the league, acquiring defenseman Chris Chelios from the Chicago Blackhawks, forward Wendel Clark from the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Ulf Samuelsson from the New York Rangers. They even acquired Bill Ranford for goaltending depth behind Chris Osgood, as Detroit ended up finishing the regular season in first place in the Central Division with a 42-32-7 record, good for 93 points.
1999 Playoffs and Another Avalanche Matchup
The first-round matchup in 1999 was against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. First rounds can oftentimes be a source of nerves for fans of the favorites, but Detroit outscored them 17-7 in a four-game sweep, as Steve Yzerman led the way with five goals and seven points. The final win was a 3-0 shutout by Osgood, which was his sixth career playoff shutout to date. Next up was a second-round matchup against their nemesis Colorado for another chapter of their storied feud. The Avs eliminated Detroit en route to the Stanley Cup in 1996, and the Red Wings did the same to the Avs in 1997. They avoided each other in 1998, as Colorado was upset by the Edmonton Oilers in seven games during the first round that season.
Detroit won the first two games in Denver thanks to a Game 1 overtime winner by Kirk Maltby and a 4-0 shutout in Game 2. Yzerman scored two goals in that Game 2 victory, and Ranford, subbing in for an injured Osgood (knee), recorded 28 saves for the shutout. Ranford was the 1990 NHL Playoff MVP for Edmonton, so he was no stranger to playoff pressure.
At that point of the series, the Red Wings were confident, as the winners of six straight playoff games and 11th since the last season’s Cup run were heading home up 2-0. Yzerman echoed a warning after the win, though, saying, “By no means can we relax. They could get back into this one if we aren’t careful. Remember, the Avalanche have a great road record, better than at home.” Colorado won Game 3 in Detroit 5-3 and the momentum quickly changed, as they did not win another game the rest of the series losing in six games. Peter Forsberg’s third-period goal ended the scoring in a 5-2 Game 6 Colorado victory, thus ending the Red Wings’ hopes of a three-peat.
Sports Doesn’t Always Follow Logic
The time-tested cliche of “that’s why they play the games” is very applicable in hockey, especially when there are a lot of great teams hungry for the Stanley Cup. While the hockey world was focused on the heated rivalry between Detroit and Colorado once again, the Dallas Stars eventually won the Stanley Cup versus the Buffalo Sabres that year. One thing that should give Red Wings fans comfort is that current general manager Steve Yzerman made a huge impact on Detroit’s attempted ‘three-peat’ in 1999 and was a major architect of the Lightning’s roster that is attempting to do that same thing this year.
The lesson here is to embrace the moment as it is happening. Sustained success is extremely difficult, especially in today’s salary-cap era of the NHL. Fortunately, it seems Detroit has the right man in charge to bring the Red Wings back to a championship level.
Rob Klein grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan playing pond hockey every winter, and watching Hockey Night in Canada on CBC every Saturday. Being able to finally watch his Red Wings hoist the Stanley Cup in 1997 was his finest NHL moment. As a fan of the NHL for over 40 years he has been able to follow many great teams and appreciate the history of this great game as well as the remarkable talent that is playing today.