If you were a hockey fan growing up in the mid-90’s to early 2000’s, then you are very familiar with one of hockey’s greatest rivalries. For seven-plus seasons, the Colorado Avalanche and the Detroit Red Wings had one of the fiercest, most exciting rivalries in all of sports. Hard checks, fights, and blood were all relics during those games, along with goals, excellent puck handling, and Stanley Cups. And on Sunday night, in the Avs 2-0 victory over the Wings in Detroit, memories of the old days were evoked.
While the first two periods went without much fanfare, the fireworks started in the third period. After Ian Cole drilled Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi squared off with Cole and both were sent off for fighting. Later in the third period, Patrik Nemeth hard-checked Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha decided he needed to stand up for his teammate. The gloves dropped again and both men were also sent to the box for figthing. The Little Caesers Arena crowd got fired up behind their team’s feistyness. Towards the end of the game, Bertuzzi made a mistake that will for sure cost him some games in a suspension. As the Avs Matt Calvert was tied up in front of the Detroit bench, Bertuzzi and Larkin held on to Calvert’s stick. After Larkin had Calvert in a headlock, Bertuzzi took it upon himself to sucker punch Calvert. While no penalty was called, Bertuzzi will face serious consequences from the NHL. As Red Wing players stood up for each other, who could forget when enforcer Darren McCarty stood up for Kris Draper on March 26, 1997 when he exacted revenege on the hated Claude Lemieux.
As far as the hockey went, Colorado was just too much for the Red Wings to handle. The Avalanche showed why they have the top power play unit in the league when Nathan MacKinnon scored in the second period six seconds into the power play. At 31.4% efficiency, the Avalanche power play unit is currently one of the best in the history of the NHL. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov completed the shutout and stopped 24 shots on net. For his part in keeping the game close, former Avalanche netminder Joseph Bernier played well against his former teammates as he stopped 27 of 28 shots
In they heyday of the rivalry, the Avs and Wings were two of the best teams in the league. With Hall of Famers such as Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Peter Forsberg, the games were always exciting with plenty of goals and hits. The Avalanche and Red Wings combined to win five Stanley Cups and every Western Conference Final during the 1996-2002 seasons featured at least one of the teams. They faced off against each other in three Conference Finals matchups, with the eventual winner going on to win the Cup. The rivalry died down after the 2002 season as players on both sides either retired or were traded away. With the Red Wings move to the Eastern Conference before the 2013-14 season, the clubs now only play each other twice during the year, and will only meet up in the playoffs if both teams make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. For one night, the memories of those great seasons were realized on the ice.