That can be attributed to the large number of auto workers and their families who relocated here for the Nissan and Saturn plants years ago. They were the relocated Red Wings fans who effectively “seeded the clouds” for hockey in Music City.
In the beginning for the Preds, one of the “Original 27” NHL franchises, Nashville and Detroit met as many as eight times in a season, playing in the same division, the Central.
By definition, a rivalry is a competition. When it heavily tilts to one side, there may be competition, but it isn’t a truly heated one. When the Predators began in the fall of 1998, the Red Wings had won the previous two Stanley Cups. No team has won back-to-back titles since then.
However, Detroit has won two Cups (2002 and 2008) since the birth of the National Hockey League in Nashville, as have the New Jersey Devils (2000 and 2003), the Chicago Blackhawks (2010 and 2013) and Los Angeles Kings (2012 and 2014).
As the games between Nashville and Detroit began, it clearly was a case of Little Brother vs. Big Brother. In their first trip to Joe Lewis Arena, Mike Dunham faced 57 shots as the Red Wings took a 5-2 win.
As I’m sure you will recall our recent bout with ice storms here, there was a massive one just before the Predators’ first Christmas in the NHL. It hit the night before the Red Wings first visit to Nashville. This time, Detroit mustered 53 shots on Tomas Vokoun, who made 50 saves in a 5-3 Predators victory. That was the only win against Detroit in six games that season.
Nashville’s “rivalry” with Detroit began with the Predators going 2-9-1, including 0-5-1 at Joe Louis Arena. That made their first win against Detroit extra special. Let’s go to overtime on October 19, 2000.
That turned out to be the start of a two-game “winning streak” over the Red Wings, but it would be five more games after that before the Preds could mount a four-game unbeaten streak (2-0-2) against them – and that good stretch all began in Nashville on December 29, 2001:
Those victories truly stood out over the first five seasons in Predators’ history. Nashville went 6-16-5 against the Wings. Those seasons encompassed the last four of the legendary Scotty Bowman’s coaching career and another Stanley Cup title, so what would you expect from a start-up team?
Things took a decided turn for the better in 2003-04. The Predators won their first three games against Detroit that season, including their first-ever shutout win:
That was the start of the Predators making the playoffs for the first time. Their opponent, fittingly enough, was Detroit.
Detroit took the first two games at the Joe. It opened on April 7th.
On Easter Sunday afternoon, the Predators hosted a playoff game for the first time. It was a magical afternoon.
Adam Hall performed some heroics:
David Legwand got a shorthanded breakaway:
The noise was deafening...
And if that wasn’t enough – Tomas Vokoun had quite the Game 4…
At this point, you could actually call the Predators and Red Wings a rivalry and feel good about it. The series was even at two wins apiece. When the Predators arrived in Detroit for Game Five, a newspaper headline roared: “Panic in Hockeytown!”
Detroit Coach Dave Lewis switched goaltenders at that point, from Manny Legace to Curtis (“CuJo”) Joseph and took the next two to close out the series. Thanks to the lockout that cost the NHL the 2004-05 season, that was it for a while.
The first scheduled meeting of the teams out of that lockout was in November of 2005. The Predators scored early and had the lead, but the game would not be completed until January.
Here’s the story:
After that night, I never would have thought we would be talking about Jiri Fischer taking part in any game, but I am grateful he will join us for the Preds – Wings alumni match today!
To make up the suspended game, a home-and-home was changed to two back-back games in Detroit on January 23 and 24, 2006. The Predators were more than up to the task:
The Predators split their eight games with the Red Wings that year and finished with 106 points, but lost in the first round to San Jose.
The following year was the best in Predators’ history (at least until the current season). The team finished with 110 points. Perhaps the most dramatic win of that season came at home – 10 days after the Predators had acquired future-Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg from Philadelphia:
There have been so many incredible nights when these two teams have met. How about the night before Halloween in 2003: “Fight Night” on Broadway. Chris Chelios going after Scott Hartnell all night long, Steve Yzerman getting a game misconduct, and the Preds winning, 5-3? There was the night of the “Harmonic Convergence,” the last day of February 2009, when the Wings, outshot the Preds 30-23, yet Nashville won, 8-0.
In all, the Predators and Red Wings have met three times in the playoffs. In addition to the Red Wings run to their most recent Stanley Cup championship in 2008, they also met in 2012:
Beginning in 2013, the two teams have not met as frequently, as the Red Wings moved to the Eastern Conference. Now the opportunity for more memories has been reduced to a pair of meetings per regular season. However, that seems to give each one even more weight.