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Back to 1997: Red Wings stymie Legion of Doom to claim the Cup

Draper and Lidstrom share their memories; what stands out to you?

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

If you're old enough to remember the 1997 Stanley Cup Final, which is now almost 23 years ago, you likely have a lot of fantastic memories from that series.

It broke the 42-year championship drought for the Red Wings and united the city of Detroit, the metro area, the state of Michigan and Wings fans around the world.

Throughout the entire playoff run, you couldn't drive anywhere without passing cars with Red Wings flags.

Even the Spirit of Detroit statue sported a giant Wings jersey and fans crowded around in their own jerseys to get photos with it.

There had been great disappointment in 1995, reaching the Stanley Cup Final and then getting swept by the New Jersey Devils.

That disappointment turned to anguish in 1996 when the Wings lost to the Colorado Avalanche in six games, igniting a bitter rivalry when Avalanche forward Claude Lemieux smashed Kris Draper from behind, shoving him face-first into the boards.

The hit was so devastating that Draper suffered a broken jaw, shattered cheekbone and orbital bone, which required extensive surgery and prevented Draper from eating solid food for weeks.

At the start of the 1996-97 season, the Wings traded for power forward Brendan Shanahan, who had asked out of Hartford as the Whalers franchise was on unsure footing.

"Something just felt different in 1997," Draper said. "I think the games that we played, obviously we made the big trade at the start of the year to bring in Brendan Shanahan. We felt that we could play kind of any brand of hockey that was going to be played. If you wanted to run and gun, we had the guys that could do that; if you wanted to kind of get in the trenches and battle and play tough and play physical, we felt we could do that as well."

Although the Wings did not have the same regular season success they had the previous year, they believed they now had the final ingredient to put them over the top.

"I think he gave us another punch of being able to score goals," Nick Lidstrom said. "He was a power forward that could score goals for us but he could also stand up for his teammates and fight if needed but be in someone's face, so just adding another guy that could play all kinds of styles of hockey where you had that threat on the power play with a great shot, great one-timer. But he could also play that physical style, which was something we needed. I thought when we got Shanahan, he added that presence that we needed to help us get over the hump."

After defeating the Avalanche in six games in the Western Conference Final, the Wings had avenged their brutal 1996 defeat and were now hardened for what was expected to be a tough matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Flyers had their Legion of Doom line of center Eric Lindros and wingers John LeClair and Mikael Renberg.

But the Wings had head coach Scotty Bowman and Bowman had a plan for that.

The Flyers' top line was expecting to see lots of rugged defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov and partner Slava Fetisov, perhaps the entire Russian Five unit, and captain Steve Yzerman and his line.

Enter Kris Draper and the Grind Line.

"In the end, for the opening face-off and for a lot of the series, it was the Grind Line, it was myself and we always kind of go with the slash there with Joe Kocur and Darren McCarty on the right side and on the back end, it was Larry Murphy and Nick Lidstrom," Draper said. "I think whatever was going to be predictable, you knew that Scotty was going to throw a massive curveball. It was a surprise, but I tell you what, I just remember being in that tunnel in Philadelphia and just waiting for the introduction, knowing that I'd be about to start Game 1 of the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals, something that we were all very proud of and excited to be a part of."

Even Lidstrom himself was a little taken aback that he and Murphy were the ones out there against Lindros and company.

"Not surprised but I kind of thought he was going with Vladdy, especially against Lindros because Lindros was a big, physical guy, he liked to hit, and Vladdy could play that style as well," Lidstrom said. "But Scotty decided otherwise. He decided to put me and Larry Murphy against their top line, two not overly physical defensemen, but puck-moving defensemen. He wanted us to move the puck quick out of our own zone and that was the game plan Scotty had."

All this week on FOX Sports Detroit, you can see the first three games of the 1997 Stanley Cup Final.

Tweet from @FOXSportsDet: Join Larry Murphy, Chris Osgood & @JohnKeatingFSD for a special evening tomorrow night starting at 7:30 p.m. with a Facebook Live chat before watching Game 1 of the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals: @DetroitRedWings vs Flyers on FOX Sports Detroit. pic.twitter.com/JyhQ0mzHzW

Game 1 is Monday, April 6; Game 2 is Thursday, April 9 and Game 3 is Sunday, April 12. All games are at 8 p.m. with replays on late at night and the following afternoon.

We invite you to join us on Twitter at @DetroitRedWings to tell us where you were during the '97 Final and what memories stand out to you.

FOX Sports Detroit will also broadcast the championship-clinching games for the Red Wings, Tigers and Pistons at the end of April.

In addition, starting April 6, we will have five games available for On Demand streaming that you can find on DetroitRedWings.com or on the NHL app:

1. June 7, 1997: Red Wings defeat the Flyers in Game 4 to win the Stanley Cup

2. June 16, 1998: Red Wings repeat as champions by beating the Washington Capitals in Game 4

3. March 26, 1997: Fight Night at The Joe: Red Wings beat Avalanche

4. June 4, 2008: Red Wings top Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 to win Stanley Cup

5. April 9, 2017: The final game at Joe Louis Arena

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