DETROIT – It’s a rivalry that lives in those men who shed blood, and those who watched intently for seven years.
Now a distant memory, a game between the Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche today doesn’t come close to reaching the heightened intensity of the bloodiest rivalries in North American pro sports, from 1996-2002.
“Those were games that were sort of must-see TV just because you didn’t know what to expect or what was gonna happen,” Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader.
Tonight the Wings and Avs meet for just the first time this season. The two clubs will reunite in two weeks for the NHL Stadium Series game at Coors Field, the outdoor home of Major League Baseball’s Colorado Rockies.
“Only playing these guys twice, it’s a little different, but yeah, it’s weird we’re into mid-February and this is the first time we’ve played Colorado. That’s how it is though with the change of conferences and how it’s set up now. We get these guys twice here, so they’re big games, but obviously looking forward to that stadium series game.”
Since the 2002 Stanley Cup season, which basically marks the end of the seven-year rivalry, the Red Wings have posted a 31-9 record against Colorado, including a four-game sweep of the Western Conference semifinals in 2008.
Wings defenseman Kyle Quincey has seen both sides of the rivalry. Quincey played two-plus seasons for the Avs.
“Yeah, but it's nothing to where it was,” Quincey said. “It's cool to write off, but I'll be honest with you, there's really not much there anymore. I wish there was.”
The Avalanche capitalized on a turnover deep in the Red Wings’ zone. A pass from Andreas Athanasiou rimmed around the net and skipped over Quincey’s stick and onto the blade of Carl Soderberg.
The Avs’ center dished to Mikhail Grigorenko, who rushed toward the net before dropping a nifty back-hand pass to Matt Duchene for his team-leading 25th goal of the season.
Darren Helm had a solid period. The veteran forward finished with four of the team’s 13 first-period shots on goal. His season high is six shots, established in a 5-4 win over Buffalo on Dec. 1.
The Wings made a bid to tie the score late in the period, but Semyon Varlamov made a pair of big saves from just outside the blue paint in the waning seconds of the period. The first was a pad stop on Tomas Tatar’s one-timer which was set up by a pretty pass from below the goal line by Dylan Larkin. The next followed a face-off win by the Wings, denying a shot that Pavel Datsyuk usually scores on, but Varlamov kicked out his right leg to protect the Avs’ 1-0 lead.
COLORADO 1, DETROIT 0
SCORING: 1. COL, Duchene (Grigorenko, Soderberg), 9:27.
PENALTIES: 1. COL, Comeau (tripping), 12:36.
SHOTS: Detroit 13, Colorado 4.
The Red Wings spend most of the first 40 minutes with an obvious advantage in puck possession, but that didn’t necessarily equate to shots on goal.
The Avs, who lead the league in blocked shots, equaled their season average, blocking 17 shots in the first two periods.
Larkin had a scoring chance early in the period, but as he raced in front the left wing Avs defenseman Nick Holden harassed the rookie just enough to prevent a quality snipe.
The Wings got the equalizer on a seamlessly harmless play, but Jonathan Ericsson’s low shot from the point managed to get through Varlamov at 4:09. The goal was Ericsson’s second, but his first in 39 games, snapping the longest scoring drought by a Red Wings’ player this season.
The Wings’ defense continues to make a difference offensively. Detroit defensemen have now scored in 13 of the past 22 games. That’s a sharp improvement from earlier in the season when blue liners collected 10 goals in the first 33 games.
DETROIT 1, COLORADO 1
SCORING: 1. DET, Ericsson (Abdelkader, Marchenko), 4:09.
PENALTIES: 1. DET, Sheahan (hooking), 12:42; 2. COL, Bigras (hooking), 16:51.
SHOTS: Detroit 14 (27), Colorado 7 (11).
The Avs retook a one-goal lead when Blake Comeau jumped off the bench to join the play in the Wings’ zone. Comeau beat two Wings’ defenders to the puck in the slot to score his ninth goal of the season.
The Wings pulled even on the team’s third power play chance of the game. With Abdelkader drawing the attention of Varlamov, it allowed Datsyuk to swoop in on a loose puck and lift a back-hander into the open side of the net. Henrik Zetterberg and Abdelkader picked up assists on the goal. Zetterberg is tied with Larkin for the team lead in points (38).
Datsyuk is now one point shy of 900 points in his career. He’ll become the six player in Red Wings’ history to reach the milestone, joining hall of famers Gordie Howe (1,809), Steve Yzerman (1,755), Alex Delvecchio (1,281), Nicklas Lidstrom (1,142) and Sergei Fedorov (954).
DETROIT 2, COLORADO 2
SCORING: 1. COL, Comeau (Barrie, Mitchell), 5:30; 2. DET, Datsyuk PPG (Abdelkader, Zetterberg), 9:51.
PENALTIES: 1. COL, Soderberg (slashing), 9:36; 2. COL, Tanguay (tripping), 10:03; 3. DET, Larkin (holding the stick), 11:47; 4. COL, Mitchell (tripping), 15:53.
SHOTS: Detroit 14 (41), Colorado 8 (19).
Larkin excited the crowd in the opening minute, getting off a high-rising shot on Varlamov, but the game remained tied.
The Wings continued with the pressure in the second minutes that the Avs were forced to ice the puck, and subsequently used a timeout with 2:59 remaining.
Out of the timeout, and the faceoff deep in the Avs’ zone, the Wings went with Larkin, Datsyuk and Danny DeKeyser.
The second next trio of Brendan Smith, Tatar and Gustav Nyquist nearly ended it, but Varlamov made an awesome save on Nyquist, who made a deke before going to the backhand.
Moments later, Tatar was called for holding, which gave the avs a 4-on-3 power play for the remaining 1:32 of overtime.
DETROIT 2, COLORADO 2
PENALTIES: 1. DET, Tatar (holding) 3:28.
SHOTS: Detroit 4 (45), Colorado 2 (21).
COLORADO 3, DETROIT 2
DET: Larkin, NO GOAL (glove save on backhand)
COL: Landeskog NO GOAL (left pad save)
DET: Datsyuk GOAL (forehand stick side)
COL: Duchene NO GOAL (forehand five hole)
DET: Richards NO GOAL (forehand, right pad save)
COL: MacKinnon GOAL (backhand stick side)
DET: Nyquist NO GOAL (glove save on forehand)
COL: Comeau GOAL (forehand glove side)