Interestingly enough, the Wings and Hawks last faced off in the playoffs back in 1995, also in the Western Conference finals. The Wings took the series 4-1, advancing in Game 5 on an overtime winner from Slava Kozlov.
So how do the 1994-95 squads stack up to their respective counterparts playing for these two teams today? Red Wings Then
- A year before the Wings traded for Igor Larionov and Viacheslav Fetisov to form the potent Russian Five unit, head coach Scotty Bowman emphasized defense first by instituting the “left-wing lock system.”
- Veteran goaltender Mike Vernon started in goal with 22-year-old Chris Osgood as the backup netminder.
- In 1995, the Wings finished with a league-best 33-11-4 record in the 48-game regular season (shortened by the lockout), winning the Presidents’ Trophy. Detroit would advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1966, but fell short when they were swept by the New Jersey Devils.
- Defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom was just in his fourth year of his NHL career and saw plenty of Chicago in the early part of his career. “When I first started in the league, we had some great battles with the Blackhawks,” Lidstrom said. “They reached the finals in the early ‘90s. They had tough teams to play against.”
- Grinder Darren McCarty played in his sophomore campaign, registering an impressive 88 penalty minutes and 13 points in just 31 games.
- Steve Yzerman captained the 1994-95 team as a 29-year-old.
- Detroit defender Mark Howe played his last NHL season that year, capping off 16 years in the league.
- In 1995, Chicago captain Chris Chelios led the defense with five goals and 33 assists in 48 games played. In the following season, the Blackhawks would name Chelios captain and the Chicago native would earn his second Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman. “They were a hard-fought team to play against back then. Cheli was a big part of their team, playing a lot of minutes, playing against our top players,” Lidstrom said.
- Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews turned seven years old in 1995 and his forward counterpart Patrick Kane only six.
- Chicago had yet to draft Dan Cleary yet – they did so with a first round pick in 1997.
- Brett Lebda was your average 12-year-old boy living just outside Chicago, watching Blackhawks hockey and cheering on the Cubs every summer.
- Chicago played its first hockey game at the United Center on January 25, 1995, after spending 65 years at the historic Chicago Stadium.
- With Ed Belfour minding the net, Chicago finished the regular season with a 2.37 GAA, capturing the William Jennings Trophy (given to the team with the lowest GAA) for the third time in five years.
- Detroit earned its 18th straight playoff berth this postseason and made a third consecutive trip to the Western Conference Finals. Between 1995 and 2009, the Wings won four Stanley Cups including back-to-back titles in 1996-97 and 1997-98.
- Today there are still a few familiar faces from the ’95 team – Lidstrom, Osgood, Kris Draper, and Darren McCarty. Lidstrom now leads the team in his third year as captain, becoming the first European to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup in 2008. Osgood now starts in goal and even has the lowest GAA (2.06) among the four goaltenders left in the 2009 NHL playoffs. Draper still acts as a grinder on Detroit’s fourth line, but the Wings count on him for his prowess in the faceoff circle and as a veteran presence in the locker room. McCarty has a limited role with the team this season, but remains a fan favorite.
- Chelios is playing in his ninth complete season with Detroit after being traded in 1999 from the Blackhawks. He established two Cheli’s Chili restaurants in the metro Detroit area since coming to Detroit.
- The Wings now rely on Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, and Marian Hossa for its offense. “I think back in the ‘90s, we had Sergei [Fedorov] and Stevie [Yzerman] being our two go-to guys down the middle. Now we have Pavel and Hank [Zetterberg] being our go-to guys,” Lidstrom said.
- After starting his career in Chicago, Cleary found a home in Detroit and signed a five-year-deal in 2008. “I’m a completely different player in every aspect of the game, off-the-ice, on-the-ice, physically,” Cleary said.
- 14 years later, Yzerman and Mark Howe work in the front office of the organization as vice president/alternate governor and director of pro scouting respectively.
- At age 20, Jonathan Toews became the third youngest captain in NHL history. “Since the lockout, they’ve been getting better and better. Their younger players are their best players, I believe,” Lidstrom said.
- After 15 years with the Red Wings, Scotty Bowman left the organization to join his son Stan at the Blackhawks as a senior adviser.
- Originally placed on waivers in the early part of the season, veteran goalie Nikolai Khabibulin earned his role as starter.
- The Blackhawks welcomed their one-millionth fan of the season during the second round of the playoffs. “They’ve done a nice job of marketing their team,” Lebda said. “They decided a few years ago to go in a different direction and they’re putting the games on TV now and getting the fan support and they’re putting the product on the ice. So I think people are responding to that, coming out and supporting them.”