End of Two Eras: The Top 10 Most Unforgettable Moments at Joe Louis Arena

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This is a two-part series chronicling the end of two eras in Detroit Sports as both the Palace of Auburn Hills and Joe Louis Arena close their doors. You can read the Top 10 Most Unforgettable Moments at the Palace here.

Joe Louis Arena has become a cathedral of sorts in the hockey world since opening its doors in 1979. Though it is not the prettiest building, and is often labelled “a dump,” Detroit Red Wings fans are more than willing to embrace it as “their dump.” “The Joe” will close her doors this Sunday when the Red Wings take on the New Jersey Devils. Next year, the Wings will move down Woodward Avenue to the brand-new Little Caesars Arena.

Joe Louis Arena has seen some incredible moments in its 38 years of hosting the Wings. It has seen four Stanley Cup banners, 25 straight seasons of playoff hockey, many Hall of Famers, and countless octopi tossed onto the ice by rabid fans. Here are the 10 most unforgettable moments Hockeytown has witnessed at The Joe.

10. Sergei Nets Five–December 26, 1996

Arguably the most skilled player to ever don the winged wheel, Sergei Fedorov could always dazzle on both sides of the puck. You never knew what you were going to see from him on an average night at Joe Louis Arena. He scored the second-most goals at The Joe (228), was the only Red Wing to win a Hart Trophy for league’s most valuable player while the Wings played at The Joe, and was a vital piece of the team’s core when they won three Stanley Cups in six seasons. The only sad part is that his number 91 never hung in the rafters of The Joe.

On the night after Christmas in 1996, Fedorov delivered the best individual performance Joe Louis Arena has ever seen when he netted all five of the Wings’ goals against the Washington Capitals, including the overtime winner. Only two players in the NHL as a whole have been able to accomplish that same feat since.

9. Slava Sinks the Blackhawks–June 11, 1995

Believe it or not, the Detroit Red Wings were once a franchise desperate for a winner. After being in the cellar through the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Red Wings finally started to put it together in the ‘90s. Regular season triumphs did not translate to the postseason, though, until 1995, when the Wings overcame their early round demons and found themselves a win away from their first Stanley Cup Finals in 29 years. Standing in their way was their rival, the Chicago Blackhawks.

In a series that saw three games go past regulation, the Red Wings finally broke through in Game 5 when Vyacheslav (Slava) Kozlov ripped a wrist shot through Ed Belfour’s five-hole in the second overtime. Unfortunately for the Wings, their Stanley Cup drought would continue after being swept by the New Jersey Devils in the Finals.

8. Gordie’s Return–February 5, 1980

As part of its inaugural season, the Joe played host to the 32nd NHL All Star Game. This was a memorable game for many reasons, but the story of the night was Gordie Howe’s return to Detroit, representing the old Prince of Wales Conference as a member of the Hartford Whalers.

During introductions, the former Red Wings legend received a four minute standing ovation from the fans, and he chipped in an assist in a 6-3 victory over the Campbell Conference in what turned out to be his final All Star Game. On the Campbell side, in his first All Star Game, was a 19 year old who looked up to Mr. Hockey. His name: Wayne Gretzky. Little did the fans in attendance know, they got to witness the two greatest hockey players ever go at it in the friendly confines of The Joe that night.

7. Heartbreaktown–June 12, 2009

Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals is as big a stage as you can find in the National Hockey League. In 2009, Joe Louis Arena hosted its only winner-take-all game in the Finals when the Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins met for a second straight season. After destroying the Pens on home ice in Game 5 to go up 3-2, the Wings failed to close it out in Pittsburgh, setting the stage for the highest-stakes tilt in the building’s history.

Unfortunately, the crowd would have to watch Sidney Crosby hoist the Cup at center ice when the clock hit zero. Two goals from unlikely hero Max Talbot, a late Nicklas Kronwall crossbar, and a last second sprawling save on captain Nick Lidstrom by Marc-Andre Fleury would make this an extremely tough pill to swallow for the Red Wings.

6. Draper Caps Off the Comeback (No Pun Intended)–June 11, 1998

The Red Wings were in search of their second consecutive Stanley Cup after 1997’s triumph. There was an extra chip on the Wings’ shoulder in 1998 though, as they had lost star defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov to a career-ending injury suffered in a limousine accident just days after the ’97 Stanley Cup parade. Standing in their way this time around was an upstart Washington Capitals squad in search of their first Cup in franchise history.

After taking Game 1, the Wings found themselves down 4-2 in the third period of Game 2, with Caps goalie Olaf Kolzig standing on his head. Martin Lapointe scored with eleven minutes left, and Doug Brown knotted the game at four with four to play. The Wings were relentless in overtime, and on their 60th shot of the night, Kris Draper tapped in a great feed from Lapointe to win the game. This gave them a commanding 2-0 lead, and the Red Wings would close it out for back-to-back Cups five nights later.

5. The Shot Heard ‘Round The Joe–May 16, 1996

While many will talk about the playoff series the Red Wings have had with the Avalanche and the Blackhawks during their playoff streak, the St. Louis Blues always were a tough foe as well. The one difference is, they could never actually beat the Wings when it mattered. Their best chance came in 1996, when they had a 3-2 lead on Scotty Bowman’s 62-win squad in the Western Conference Semis. There needed to be urgency in Hockeytown, and the Red Wings delivered by taking Game 6 at the Kiel Center, setting the stage for what would become one of the most epic Game 7’s of recent memory.

There isn’t really much to say about the first 81 minutes and 14 seconds of this one, because Chris Osgood and Jon Casey put on a goaltending clinic. At the 18:45 mark of the second overtime, with the score deadlocked at zero, Wayne Gretzky coughed up the puck and Steve Yzerman skated through the neutral zone to launch a missile from the blue line. The puck whizzed past Casey’s shoulder and pinged off the back crossbar of the net. Bedlam ensued at The Joe, and the Red Wings were on to the Conference Finals. Gary Thorne’s memorable call is the only thing that can do this goal justice.

4. It All Pays Off–June 13, 2002

Going into the 2001-02 season, the Red Wings desperately wanted to reclaim their status as alpha male in the NHL after three straight seasons of embarrassing early round exits. Ken Holland went out and traded for Dominik Hasek, the best goalie in the NHL at the time, and signed Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille, two aging but still elite scorers. On paper, they were the best team in the NHL, and possibly ever. They ran the table in the regular season and won the Presidents’ Trophy with ease.

After avoiding yet another upset in the first round at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks, the Wings dismantled the St. Louis Blues and best Patrick Roy and the Avalanche one last time to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. This time around, a massive underdog awaited them in the Carolina Hurricanes. After dropping Game 1 in overtime, the Wings stormed back to take the next four, most notably a triple-overtime thriller in Game 3. The decisive Game 5 was won at The Joe, and Nick Lidstrom captured Conn Smythe honors. The Detroit Red Wings built the perfect machine and were Stanley Cup champions again.

3. Au-Rev-Roy–May 31, 2002

Before getting to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002, the Red Wings had to go through their arch rival, the Colorado Avalanche. This series had everything that you would expect it to. Two teams that absolutely hated each other going at it for a right to play for the Stanley Cup. There was Darren McCarty’s hat trick in Game 1, Frederick Olausson’s OT winner in Game 3, and Stephen Reinprecht’s OT winner to give the Avs a 3-2 lead in the series going into Game 6 in Denver. In that game, the Wings prevailed by a score of 2-0 after Patrick Roy’s infamous “Statue of Liberty” gaffe gave the Wings the lead.

This set the stage for what many believed would be an incredible Game 7, but the total opposite happened. The Red Wings had the game wrapped up after putting up a four spot in the first period, on their way to a 7-0 shutout which saw Patrick Roy get yanked after surrendering six. What many fans thought would be a stressful night, quickly became one of the most fun nights in Joe Louis Arena history. The Wings were returning to the Stanley Cup Finals and were out for blood.

2. The Drought Ends–June 7,1997

It had been a long time coming, but the stage was set for the Detroit Red Wings to win their first Stanley Cup in 42 years. After dominating the first three games against Eric Lindros and the Philadelphia Flyers, there was a feeling in the air that the Stanley Cup would be raised after Game 4.

Nick Lidstrom got the scoring started with less than a minute remaining in the first on an absolute laser from the point. Midway through the second, The Joe erupted when Darren McCarty, not known for his scoring abilities, embarrassed Flyers defenseman Janne Niinimaa one-on-one and slipped the puck past goalie Ron Hextall to give the Wings an insurmountable 2-0 lead.

As the clock winded down, a sold-out Joe Louis Arena realized the championship demons had been exercised. Many octopi were flung onto the ice, and Steve Yzerman, whose leadership had been questioned due to his lack of a Stanley Cup, was rewarded with the chalice at center ice. Mike Vernon’s outstanding goaltending earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy, and the dynasty had begun.

1. Fight Night–March 26, 1997

Come on, did you really think the number one moment on this list would be anything different? It is very possible that if the events that transpired on this late March night in 1997 did not happen, there may have never been a Red Wings dynasty. It was that big of a game changer.

Tensions were high at The Joe this night. The Red Wings were trying to avoid a regular season sweep against the Colorado Avalanche, and it was Claude Lemieux’s first time in the building since his cheap shot on Kris Draper in the previous year’s Conference Finals. He was booed each time he touched the puck in a chippy game which saw 10 fights, 39 penalties, and 148 penalty minutes.

The festivities were capped when Darren McCarty attacked Lemieux at center ice while the referees were preoccupied, and Patrick Roy fought Mike Vernon after trying to stop McCarty. Outside of the fracases, this was still a great game, which saw constant momentum shifts and the Wings coming back from two separate two goal deficits. In overtime, the game was won on a goal by none other than Darren McCarty. The Red Wings rode this momentum all the way to a Stanley Cup, and would win three more at Joe Louis Arena thereafter.

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