Why Detroit’s Game 5 Victory Was Actually Unexpected

We should look toward tonight’s Game 6, and acknowledge the Vancouver Canucks’ series victory over the Nashville Predators last night, but first I want to hammer home why Sunday night’s third period was so unexpected for the Detroit Red Wings.
It seems that the retelling of history has gotten lazy, as there is always rhetoric about how resilient the Red Wings are, and how difficult it is to knock them out of the playoffs.  As a Wings fan who has been through these 20 consecutive playoff appearances, there’s nothing, outside of winning Cups, more fun than trying to stave off elimination on the road.  The problem is that the Red Wings haven’t been very successful at surviving these “fun” tests.
The year was 1996, and the Red Wings were Presidents’ Trophy winners with a 62-13-7 record.  Read that again.  So, here we were, coming off being swept in the ’95 Stanley Cup Finals by New Jersey, and now hitting the road to St. Louis to face elimination in a Game 6.  But the Red Wings played a nearly perfect road game, and won 4-2 to bring the series back to The Joe, where it of course ended like this.
The Red Wings could not keep the momentum, however, and found themselves facing the same 3-2 deficit on the road at Colorado in the conference finals.  When Claude Lemieux wasn’t rearranging Kris Draper’s face, the Avalanche were burying the Red Wings and extending their Cupless streak to 41 years.
And so began the Red Wings rather consistent failure in road games while trying to extend a series.  In fact, after that victory in St. Louis in 1996, Detroit only won 1 of its 9 road playoff games while facing elimination up until Sunday night’s Game 5.  This 1-8 record becomes 2-8 if you want to count 2010’s road victory in Game 7 over Phoenix, but I don’t think Game 7s should be equated to the rest of the situations where a team brings three losses into a road game.  So, 1-8 since around this time 15 years ago.  One win, eight losses.  Here is the list:

Round & Game #
at Colorado
Conference Finals, Game 6
Loss 4-1
at Colorado
Conference Semis, Game 5
Loss 4-2
at Los Angeles
Conference Quarters, Game 6
Loss 3-2 OT
at Colorado
Conference Finals, Game 6
Win 2-0
at Anaheim
Conference Quarters, Game 4
Loss 3-2 OT
at Calgary
Conference Semis, Game 6
Loss 1-0 OT
at Edmonton
Conference Quarters, Game 6
Loss 4-3
at Anaheim
Conference Finals, Game 6
Loss 4-3
at San Jose
Conference Semis, Game 5
Loss 2-1


That one win was the game that Patrick Roy threw up his glove in his “statue of liberty” motion, except he forgot the puck, and it was slammed home.  The Red Wings went on to win Game 7 at home by a 7-0 score to culminate the era’s greatest rivalry, and subsequently won the 2002 Stanley Cup.  But other than that game, eight losses in the same situation they were in Sunday night.
Another similar statistic to debunk this myth that the Red Wings are the most resilient team in the NHL when facing elimination is that three of our four Stanley Cups that have come in recent memory have come without ever facing elimination, home or away.  This probably points to how great Detroit was during those years (1997, ’98, 2008), but it is worth considering that only once has this franchise (since 1955, before which I’m not researching because it’s not relevant right now) faced elimination at all and gone on to win the Stanley Cup.  This of course does not bode well for this year, but maybe, just maybe Sunday night was the first step toward turning these disappointing trends around.  And it’s not like the Sharks have ever won the west, so if something has to give, why not Detroit’s tendency to get eliminated on the road?  The Wings have dodged one bullet already, and must win at home tonight in order to get the opportunity to dodge another bullet at the Shark Tank on Thursday.
So while tonight’s game means everything in terms of trying to squeeze one more shot at greatness out of this squad as we know it, nothing should turn the sweetness of Sunday night’s rare occurrence sour.

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