Thursday, March 26, 2015
On May 29th during Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals of the 1996 NHL playoffs, Claude Lemieux of the Colorado Avalanche checked Kris Draper of the Detroit Red Wings from behind face first into the top edge of the boards in front of the Red Wings bench. Draper suffered horrible injuries, which included a broken jaw, broken nose, shattered cheekbone, numerous stitches and a concussion. The Avalanche would go on to defeat the Red Wings and eventually win the Stanley Cup. At the conclusion of the series with Detroit, the Red Wings Dino Ciccarelli said about Lemieux, "I can't believe I shook the guy's freaking hand."
During the 2006-07 season, Colorado and Detroit would meet three times without incident, but Lemeiux was not in the Colorado line up for any of those contests. It was on this date in 1997 that the teams would meet once again, but the stakes were now very different.
At this late date in the season, each club was in position make the playoffs, setting up a possible playoff matchup down the road. In addition, Lemeiux was now going to be in the Colorado lineup, facing off against the Red Wings for the first time in ten months since the savage incident with Draper.
The first fight of the evening occurred at the 4:45 mark of the first period, with another at 10:14. Things really exploded at 18:22, still in the first, as a scuffle between the Red Wings Igor Larionov and Colorado's Peter Forsberg gave the Red Wings Darren McCarty the opportunity he had been waiting for.
Breaking away from an official, McCarty surprised Lemeiux and blasted him in the temple with his glove still on, sending Lemeiux, dazed, down in a heap. McCarty then tore of Lemieux's helmet and began to rain haymakers down on Lemeiux. Unable to defend himself after the sucker punch he had received, all Lemieux could do at that point was cover his head and wait out the assault, which continued unabated as McCarty punched him repeatedly. As one official tried to restrain McCarty, he would even knee Lemeiux in the head along the boards in retribution for his hit on his friend and teammate Draper.
The dazed Lemieux was in no shape to defend himself following the initial blow to the head and did not fight back. To this day he is considered by many to have cowardly "turtled".
At the same time as this was happening, Patrick Roy would come flying out from the Avalanche goal to aid Lemeiux, only to be intercepted by Brendan Shanahan. Roy's arrival on the scene would only serve as an invitation to Mike Vernon to join the battle and eventually the two netminders would square off in one of the classic goalie fights of all time, leaving Roy bloodied as both fighters landed some solid blows.
"As soon as he [Roy] started, I started, " said Vernon. "And then he and Shanny collided. Patrick and Foote were both on Shanahan. The first guy I grabbed at was Foote, which was really a stupid thing to do. Then Patrick kind of jumped me from behind."
"Fight Night at the Joe" would continue just 15 seconds after the puck was dropped when Adam Deadmarsh went after the rugged Vladimir Konstantinov.
The period break had no calming effect, as just four seconds into the second period Adam Foote and Shanahan tried to rearrange each other's dental work. The period continued in a similar fashion when Mike Keane pummeled Thomas Holmstrom and a topless Brent Severyn was held off by Aaron Ward at just 3:34.
Amazingly, McCarty remained in the game following his assault on Lemeiux, having only received a double minor for roughing! Deadmarsh sought retribution for Lemeiux and he and McCarty had a brawl at 7:24. Jamie Pushor and Uwe Krupp then exchanged blows at 11:26.
Meanwhile the score of the game stood at 3-2 in favor of Colorado. Each team would score another goal before the end of the second to make game 4-3 in favor of the Avalanche after two, with six goals having been scored amongst all the fights in the second period.
Things settled down for the most part after the Pushor/Krupp fight, with only a pair of roughing penalties in the third period as Colorado scored to increase their lead to a pair of goals at 1:11, only to have Detroit excite the home fans with goals at 8:27 and 9:03 to tie the contest, which would go to overtime, won by McCarty of all people, 39 seconds into the extra period to give Detroit not only their revenge on Lemeiux, but a 6-5 win over their hated rivals, their first victory over Colorado all season.
"They should have had a few different calls," said Colorado coach Marc Crawford. "The ref told me before the second period that he blew it. That's a small consolation. The linsemen even said it should've been a gross misconduct on McCarty. It's a little ironic that he got the overtime goal."
The game ended with 18 fighting majors and 144 penalty minutes being called. Combatant Vernon got the win in goal for Detroit, the 300th victory of his career.
Asked if he looked forward to a playoff matchup with Detroit, Keane responded , "I've got no problem playing a heartless team. Absolutely, I'd like to play them. We don't like each other. It will make a great series."
The two teams would meet in the Western Conference Finals that season, with Detroit eliminating the defending champion Avalanche in six games, eventually capturing the Stanley Cup with a sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers, a championship whose luster would be tarnished by the limousine crash that would leave Konstantinov in a coma for weeks and ending his career.
For further reading on the intense rivalry between the Detroit Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche, we suggest "Blood Feud: The Inside Story of Pro Sports' Nastiest and Best Rivaly of It's Era".
Today's featured jersey is a 1996-97 Detroit Red Wings Darren McCarty jersey. This jersey features the Stanley Cup Finals patch worn by the Red Wings and Flyers during all games of the Stanley Cup Finals.
McCarty scored a highlight reel goal for Detroit that put the Red Wings up 2-0 and became the game winner when the Flyers scored an otherwise meaningless goal with 15 seconds left in the game.
Here is part one of the fighting from Bloody Wednesday, which includes McCarty's sucker punch on Lemieux and the fight between Roy and Vernon.
Next is part two of "The Brawl in Hockeytown."
We hope you have some time on your hands today, as McCarty and Lemieux meet up for the first time ever to discuss the incident and what led up to it, thirteen years after the incident. It's a fascinating insight into "The Code" among hockey players and the mindset of both McCarty and Lemieux both then and now and the respect they have for each other. It's quite possibly the most interesting interview we've ever posted on Third String Goalie.