Hollywood couldn’t have scripted a better ending for the Detroit Red Wings.
On Sunday, the team played its final game at the 38-year-old Joe Louis Arena, as the Red Wings beat the New Jersey Devils 4-1 and closed down the iconic arena on a high note.
But, let’s be honest, the outcome of the game didn’t really matter. Sure, it made the night a little extra special for the players and fans, but it was everything else that took place that made it seem as if Hollywood producers had the night scripted from beginning to end.
Riley Sheahan Scores…Twice
Riley Sheahan had a forgettable season. The 25-year-old became the first forward in NHL history to register 100 shots in a season without scoring a goal. But, he saved his best for last.
Sheahan finally broke the goalless drought, scoring his first goal of the season against Cory Schneider at 7:09 of the first period, and he did it in stunning fashion, as he collected a pass from Frans Nielsen, deked around defenseman Dalton Prout and ripped a wrister over Schneider’s glove.
It was only fitting the player who struggled to score all season finally broke the drought during the team’s final game at Joe Louis Arena. However, Sheahan wasn’t done.
He scored the final goal at Joe Louis Arena, stretching the Red Wings’ lead to 4-1 late in the third period after taking a cross-crease pass from Nielsen and beating Schneider for the second time.
The night was already emotional, with the Red Wings playing their final game in their iconic barn, but Sheahan scoring twice after failing to score all season only made it that much more special for the team.
A city built on blue-collar workers had one last reminder that good things come to those who work hard and persevere.
Zetterberg Scores in 1,000th Game
As if Sheahan’s breakthrough wasn’t enough of a fairytale ending for you, captain Henrik Zetterberg found a way to put his mark on his final game at the Joe.
As Zetterberg has done many times during his 14-season career, he scored on a sharp-angle shot after taking a pass from Gustav Nyquist to put the Red Wings up 3-0 about halfway through the game.
Again, just when you think the night can’t get any more magical for the players and fans, the captain, who tried so valiantly to drag his team to a 26th consecutive playoff berth — scoring 33 points in the past 32 games — scored his final goal at Joe Louis Arena in his 1,000th career game.
The 36-year-old was supposed to regress this season. He had back surgery in February 2014, and during his final 10 games in the 2015-16 season, he had just four points.
Coming into this season, Zetterberg was supposed to have his minutes trimmed in order to save him for the end of the season. Instead, he continued to produce and forced coach Jeff Blashill to give him top-line minutes. The end of the season came, and Zetterberg was just as effective, if not better, than the beginning of the season.
Zetterberg churned out 68 points (17 goals, 51 assists) this season, after scoring 50 points last season, and played in all 82 games for the first time since the 2011-12 season. His 51 assists were seventh among all NHLers.
Zetterberg continues to defy his age and showed the heart of an underdog prizefighter, even when there was no chance for a playoff berth.
Red Wings Alumni Make One Last Visit
To cap off the Disney-esque night, more than 50 Red Wings alumni, along with the current players, gathered on the ice after the game for one last time. Former captain Steve Yzerman and former coach Scotty Bowman gave speeches on their time in Detroit and the memories that were made.
Bowman told the story of meeting Tomas Holmstrom in 1996 and arguing with the Swede about what number he would be wearing.
Bowman said when he first met Holmstrom, he wanted a big number, Bowman said I'll give you 96 because thats the year you'll be going home"
— Jeff Riger (@riger1984) April 10, 2017
The crowd let out a hearty laugh, as Holmstrom, despite his coach’s threat, ended up being one of the key pieces for the Red Wings during their four Stanley Cup championships between 1997 and 2008.
After the speeches and a quick Q&A session, the players gathered at center ice and raised their sticks to salute the fans, honoring them for the support they showed over the years, all while Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” blared over the Joe Louis Arena speakers for the final time.
The fans repaid the honor, raising their mini-sticks as a sign of mutual respect. The players of the mid-1990s and 2000s gave the fans something to cheer about, after a 42-year Stanley Cup drought, that featured one Stanley Cup Final appearance from 1966-1996.
Red Wings raise their sticks to the fans at the conclusion of final Joe Louis game. Fans raise them right back. pic.twitter.com/zYF6mqrdhk
— Craig Custance (@CraigCustance) April 9, 2017
Although there is a lot of uncertainty with the current group of Red Wings as they look to become contenders once again, that thought wasn’t on anybody’s mind Sunday night.
The lasting picture we’ll have of Joe Louis Arena will be the city and its players coming together in one last act of togetherness inside a building that has brought so many people so much happiness and so many unforgettable moments.
Thanks for the memories, Joe.
Tom Mitsos is a writer from Michigan who covers the Red Wings and the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for The Hockey Writers.