The Grind Line: Top Red Wings-Avalanche Rivalry Moment

What’s The Grind Line? Apart from the once-famous line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and either Joe Kocur or Darren McCarty, The Grind Line is also The Hockey Writers’ weekly column about the Detroit Red Wings. This week Tony Wolak, Devin Little, Kyle Knopp, and Rob Klein are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.


Later this month, ESPN will launch an E60 documentary chronicling the heated rivalry between the Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche. Needless to say, fans in Hockeytown and around the world are hyped.

The Hockey Writers Grind Line Detroit Red Wings Youtube
The Grind Line played a pivotal role in the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry. (The Hockey Writers)

In this week’s edition of The Grind Line, The Hockey Writers’ Red Wings coverage team shares their top moment from the historic rivalry.

Tony Wolak: Fight Night at the Joe

When Colorado defeated Detroit in the 1996 Western Conference Final (WCF), they did so by bullying the more skilled, but less physical Red Wings – with Claude Lemieux’s hit on Kris Draper being the proverbial cherry on top.

Darren McCarty 25
Darren McCarty achieved hero status on March 26, 1997. (Tom Pidgeon/Allsport)

When all Hell broke loose the following March, it was more than just the team avenging Draper. It was the Red Wings taking a stand and not allowing themselves to be pushed around anymore. For then on out, the rivalry would be two skilled and physical teams battling for supremacy. Lemieux’s hit created the rivalry – Fight Night at the Joe galvanized it. And that’s why March 26, 1997 is such a significant date in Red Wings history.

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Devin Little: Statue of Liberty Goal

This moment shell-shocked the Avalanche so badly that it took them 20 years to get back to the WCF after spending years as one of the top teams in the conference. You know the moment well: Patrick Roy goes to pick up the puck in the crease as if to say “I’ve got it”, but he doesn’t have it, and Brendan Shanahan is there to put it in the back of the net. The Red Wings went up 1-0 in Game 6 of the 2002 WCF because of it, and Detroit would go on to score nine-straight goals in the series, cementing a 2-0 victory in Game 6, and a decisive 7-0 victory in Game 7. 

The Red Wings and Avalanche have met up in the playoffs only once since then – a second-round series in 2008. Including that series, the Red Wings have won six-straight playoff games against the Avalanche. The back-and-forth nature of the rivalry was never the same after Roy’s infamous blunder; if it is even possible to “win” a rivalry, this is the moment where the Red Wings started putting the nails in the Avalanche’s coffin. 

Kyle Knopp: Usurping the Champs

There are multiple moments that one can look at and say, “that is when the tide of the rivalry turned.” But to me, the biggest moment was the 1997 WCF. One year after the “Draper incident,” and only a couple months removed from Fight Night at the Joe, the Wings had to go through the defending Stanley Cup champions to earn a spot in the final. 

Sergei Fedorov of the Detroit Red Wings
Sergei Fedorov showed up in a big way during the 1997 WCF against the Avalanche. (Tom Pigeon/Allsport)

This series was the epitome of 1990s Red Wings hockey: Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan scoring timely goals, Mike Vernon making game-changing saves when he was needed, and Sergei Federov and the Russian Five proving they are tough enough for the grind of the playoffs. Detroit proved they can play a physical game while still remaining on the offensive, and it set the tone for the team to win its first Stanley Cup in 42 years. A number of things needed to come together that season for the Wings to win, and going through Colorado was the icing on the cake. 

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Rob Klein: Red Wings Force Roy Trade to Avalanche

For me, the top moment from the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry was the moment that started it all. 

The date was December 2, 1995. The Red Wings put nine goals behind then-Montreal Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy before he was finally lifted during an 11-1 victory. After Roy got to the bench, he walked past coach Mario Tremblay towards Canadiens president Ronald Corey, and told him “I’ve just played my last game with the Canadiens.”  

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Four days later, Roy was traded to the Avalanche along with captain Mike Keane, in exchange for Andrei Kovalenko, Martin Rucinsky, and Jocelyn Thibault. As a result, this trade vaulted the Avalanche into contender status and set up their WCF showdown against the Red Wings – en route to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. In superhero terms, the Red Wings were the Batman that created their own Joker – the 11-goal night directly caused one of the fiercest rivalries in sports.  

What was your favorite Red Wings-Avalanche moment? Comment below!