The Flyers arrived into the Finals having beaten their perennial rivals, the New York Rangers in a memorable five-game Eastern Conference Final series. Eric Lindros and Wayne Gretzky each recorded a hat trick in the set, but the size, strength and discipline of Philadelphia trumped the veteran savvy of the Blueshirts. Philadelphia rose to the top on the back of a 17-game unbeaten streak in December and January, and despite losing the Atlantic Division title to New Jersey, had an easy time with Pittsburgh and Buffalo in the first two rounds.
Detroit was the dark-horse in the Western Conference, the third-seed behind Dallas and Colorado. The Red Wings made their second trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in three years by besting the Avalanche in an often brutal six-game Western Conference Finals. Despite winning 62 games the year before, Detroit won only 38 in 1996-97 but got tougher with the addition of Brendan Shanahan and the departure of several players whom head coach Scotty Bowman blamed for their loss to Colorado a year prior. The Wings dispatched a fractured St. Louis Blues team and a surprising Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to reach the conference finals for the third straight season.
The teams had never faced each other in the playoffs prior to the season; even in the early days of expansion beyond the Original Six, the clubs never made the postseason when the NHL employed its cross-over format between East and West divisions. Nor had they met in the two year experiment to rank NHL playoff teams 1 through 16 in 1980 and 1981.
Detroit was looking for its first Cup win since 1955, and to avenge the shocking four-game sweep to New Jersey in 1995. Philadelphia was trying to win its first Cup since 1975 in its first Finals appearance in 10 years.
Game 1 -- in Philadelphia took place exactly 10 years after the Flyers' emotional Game 7 loss to the Edmonton Oilers in the 1987 Finals, and the omen was a bad one for the start of the 1997 series. Although Rod Brind'Amour and John LeClair netted a goal each for the home team, Philly goaltender Ron Hextall allowed a bad 60-foot goal to Steve Yzerman which broke a 2-2 tie and seemed to lift the Wings' collective spirit in a 4-2 win.
Game 2 -- Although Brind'Amour scored a power-play goal for the second straight game which sent the Wachovia Center into a frenzy, Red Wing tough guy Joe Kocur, a late-season addition to the squad, scored a key goal which sent the Wings to another 4-2 victory and a 2-0 series lead heading back to Joe Louis Arena.
Game 3 -- LeClair put the Flyers up 1-0 with a goal early in the first period, but the Flyers slowly unraveled. Third-line winger Martin Lapointe blew a shot past Hextall late in the period to give the Wings a 3-1 advantage, they tacked on two more in the second and added one in the third for an embarrassing 6-1 loss and three games to none series advantage.
In his post-game comments, Flyers head coach Terry Murray was quoted as saying the team was "basically in a choking situation," which many writers, broadcasters, fans as well as Flyers management took to mean Murray called out his own players as chokers. The manner in which they played compounded by the insurmountable series deficit along with the Wings' seeming dominance in stretches of the first two games as well as most of Game 3 lent credence to the claim. However, with a decade in between, it is more likely Murray equated the 3-0 series hole as being stuck in a room without oxygen where it's hard to breathe, rather than an explicit implication of his players.
Game 4 -- The Red Wings controlled the game from the get-go, forging ahead 1-0 after one period and employing the left-wing lock to keep the Flyers' mix of big and speedy forwards at bay. Darren McCarty's second-period tally effectively sealed the deal. The burly checker faked out Flyers rookie defenseman Janne Niinimaa inside the blue line, swooped around him, then did a quick cutback in front of Hextall in his crease to slip the puck into the net. Eric Lindros would score his lone goal of the series with under 30 seconds to play, and the 2-1 win brought Detroit its first Stanley Cup in 42 seasons.
Detroit goaltender Mike Vernon, who had been in net for the whole of the Wings' aborted 1995 playoff run, and relegated to the bench the year before, earned vindication and his first Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP by holding Philadelphia to six goals in four games.
Detroit Red Wings - 1997 Stanley Cup Champions
- 13 Vyacheslav Kozlov
- 14 Brendan Shanahan (A. Capt.)
- 17 Doug Brown
- 18 Kirk Maltby
- 20 Martin Lapointe
- 25 Darren McCarty
- 26 Joey Kocur
- 28 Tomas Sandstrom
- 15 Tomas Holmstrom
- 11 Mathieu Dandenault
(also played defence)
- 22 Mike Knuble†
- Mike Ilitch Sr. (Owner/President/Governor), Marian Ilitch (Owner/Secretary-Treasurer)
- Atanas Ilitch, Christopher Ilitch (Vice president/Owners), Denise Ilitch Lites, Ronald Ilitch (Minority Owners)
- Michael Ilitch Jr., Lisa Ilitch Murray, Carole Ilitch Trepeck (Minority Owners)
- Jim Devellano (Sr. Vice President-of Hockey Operations), William Scotty Bowman (Head Coach/Director of Player Personnel),
- Ken Holland (Ass’t General Manager/Goaltending Coach), Barry Smith (Asssociate Coach)
- Dave Lewis (Associate Coach), Mike Krushelnyski (Ass’t Coach),
- Jim Nill (Director of Player Development/Director of Scouting), Dan Belise, Bruce Haralson (Scouts)
- Mark Howe, Hakan Andersson (Scouts),
- John Wharton (Athletic Trainer), Wally Crossman (Dressing Room Assistant), Mark Leach (Scout)
- Paul Boyer (Equipment Manager), Tim Abbott (Ass’t Equipment Manager),
- Sergei Mnatsakanov (Massage Therapist), Joe McDonnell (Scout)
- Johnny Remejes†, Mike Vella† (Dressing Room Assistants).
† Name not engraved on Stanley Cup, but included on Stanley Cup winning picture.
†† - Hodson only played 6 games (dressed for 23 games), but name was included on the Stanley Cup, because he spent majority of the season with Detroit.
The Red Wings decided to schedule the celebration into the summer. But it came to a tragic halt on June 13, when two players, Viacheslav Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov, and their trainer Sergei Mnatsakanov were injured when their limousine crashed into the tree in suburban Birmingham. Fetisov was released from the hospital, but Konstantinov and Mnatsakanov were unable to move their legs while they were in a coma. Despite the accident, Detroit successfully returned to the Finals the following year and won their second consecutive Stanley Cup by defeating the Washington Capitals in four straight. During the celebration ceremonies after winning the Stanley Cup, Konstantinov was wheeled around the ice with his teammates in his wheelchair with the Cup on his lap.
As for the Flyers, they fell to the Sabres in the first round in five games the following year.