Remembering the last great Wings team

It’s been 49 years since the St. Louis Blues made the Stanley Cup Finals, but they finally ended a surprisingly long drought just a few days ago.

The last time the Blues made it this far was in 1970 when they were swept aside by the Boston Bruins, who they’ll face again in Game 1 on Monday night.

St. Louis has had some more talented teams over this lengthy span, but the way it’s played this postseason, this could be the Blues’ best chance to hoist their first Cup.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Red Wings are nowhere close to being Cup contenders and probably won’t be for quite awhile. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’ll be a playoff team in a couple seasons, but if you’re hoping Detroit will hold the Cup again in the next five years, you can keep dreaming.

The last time the Wings were a legit contender was 10 years ago, which got me thinking back to that season. As I’m sure you’ve figured out by this point, I’m a big fan of anniversaries and 2009 was Detroit’s most recent trip to the finals. That was also the last great Wings team and when you look back at that squad, it’s a fun reminder of how things used to be.

In the 2007-08 season, the Wings were on the top of the NHL, earning the President’s Trophy for the league’s best record, and other than a series with a scrappy Nashville team in the quarterfinals, they cruised through the Western Conference postseason.

Pittsburgh put up a good fight in the finals, but after dropping the first two games in Detroit, the Penguins were forced into desperation mode and ultimately fell in six games. That roster was stacked top to bottom and 11 years later, it’s still impressive to look back on.

On paper, it looked like Detroit was going to repeat. After all, it picked up Marian Hossa, who played for Pittsburgh the year before. With Hossa, the Wings added one more weapon to a team that already had Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Nick Lidstrom.

Despite all that firepower, Detroit didn’t pick up the President’s Trophy (that went to San Jose) and it had to settle for the No. 2 seed.

Not that it mattered, though. The Wings swept by Columbus in a series that wasn’t remotely close and ended up facing Anaheim in the semifinals, who upset the Sharks in the first round.

Detroit got a surprisingly hard battle from the Ducks as the series went seven games, but a lucky bounce late in Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena gave the Wings the win and another berth in the Western finals.

The following series with Chicago was a little anticlimactic. The Wings won in five games and it wasn’t as fun as the highly competitive series with the Ducks. As we all know, the festivities amped up a few days later in the Cup rematch with Pittsburgh.

Detroit won the first two games just like the previous year, but the Pens fought back to take the next two. As a Minnesota Wild fan, I was rooting for the Wings’ heyday to come to an end. Those two losses were a sign that it could happen and it eventually did. Pittsburgh held on to win Game 6 and then outlasted the Wings in Game 7 to grab the Cup for the first time since 1992.

As Sidney Crosby skated around the ice with the Cup above his head after the postgame handshake, the Wings skated to the locker room with their heads down. If that image wasn’t a clear enough sign that Detroit’s glory days were over, the following seasons sure were.

The Wings lost in the West semis the next two years and then got bounced by Nashville in the first round in 2012.

They flirted a bit with the idea of continued success in 2013 with an upset of the Ducks and a good fight against the Blackhawks in the semis, but it was definitely a passing fancy as Detroit blew a 3-1 series lead and Chicago ended up winning the Cup.

Four years later, the Wings missed the playoffs for the first time since 1990 (a remarkable feat when you think about it) and the rebuild began. And it’s going to be a long one.

Of course, that won’t be nearly as bad as what Blues fans were forced to live through for just short of five decades. I’ve seen that misery live and in person. Living not far from St. Louis for almost three years, I attended a couple Blues games and heard people get briefly excited during the game, but then talk about how the team would fall apart in the playoffs, most likely against the hated Blackhawks. Now those fans might finally get a small taste of the type of success that Detroit had for such a long time.

If there’s one positive that Detroit fans can take out of this season is that it probably won’t take the Wings 49 years to return to the Cup finals like it did for the Blues — even though it might feel like it sometimes.

So stay the course Wings fans. If Blues supporters can fight through all that heartbreak, and be on the cusp of getting rewarded for that misery, a few rebuilding years in Detroit should be easy to overcome.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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