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Hockeytown Hilights: Steve Yzerman's double OT heroics

external video link

note: this video is copyright ESPN, property of the Walt Disney Company. Research for this post was done from old Detroit News articles, and by reading from Richard Bak's marvelous book Detroit Red Wings: The Illustrated History.

by Ryan Hammond

Some time ago, Steve Yzerman made a telling confession. His favorite goal of his career came in 1996 against St. Louis. The goal wasn’t a major numerical milestone, it didn’t put him higher on the list of career scoring leaders, and it didn’t win a Stanley Cup.

It won a playoff series against a hated division rival, in game seven, in double overtime. This was a win the Wings desperately needed, and Yzerman delivered.

In 1996 the story of the Red Wings was a very different one. They were seen as perennial playoff chokers. They were considered too small, too soft, and too inclined to play a game based on clever passes and pretty moves. All of these things seemed to work against them in the post-season, where defenses tightened and whistles fell silent. Yzerman was considered emblematic of all these problems, the nexus of all that was wrong with Detroit hockey. One infamous story had the captain spurned by a pair of gamblers at a casino. They eyed him warily, and one said “better get away from this table. No luck here.”

As luck would have it, the Detroit Red Wings 1995-96 season was full of landmark achievements but the playoffs were not going well. The Winnipeg Jets unexpectedly took them to six games in the opening round, via the heroics of young goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. The Wings’ second match-up was even more tumultuous.

Detroit won the first two matches convincingly, but then dropped three in a row to the Blues, who found their physicality and some timely scoring by Wayne Gretzky and Shayne Corson. Backup goalie Jon Casey also preformed admirably, filling in for the injured Grant Fuhr. Detroit managed to churn out a 4-2 victory in game six, but the seventh contest was a nail-biter. The score remained tied at zero through three regulation periods and an overtime, with Casey and Detroit goalie Chris Osgood trading highlight reel saves.

And then at 1:15 of double overtime, Yzerman slapped a 58 foot shot past Casey. It was a fluke goal, a long shot released from behind a pair of defensemen, that went high and seemed to confuse the goalie. The arena erupted, the bench emptied, and Yzerman was crushed under a writhing pile of exuberant players.

“I didn’t have great speed, but I had some,” Yzerman said. “I felt I could get it away. I wasn’t thinking score, I was thinking of getting it by the defensemen. I know the play was to get it in deep, but I did have some speed and I wanted to get a shot away.”

The wings lost the next round against Colorado, but the best moments of Yzerman’s career often had a bittersweet tinge. It’s fitting that his favorite moment of triumph came in a lost cause, on hobbled knees, with the captain grinding his body through a cold sweat to will a victory into form from nothingness.

That was the night Steve Yzerman made his own luck.


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