The Detroit Red Wings are one of hockey’s proudest franchises, and the track record backs them up. They came into the 2008 season having three recent Stanley Cups under the belt (1997, 1998, 2002). Those Cups had been won under the leadership of head coach Scotty Bowman. The 2008 Detroit Red Wings won a championship for third-year boss Mike Babcock, and were that rarest of birds—an NHL team that validated regular season dominance with a Stanley Cup.
Detroit rolled to a 54-21-7 record, the best in the league. The third-best offense was keyed by Henrik Zetterberg, a 40-goal scorer who also dished 43 assists. Pavel Datsyuk scored 31 goals and handed out 66 assists. Nicklas Lidstrom was another 60-assist man from his defenseman spot.
The defense was even better. The goaltending was split between two accomplished veterans. Dominic Hasek, even at 43-years-old, had a lot of the form that made him one of the best netminders of his team, and 35-year-old Chris Osgood would soon prove you could win a Stanley Cup with him in net.
Detroit drew Nashville in the first round and got a tough battle. The home teams held serve for four games. Detroit led Game 5 1-0 when the Predators tied it with 44 seconds left. The Red Wings would win in overtime and then win Game 6, but the pattern of first making things difficult and then winning anyway, would test the cardiac strength of their fan base before it was over.
Even more significant is that after Game 4, Babcock pulled the trigger on a goalie change. He went with Osgood and stayed with him for the duration of the postseason.
It’s likely you or I could have played goalie for Detroit in their second-round series with the Colorado Avalanche and it wouldn’t have mattered. The Red Wings offense unleashed 21 goals in four games and they swept the Avs out of the playoffs.
Dallas awaited in the Western Conference Finals. Detroit rolled to wins in the first three games, but again made things interesting, losing two straight and having to go on the road for Game 6. The Red Wings finally settled things down with three first-period goals and a 4-1 win punched their ticket to the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals.
It would be a Rustbelt battle for the Cup, as the Pittsburgh Penguins advanced out of the East where they were the 2-seed. The Penguins were led by Sidney Crosby and had a skilled offensive team. But Detroit’s defense shut them down in the first two games. The Pens were kept in the low 20s for shots per game and Osgood spun two straight shutouts, 4-0 and 3-0. The Red Wings then picked up a road win in Game 4 and came back home with a fan base poised to celebrate.
Detroit trailed the fifth game 2-0 after one period, but had rallied to take a 3-2 lead. The game went into the final minute, and the champagne could be tasted. But Pittsburgh stuck in a goal with 35 seconds left. The game dragged into a third overtime and the Penguins finally survived.
This now had the potential to be a historic collapse if Detroit couldn’t close it out. But these Red Wings had been down this road before and they were ready to play in Game 6. An early power play goal built a 2-0 lead and a pair of Datsyuk assists made it a 3-1 game. It wouldn’t be the 2008 Detroit Red Wings if they didn’t make it interesting by allowing a goal with 1:27 left to cut it to 3-2, but there would be no more teases.
Zetterberg scored 13 goals and had 14 assists in the four playoff rounds and got the Conn Smythe Award as MVP of the entire postseason. Osgood had a case himself, with a 1.55 goals-against average. It was a complete team effort that brought another Stanley Cup to Motown.