For the second straight year, the Detroit Red Wings had a nice regular season, but were seeded behind Western Conference rivals, the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche. And for the second straight year it didn’t matter come playoff time, as the Red Wings rolled to a second consecutive Stanley Cup.
The 1998 Detroit Red Wings finished with the league’s second-best offense in spite of star center Sergei Federov holding out until February due to a contract dispute. The Red Wings kept it together with a balanced attack led by Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan and Vyacheslav Kozlov on the front line and the skilled passing of Niklas Lidstrom from his defenseman spot. Chris Osgood became the permanent goalie after ceding to veteran Mike Vernon in the 1997 title run and had an excellent season.
The Wings fell behind in their first two playoff series, 2-1 to the Phoenix Coyotes and 1-0 to the St. Louis Blues, but closed both in six games. It set up a Detroit-Dallas battle in the conference finals.
Detroit gained a split of the first two games on the road, and then seized control of the Western Conference Finals when they came back north to Joe Louis Arena.
Lidstrom scored twice in a 5-3 win in Game 3, then Yzerman scored a goal and had an assist to key a 3-2 win in Game 4. The Red Wings nearly sealed the deal in Game 5, going to overtime and getting 33 saves from Osgood. But Dallas played like the more desperate team, won the shots battle 36-22 and eventually got a 3-2 win to survive.
When it came time for Game 6, Osgood was the hero, turning away all 26 shots fired upon him, and the 2-0 win gave Detroit their third straight Game 6 close-out in these playoffs and a return trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Washington Capitals were making the franchise’s first appearance in the Finals, coming off a year where they earned the #4 seed in the Eastern Conference and then sailed through a bracket that was completely gutted by upsets. The Capitals weren’t in the Red Wings’ class and the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals made that crystal-clear.
Detroit’s dominance of the Finals started with team defense. They kept the Capitals to an average of fewer than 25 shots per game, and Osgood had an excellent 94 percent save rate. The Red Wings won the first two games on home ice, getting a pair of goals from Yzerman in Game 2, a 5-4 overtime battle that was the one game where the Wings really needed offense.
A win in Game 3 set Detroit up for a decisive 4-1 win in Game 4. Federov had two assists, Doug Brown had two goals and Osgood had 30 saves. For the second straight year, the Red Wings were not only champs, but they had come from the 3-seed in the Western Conference to peak at the right time and cap it off by sweeping the Stanley Cup Finals.
.Over the course of the postseason, Federov led the team in goals with ten, and Yzerman had 18 assists, which earned him Conn Smythe honors, as the MVP of the playoffs as a whole. The 1998 Detroit Red Wings were back on top.