Red Wings vs. Avalanche rivalry, explained: How Detroit and Colorado became hockey’s most heated feud

There are feuds, there are rivalries, and then there’s the Avalanche and the Red Wings from 30 years ago.

ESPN on Sunday released its E60 documentary, Unrivaled, which chronicles the rivalry between the Red Wings and the Avalanche from the 1990s and early 2000s. The bad blood between the players of these teams is still relevant today in some cases, as the document shows.

The two Western Conference rosters of the time were powerful organizations that consistently competed for the trophy year after year. The Avalanche had stars like Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Patrick Roy, while the Red Wings had Brendan Shanahan, Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov.

But it wasn’t just the competitive spirit that fueled the hatred between the teams. You don’t despise a team like Detroit and Colorado just by seeing them make the playoffs every year. No, it was a hit that led to years of beatings, roared matches and resentment.

Here’s a look at how the rivalry between Avalanche and Red Wings came about.

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How did the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry begin?

The Red Wings and Avalanche were powerful Western Conference opponents for a few years, but the clubs were forever linked during the 1996 playoffs with a hit.

In Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, Avalanche forward Claude Lemieux hit Red Wings Kris Draper from behind, slamming his face into the dasher.

The Avs won the game and secured the series, but that strike sparked bad blood between the two. Lemieux was suspended by the NHL for two games and Draper was diagnosed with a concussion, a broken jaw, a broken nose and a broken cheekbone. It resulted in surgery on Draper’s face, and his jaw was wired for weeks.

Fight Night at the Joe

With the Avalanche winning the series in the same game that Lemieux put his hit on Draper, the two teams didn’t meet again until months later. While the first three contests of the following 1996-97 season were civil, the fourth featured one of the biggest brawls in history.

The match between the Avs and the Red Wings on March 26, 1997 at Joe Louis Arena will be remembered forever. It started testy, with two fights occurring in the first period, but a collision between Detroit’s Igor Larionov and Colorado’s Peter Forsberg sparked what turned out to be all-out hand-to-hand combat.

With Larionov down after Forsberg’s strike, Red Wings enforcer Darren McCarty took the opportunity to slap Lemieux in the face in revenge for hitting Draper. He landed several punches as Lemieux rolled to the ground.

Avs goalie Patrick Roy went out to defend his teammate but he was clotheslined by Red Wings forward Brendan Shanahan. Red Wings goalie Mike Vernon came out to free Adam Foote from Shanahan. Roy saw Vernon and the two went toe to toe.

With the game decided and penalties awarded, it was just 15 seconds before another fight broke out as Avalanche winger Adam Deadmarsh and Ride Wings defender Vladimir Konstantinov dropped the mittens for the last fight of the period.

The two teams saw five more fights throughout the competition, eventually going into overtime where McCarty scored the deciding goal for the Red Wings.

Other brawls between the Red Wings and Avalanche

Fight Night at the Joe wasn’t the last time the two teams got involved. Just two months later, in the Western Conference Finals, Avalanche coach Marc Crawford and Wings coach Scotty Bowman got into a screaming match after a scrum ensued. The contest was filled with penalties and Crawford was seen shouting obscenities at Bowman. He was fined $10,000 for his actions.

On April 1, 1998, another goalie fight involving Roy took place at Joe Louis Arena when he and Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood went for it after another skirmish broke out between the two clubs.

Over the next few seasons, players left each team and the rivalry began to die down. However, in 2002 it was ramped up again.

In a game on March 23, Red Wings forward Kirk Maltby was pushed into the Avalanche crease in the third period. Roy took offense and proceeded to throw punches at Maltby and another brawl broke out. Red Wings goalie Dominik Hasek came flying down from the other end of the rink to confront Roy, but he slipped on a loose stick and crashed into Roy.

If it weren’t for that misguided device, we probably would have seen Roy grapple with a third Detroit goaltender, but the two were reluctant and never managed to get to the ground.

Red Wings vs. Avalanche Playoff History

The clubs have met six times in the playoffs, five of those meetings taking place between 1996 and 2002.

The all-time streak is even, with both teams winning three times. Colorado won the Stanley Cup in 1996 after defeating the Red Wings in the conference finals, but the Aves lost in the next round in 1999 and 2000 after defeating Detroit. All three times the Red Wings have won against the Avalanche, they have won the trophy.

With the Red Wings now competing in the Eastern Conference, the only way the two clubs can compete in the postseason is if both teams reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

1996 Western Conference Finals Avalanche 4, Red Wings 2 Avalanche wins the Stanley Cup
1997 Western Conference Finals Red Wings 4, Avalanche 2 The Red Wings win the Stanley Cup
1999 Western Conference Semifinals Avalanche 4, Red Wings 2 Avalanche lost in Western Conference Finals
2000 Western Conference Semifinals Avalanche 4, Red Wings 1 Avalanche lost in Western Conference Finals
2002 Western Conference Finals Red Wings 4, Avalanche 3 The Red Wings win the Stanley Cup
2008 Western Conference Semifinals Red Wings 4, Avalanche 0 The Red Wings win the Stanley Cup

How to watch live stream “Unrivaled” on ESPN

  • TV channel: ESPN2
  • Live broadcast: ESPN+

ESPN will air the special throughout the week on ESPN. The documentary will also be available to viewers on ESPN+, alongside other ESPN documentaries.

E60: “Unrivaled” will be re-aired on ESPN
date time channel
Sunday June 26th 4 p.m ESPN2, ESPN+
Monday, June 27th 8 p.m ESPN2
Wednesday June 29th 2 a.m ESPN2
Thursday June 30th 21 clock ESPN

*All times ET

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