Once upon a time, the New Jersey Devils and the Detroit Red Wings were Stanley Cup finalists together. That series, 22 years ago now, marked the beginning of the era of dominance for both clubs. Between 1995 and 2012, they would appear in a combined eleven Stanley Cup finals, winning seven times, the Devils would not miss the playoffs between 1997 and 2010 and the Red Wings during that entire time.
But now, things are a little bit different. Both teams will miss the Stanley Cup tournament, the Devils for the fifth straight season and the Wings for the first time since 1990. Yes, this season has been one of change (more so for the Red Wings, losing both Gordie Howe and longtime owner Mike Ilitch the way they did in the last calendar year) in so many ways.
And so, as the 2016-17 season came to an end for both the Devils and the Red Wings, it was a time for reflection. But first, they had a game to play, the final one at the 37 year old Joe Louis Arena – which opened in December of 1979. The Wings would take this one from the Devils by a score of 4 to 1.
Many Red Wings dignitaries were on hand, including former players like Chris Osgood, Dino Ciccarelli, Larry Murphy, Darren McCarty and others clearing the snow off of the ice during a stoppage in play during the second period.
On the Devils side, current MSG analyst and former player John MacLean discussed during the pregame show that he actually scored his first NHL goal in the building way back in 1983. A milestone would be coming on the Detroit side as Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg was playing in his 1,000th NHL game tonight. Zetterberg had to put together a consecutive games played streak to have his 1,000th come in the final game at The Joe, but he did it. Congratulations to him.
Lineup-wise, Detroit was without Andreas Athanasiou, Luke Glendening and Anthony Mantha. The Devils were missing Devante Smith-Pelly – whose season ends with him missing the last 14 games with a lower body injury, Damon Severson – whose future as a Devil will come into question, as he is a restricted free agent this summer and Blake Coleman.
The final goalie matchup at the Joe Louis Arena was Jimmy Howard for the Red Wings versus Cory Schneider of the Devils. Howard made 24 saves on 25 Devils shots for a .960 save percentage while Schneider made 31 saves on 35 Wings shots for a .886 save percentage.
The answer to a trivia question: who scored the final opening goal in The Joe’s history is Riley Sheahan – his first of the year after 80 games for him. It came at 7:09 of the first period with assists to Frans Nielsen and Darren Helm. It was 1-0 Red Wings just like that.
Thomas Tatar would double their lead at the 11:19 mark of the first with assists to Gustav Nyquist and Zetterberg (Zetterberg would have a goal and an assist in his 1,000th game).
By now, the Detroit crowd was really buzzing. They were celebrating from earlier today and would be loud for this game. It was like a playoff game and the announcers on MSG Network did mention several times how good things can come for the young players (on both sides of the puck) playing in that kind of atmosphere and that it will make them hunger for the playoffs that much more.
Zetterberg notched his goal at 10:16 of the second period, his 17th, from Nyquist to make it 3-0 Detroit.
It would take until the third for the Devils to get on the board. It came just 1:15 into the final frame from John Moore. It came when Michael Cammalleri came out from behind the Wings’ net and gave the puck to Jacob Josefson along the far half wall. He passed to Moore, who was pinching in behind the play and he shot from a bad angle from the bottom of the near faceoff circle, by the goal line to beat Howard and score the final visiting team goal at The Joe.
But it almost was not the final visiting team goal at The Joe. About 29 seconds later, Taylor Hall had seemingly scored the Devils’ second goal. But the officials got together and Toronto reviewed it, saying that the puck (which seemingly was deflected off of Hall’s foot and off of Howard and in) was put in by Hall with a “distinct kicking motion.” It was not a coach’s challenge by the Red Wings, but it benefitted them greatly as the call on the ice was reversed and it was no goal. Detroit was still up 3-1.
But it would not stay that way for much longer. At 16:46 of the third, Stefan Noesen was called for hooking Nyquist and the Wings were on the power play. On that power play Riley Sheahan became the answer to another trivia question, as he was the final player to score a goal at the Joe Louis Arena. He scored his second of the season and second of the game at 17:27 on the power play from Nielsen and Dylan Larkin to put a bow on it, 4-1 for Detroit. On the night the Red Wings went 1-for-3 on the power play while the Devils were 0-for-3.
For those wondering, when the Red Wings closed out the Olympia back in December of 1979, they did so with a 4-4 tie against the Quebec Nordiques. New Jersey last closed out a building (excluding the Meadowlands) in 1995 when they defeated the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs and in doing so, shuttered the Boston Garden for hockey.
And that was all she wrote. The next up for the Devils, before the expansion draft, the NHL Entry Draft, free agency and the 2017-18 season is the draft lottery. The Devils will be looking to move up their spot if the ping pong ball falls in their favor. That should be coming later on in April.
Meanwhile, the Devils of the future continue to battle it out in the OHL playoffs. The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Owen Sound Attack played game three of their playoff series today at the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre in Owen Sound.
The Greyhounds had a fairly comfortable 2-0 series lead coming into this one, but Owen Sound would claw back into it by winning the game 4-1. Jacob Friend, Kevin Hancock, Sean Durzi and Petrus Palmu scored for the Attack while Boris Katchouck had the lone goal for the Greyhounds in the game.
Game four comes April 11 in Owen Sound.