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1990s

The 1989-90 season saw the Red Wings miss the playoffs, ending Demers run as the Wings head coach. Demers was replaced by former Washington Capitals' coach Bryan Murray, who was also named the team's general manager. The disappointing 1989-90 season was the last time Detroit would miss the playoffs as the Wings have now gone to post-season play for 14 consecutive years.

Young players like Sergei Fedorov, Nicklas Lidstrom, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov, Keith Primeau, Martin Lapointe, Darren McCarty and Chris Osgood reached the NHL with the Red Wings and veterans like Dino Ciccarelli, Paul Coffey and Ray Sheppard were acquired via trade. All but Primeau, Ciccarelli, Coffey and Sheppard contributed to the Red Wings' Stanley Cup victories in 1997 and 1998.

The Red Wings made the playoffs in 1990-91 but were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the St. Louis Blues. Over the next three seasons, the Red Wings were one of the most prolific offensive teams in the NHL and one of the best during the regular season. Detroit finished third in goals in 1991-92 and advanced to the second round before being eliminated by Chicago.

The Wings led the NHL in scoring the following two seasons, but were eliminated in the first round both years (Toronto and San Jose Sharks).

Fedorov came of age during the 1993-94 season as he finished second in the league in scoring with 120 points (56 goals and 64 assists) and won both the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP and the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward. Sheppard also scored 50 goals (52-41-93) to give the Red Wings the first 50-goal pair in their history.

Murray was fired as coach after the 1992-93 season and the legendary Scotty Bowman was hired to replace Murray behind the bench. After the team was eliminated by the Sharks, Murray was fired as G.M. He was replaced by a combination of Devellano, who had become the team's senior vice-president when Murray was hired in 1990, assistant general manager Ken Holland and Bowman; who would serve as the player personnel director.

Bowman did what many considered unthinkable as he took the league's most potent offensive team and began to emphasize defense. He and associate coaches Barry Smith and Dave Lewis instituted the "Left-wing lock system" and veteran defensemen Bob Rouse and Mike Ramsey were signed as free agents. The team also traded defensemen Steve Chiasson to the Calgary Flames for veteran goaltender Mike Vernon during the off-season. That gave the team an experienced goaltender to go along with a young Chris Osgood, who had come up during the 1993-94 season and had been forced to play in the playoffs.

The Red Wings were ready to go, but the NHL regular season didn't begin until January because of a lockout by the owners. When the season did begin, the Red Wings were the best. Coffey won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defensemen during the regular season and the Wings won the Presidents' Trophy, which goes to the team with the NHL's best regular-season record and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1966. But the Wings were not able to reach their ultimate goal when they were swept by the New Jersey Devils in the Cup Finals.

The following regular season was even better as the team's 62 victories broke the NHL record for the most wins in a season. Not only were the Red Wings a success on the ice, they were a huge story off it.

Early in the season, Detroit sent Sheppard to the San Jose Sharks for veteran Igor Larionov. He teamed with Fedorov, Kozlov, Konstantinov and veteran defenseman Slava Fetisov - who had been acquired from New Jersey at the trade deadline the previous season - to form the first all-Russian five-man unit in NHL history. The "Russian Five" dazzled opponents with their skill and skating ability and became the Red Wings personality.

Individually, Bowman won the Jack Adams Award, Osgood and Vernon shared the Jennings Trophy (which goes to the team with the lowest goals-against average), and Fedorov repeated as the Selke Trophy winner.

Coffey became the first defenseman to collect 1,000 assists, Yzerman scored the 500th goal of his career during the 1995-96 season and Bowman broke the record for the most NHL games coached.

Yzerman also discovered how Red Wing fans felt about him once and for all. With rumors of a trade swirling, he received a tremendous and deafening ovation when he was introduced at the home opener at Joe Louis Arena. Fans shouted, "Stevie!" "Stevie!" "Stevie!"

That moment made it clear that Yzerman would remain a Red Wing for life.

But it was playoff disappointment once again for Detroit as it was eliminated in the Western Conference Finals by the Colorado Avalanche, who would go on to win the 1996 Stanley Cup. That series began the fierce rivalry between the Red Wings and the Avalanche. The most significant incident came in Game 6 when Claude Lemieux drilled the Wings' Kris Draper into the boards from behind and left Draper suffering serious facial injuries as a result.

Ciccarelli was traded during the off-season and early in the regular season the Wings sent Primeau, Coffey and a first round pick in the 1997 draft to the Hartford Whalers for left wing Brendan Shanahan and minor-league defenseman Brian Glynn.

Shanahan was one of the final pieces in Detroit's Stanley Cup puzzle and went on to score 46 goals that season. Veteran defensemen Larry Murphy was acquired at the trade deadline and Kocur, who had been traded to the New York Rangers in 1991, returned to Detroit as a free agent in December 1996. But the regular seasons most memorable Red Wing moment came on March 26, 1997 when McCarty exacted revenge on Lemieux for the hit on Draper. It came during an on-ice brawl, which featured Colorado goaltender, Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon in a slugfest at center ice. The frenzy helped rally the Wings from a two-goal deficit to a 6-5 overtime victory as McCarty got the winner. When Detroit went on to win the Stanley Cup, each player pointed to that game as the moment they became a team.

In the playoffs Detroit defeated the Blues in six games, swept the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in four games (all but three, including Game 4, went into overtime), took the Avalanche in six games in the Western Conference Finals and swept the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals.

Finally, the Red Wings and the fans had their first Stanley Cup in 42 years. Joy relief, exuberance, satisfaction - all emotions were personified in Yzerman's smile as he accepted the Stanley Cup and skated around the JLA ice. Vernon was voted the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the Playoff MVP.

But tragedy struck just six days later when Konstantinov and masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov were critically injured in a one-vehicle limousine accident. Fetisov was also in the limousine but his injuries weren't nearly as serious and he returned to play the following season. But Konstantinov and Mnatsakanov both saw the end of their careers.

Vernon, who wanted a three-year contract, was dealt to the San Jose Sharks. Holland had also become the team's general manager that summer.

Despite the loss of one of the NHL's best defensemen in Konstantinov, the Red Wings played like champions throughout the regular season. The fact that the team was never able to truly celebrate its Stanley Cup victory and the constant thoughts of their stricken teammates propelled a driven Red Wings team into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After defeating Phoenix, St. Louis and Dallas in the first three rounds, Detroit swept the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Finals. Yzerman won the Conn Smythe Trophy. After accepting the 1998 Stanley Cup for the second consecutive year, the Captain placed it on the lap of Konstatinov and the entire team joined in for an emotional scene that touched fans throughout the sports world. Media from all over the NHL wrote that never had one team deserved to repeat as much as this Red Wings squad.

The Avalanche eliminated the Red Wings in the second round of the playoffs the next two seasons. But there was plenty of individual achievement.

In 1998-99 Murphy passed Tim Horton to become the all-time games-played leader among defensemen in NHL history.
 

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