When the Quebec Nordiques moved nearly 2,000 west to become the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, they left behind rivalries with Montreal, Toronto, Buffalo and the rest of the teams in the Northeast and eastern Canada.
It didn’t take long for Colorado to find a new foil. A bitter, physical playoff series in 1996 ended in animosity, with the Avalanche upsetting the Detroit Red Wings and winning the Stanley Cup. In a span of six games that May a new rivalry was born, and games between the teams were circled on the calendar.
It isn’t that way now, and there will be a much more muted atmosphere when the Red Wings visit Colorado on Friday night.
The rivalry has fizzled with Detroit moving to the Eastern Conference in 2013. Now they meet twice a season — in non-pandemic years — and any postseason series would take place in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Red Wings and Colorado combined to win five titles in seven seasons between 1996 and 2002 and met in the playoffs five of those years. But the passage of time has given way to players who no longer feel the bitterness for the other team, and the only mainstays from that era are Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman, the general managers for the Avalanche and Detroit, respectively.
The teams are also on a different trajectory. Colorado is in win-now mode with a high-scoring team led by Nathan MacKinnon, while the Red Wings are on the upswing of a teardown and rebuild. Detroit has suffered some dark seasons of late but has a winning record and is in contention for a playoff spot that was not a possibility two years ago, when it finished with an NHL-worst 39 points.
“That was a tough season,” Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser said. “It seemed like every night, it felt like we didn’t have a chance to win. … This year’s been a total reversal from that so far.”
The Red Wings have succeeded even with key players sidelined. Tyler Bertuzzi, a first-line forward, and Marc Staal are in COVID-19 protocols and other players are banged up. Bertuzzi and Staal did not play in Thursday’s 6-2 loss in St. Louis.
The Avalanche are familiar with injuries. They’ve had every top-six forward and top-four defenseman miss time due to injury, suspension or COVID-19 protocols. The latest scare came when MacKinnon, who took a hard check in Wednesday’s 7-3 win at the New York Rangers and was checked for a concussion but returned later in the game.
MacKinnon has just two goals this season but Colorado still leads the NHL in scoring at 4.26 goals per game. The Avalanche scored five or more goals in nine of their last 13 games and are 10-2-1 in that span.
“On the offensive side of it, we’ve definitely been putting the puck in the net recently. At the start of the year it wasn’t quite happening for us,” said Logan O’Connor, who scored two goals in 22 seconds in the win over the Rangers. “All in all, great road trip, 3-1-1 is pretty good for a long stretch there.”
–Field Level Media