AP Images

PHT Time Machine: When the Red Wings’ Russian Five wasn’t celebrated

7 Comments

Throughout the season we will be taking an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back at the Detroit Red Wings’ Russian Five and the questions they initially faced.

History will remember the Detroit Red Wings from the mid-1990s to, let’s say, 2002, as one of the NHL’s all-time great teams.

That is how they should be remembered, anyway. During that run they boasted an extensive list of Hall of Famers, won more games than any team in the league, played in four Stanley Cup Finals in eight years, and won three of them, including one of the few sets of back-to-back titles in recent history.

But if we go back in time to 1995, before the team started its run of championships, the Red Wings were looked at in an entirely different light.

The Background

Even though the team had successfully emerged from the “Dead Wings” era and rebuilt itself into a contender, having played in the Stanley Cup Final during the 1994-95 season where they ultimately lost to the New Jersey Devils, the pressure (and criticism) was still beginning to mount on the core that was in place.

The franchise was riding a Stanley Cup drought that dated back to 1955, and there was serious doubt as to whether or not the team the Red Wings had built was the right team to end it.

Because the NHL at this time was becoming a “bigger is better” kind of game, where everyone thought Stanley Cups were won on the backs of rugged-looking North Americans from Ontario and Minnesota that could grind teams down, the Red Wings were thought to be too small.

They were thought to be too European.

They were thought to lack grit and toughness.

But it did not stop there. Even the players that weren’t “too small” or “too European” faced questions and criticism. Steve Yzerman’s leadership was doubted and there was substantial talk about possibly moving him, even into the 1995-96 season when trade buzz swirled around him, Dino Ciccarelli and Ray Sheppard.

Eventually, a trade did get made on Oct. 24, 1995 when the Red Wings sent Sheppard to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for veteran forward Igor Larionov.

This would prove to be a significant move and forever change the Red Wings, and to an extent, the NHL.

The addition of Larionov gave the Red Wings five prominent players from the former Central Red Army team as he was reunited with Sergei Fedorov, Slava Kozlov, Slava Fetisov, and Vladimir Konstantionov.

Eventually, Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman (whose vision and genius was obvious the moment the trade was made) started using all of them together as a five man unit that would be known as the Russian Five.

Today they are celebrated as a legendary unit that dazzled fans and helped make the Red Wings a championship team.

When they were first assembled, they were not celebrated quite as much.

The reaction

As mentioned above, the mindset that dominated the NHL during this time period was that teams had to be big and physical, and that it was impossible to win with a championship with a team that had too much of a European influence because, well, few teams had actually done it. Nobody stopped to think that it hadn’t been done because not many team actually tried it. The belief was that European hockey wasn’t right for the NHL, and that European players — specifically Russians — just did not care about winning the Stanley Cup.

You can call it a lot of things, but you should probably start with what it was: A very xenophobic way of looking at the sport and the league.

Bowman was having none of it.

Take this article from the Detroit Free Press the day after the Sheppard-for-Larionov trade was made, the “prejudicial question” about internal problems the number of non-North American players can cause, and Bowman’s response to a question about “how many Russians is too many?”

This was, again, at a time that critics of the Red Wings felt they need to get bigger and tougher, especially on defense, and instead opted to trade for another undersized Russian forward, one that was yet another center.

But Bowman had a vision for all of these players.

He saw Larionov as a valuable two-way player that was as good on the penalty kill as he was on the power play.

He saw Larionov, Fedorov, and Kozlov as interchangeable players that could play all three forward positions.

Eventually, at the urging of Larionov, he realized the success the former Soviet teams had using their best players as five-man units instead of a traditional line-rolling strategy that mixed up forward lines and defense pairs.

On Oct. 27, 1995, less than a month after Larionov was acquired, the Russian Five was officially born in a 3-0 win against the Calgary Flames, with that unit playing a major role in the win.

“You can bet your boots Calgary is going to come after them with all guns flaring.”

And that was the mindset … that you could push them around, and wear them down with the big, bad scary North American game. Never mind the fact that Fetisov and Konstantinov weren’t exactly “soft” players.

It did not work. At all.

After the unit scored the game’s opening goal 10 minutes into the first period, Larionov (with an assist from Fedorov) would score a shorthanded goal in the third period to put the game away.

The Red Wings would go on to win 62 games that season and reach the Western Conference Final, ultimately losing to the Colorado Avalanche and extending the Stanley Cup drought one more year.

They continued to win the following season, but the Stanley Cup question still lingered.

So let’s fast forward to May, 30, 1997, just before the start of the Red Wings’ Stanley Cup matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers.

A Sporting News article (published in the Ottawa Citizen) profiled the group and attempted to tackle the question about desire and determination to win the Stanley Cup questions.

Some excerpts as various members of the unit had to defend themselves and their desire to win, as well as continued questions about a team with a heavy Russian influence winning the Stanley Cup.

The Aftermath

The Red Wings ultimately ended any doubt as to whether or not their approach and style of play would work, obliterating the Flyers in four games and outscoring them by a 16-6 margin in the series to win the organization’s first Stanley Cup since 1955.

Unfortunately, their Cup-clinching Game 4 win would be the last time the five players would play together as Konstantinov had his career ended due to injuries suffered a limo accident in the days following the championship.

The Red Wings, with Fedorov, Larionov, Kozlov, and Fetisov all playing prominent roles, would go on to win another Stanley Cup the next season in yet another four-game sweep, this time against the Washington Capitals.

Their success would ultimately be a huge moment for the NHL.

For one, it silenced any criticism about teams built around non-North American players and how success was about skill and talent and not size and strength.

Second, it demonstrated the importance of puck possession, something that is still a dominant trend in the NHL today.

Ken Holland’s comments in that video: “You’d come to the rink knowing you were going to win, you just didn’t know what the score was going to be. We had the puck the whole night. If we had a good game we had the puck three quarters of the game, and if we had a bad game we had the puck two-thirds of the game. I can remember going on the road sometimes and beating teams 5-0, 5-1, and had the puck, the other team had no chance.”

Today the Russian Five is remembered as one of the most exciting units the NHL has ever seen and a key component to a dynasty. But it had to overcome a lot of questions and criticism to make people believers at the time.

Previous PHT Time Machines:
 Remembering the Jaromir Jagr Trade Nobody Won
• When the Blues skipped the NHL draft

 Expansion teams build Montreal dynasty
 The 1991 Dispersal Draft and Birth of the San Jose Sharks
• The Eric Lindros Trade That Did Not Happen
The Mighty Ducks and the most insane pregame introduction ever

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Playoff Buzzer: Wild Card teams are 4-for-4

AP Photo
1 Comment
  • The Washington Capitals blew 2-0 and 3-1 leads to drop Game 7 against the Carolina Hurricanes. Former Capitals player and frequent Game 7 star Justin Williams played a big role in Carolina’s 2OT winning goal.
  • With Carolina’s victory, all four Wild Card teams have advanced to Round 2.

Hurricanes 4, Capitals 3 [2OT] (CAR wins 4-3)
The Capitals got off to a terrific start. Andre Burakovsky and Tom Wilson scored in the first 6:23 minutes of the contest, but rather than fall apart, the Hurricanes dug in. It wasn’t until 2:56 of the third period when the Hurricanes caught up thanks to a Jordan Staal goal. Washington battled hard for the rest of the third period, but once overtime started the game was all Carolina until finally they broke through when Brock McGinn tipped in a Jason Williams shot. With that, the defending Stanley Cup champions are done and a franchise that last made the playoffs in 2009 is going to Round 2.

Three Stars

1. Brock McGinn, Carolina Hurricanes.
He got the series-winning goal and registered an assist on Teuvo Teravainen‘s marker. This was the 25-year-old’s first playoff series and prior to it he had 36 goals in 240 career regular season games. Of those 36 goals, only two were game-winners.

2. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes.

Assisted on three of the Hurricanes’ four goals. He also led both teams with 38:27 minutes of ice time in the 2OT contest. He finished the series with nine assists in seven games.

3. Andre Burakovsky, Washington Capitals.

Got the scoring started just 2:13 minutes into the contest off a superb steal. It was his first goal of the series.

One goal Dougie Hamilton will be happy is forgotten

It didn’t end up defining the game, but Alex Ovechkin outplayed Hamilton on this goal. If Washington won this game, this goal might have been a big part of the story.

Factoids of the night

Thursday’s Games

Game 1: Blue Jackets at Bruins, 7:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Game 1: Stars at Blues, 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

No More Champs: Hurricanes oust Capitals in 2OT

21 Comments

Not even the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals were immune in one of the craziest opening rounds ever seen. Brock McGinn tipped a shot by Justin Williams in double overtime in a series-clinching 4-3 victory for the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7.

Early on, it didn’t look like this would be a dramatic contest. Andre Burakovsky stripped the puck away in the Hurricanes’ zone and then beat goalie Petr Mrazek to put Washington on the board just 2:13 minutes into the game. Just four minutes later, Alex Ovechkin outplayed Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton before feeding the puck to Tom Wilson, who made the game 2-0.

Carolina hung in there though. Sebastian Aho scored a shorthanded goal at 9:51 of the second period to cut the lead in half. Evgeny Kuznetsov regained the two-goal lead at 13:22 of the second period, but Teuvo Teravainen answered right back at 16:37.

Early in the third period, Jordan Staal got a clean shot on Braden Holtby that he managed to get by him. It’s one that Holtby arguably should have gotten, but he didn’t have help on that play either and the end result was the game was tied.

From there, Carolina was a dominant force in overtime and it looked more and more like it was just a matter of time before the Hurricanes beat Holtby one more time. It took a while, but it happened.

Just like that, all four wild-card teams have advanced. Washington is out. Pittsburgh, which won the Cup in 2016 and 2017, is out. Vegas, which got to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, is out. Tampa Bay, which tied an NHL record with 62 wins in the regular season, is out.

This year has reinforced the notion that anything can happen in the playoffs. Carolina will face the New York Islanders in Round 2 and while the Hurricanes might be the underdogs, that hasn’t been a bad spot to be in.

MORE: Round 2 schedule, TV info

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2019: Round 2 schedule, TV info

Getty Images
Leave a comment

We’re down to eight.

With the last Game 7 out of the way in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we can now look ahead to all that Round 2 will bring.

The battle for the 2019 Stanley Cup continues as eight teams vie to become this year’s champion, and there won’t be a repeat after the Washington Capitals got bounced in Game 7 on Wednesday. All four wildcard teams are in. All four divisional winners are out. It’s been a wild ride and there are still three rounds to go.

Here is the full Round 2 schedule with the all-important TV information: 

MORE: 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Schedule, Bracket, Streams and More

For the third consecutive postseason, NBC Sports’ coverage of Stanley Cup Playoff first-round games on NBCUniversal cable networks (NBCSN, USA Network and CNBC), as well as NHL Network, will air side-by-side and will be available for streaming on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app in local markets alongside regional sports network game telecasts. (Local blackouts apply in Las Vegas and Pittsburgh in the first round).


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Capitals, Hurricanes meet in Game 7

Getty Images
2 Comments

Game 7: Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals, 7:30 p.m. ET (Series tied 3-3)
NBCSN
Call: Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk, Pierre McGuire
Series preview

Stream here

Tonight’s pre-game coverage on NBCSN begins at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones.

NBC Sports begins its exclusive coverage of the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs tomorrow with a Game 1 doubleheader on NBCSN. Coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins, followed by the Dallas Stars-St. Louis Blues series at 9:30 p.m. ET. Thursday’s doubleheader pre-game coverage begins on NBCSN at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live.