Rivalry fades as Avalanche host Red Wings (Mar 17, 2018)

March 17, 2018

For the better part of a decade, this was the premier rivalry of the NHL.

Detroit vs. Colorado. Bad blood, rabid fan bases and lots and lots of playoff success between the two teams.

Twenty years later, the rivalry has faded except for the fans who cheer derisively, Detroit has moved to the Eastern Conference and neither team has played beyond the second round in eight years.

So, when the teams meet in Colorado on Sunday afternoon, the slumping Red Wings will be playing out the string while the Avalanche will seek a much-needed win in their quest for a playoff spot.

It's a far cry from 1996 when the teams met in the 1996 Western Conference finals many thought it was part of Detroit's coronation on its way to the Stanley Cup title. The Red Wings had won 62 games in the regular season and were loaded.

But Colorado had other plans. With a trade for goaltender Patrick Roy in December 1995, the Avalanche, in their first year in Denver, were formidable. And they proved it by knocking off Detroit in six games and then winning their first title.

The fierceness of the rivalry borne by Colorado's Claude Lemieux's hit on Kris Draper in that series spilled into the next season and beyond. The two teams met in the playoffs five times in a span of seven seasons, and three times the winner went onto win the Stanley Cup.

Now Detroit (26-34-11) has lost nine straight and is trying to hold off Buffalo for last place in the Eastern Conference. The impressive run of consecutive playoff seasons -- 26 before it ended in 2017 -- is a memory.

Just getting a win is what matters now.

"It's really hard right now," Detroit left winger Anthony Mantha said. "We need to figure out something quick. This is not fun. It's even embarrassing. We need to figure something out."

It'll be tough against a Colorado team that has gone 14-2-1 in its last 17 home games and occupies the first wild card in the Western Conference.

The only recent blips have come against Nashville, but everyone is losing to the Predators these days. Nashville leads the NHL with 104 points and clinched a playoff berth with a 4-2 win in Denver on Friday night.

That temporarily stopped Colorado's streak.

The Avalanche (38-25-8) are playing well, led by Hart Trophy candidate Nathan MacKinnon. The 22-year-old center scored his 36th goal on Friday and now has 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) in the last 11 games.

Colorado's players don't feel the momentum is gone after Friday night's loss.

"Obviously it's disappointing and it (stinks) but we want to keep this thing going and we want to win every game we play in," Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog said Friday night. "It just seemed like we ran out of gas a little bit."

Fatigue isn't a factor for goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who will probably start his 15th straight start and appear in 17th straight game while backup Jonathan Bernier recovers from a second head injury this season.

"I feel good," Varlamov said Friday. "That is what we train for in the summer time and all year long, to play every other day. I'm feeling pretty good right now."

The stakes are lower Sunday, than in the past between the teams, but the fans should give their opinion when Detroit hits the ice. The Avalanche players, meanwhile, will just concentrate on getting a win.

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