The 2012-13 Detroit Red Wings were perhaps the last “good” Red Wings team before the bottom fell out on the NHL’s once premier franchise.
It was Detroit’s first season without Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom in two decades. Lidstrom retired at the end of the 2011-12 season, capping a career for the record books that included seven (!) Norris Trophies as the league’s best defenseman and four Stanley Cup championships.
The Red Wings were perennial Cup contenders for about 20 years, thanks in large part to Lidstrom’s consistent leadership from the blue line. To imagine a Red Wings team without Lidstrom was a thing of nightmares. Niklas Kronwall, who was 32 at the time, had to step into the role of leader on Detroit’s defense, and some went as far as calling him “Nick Jr.”
Kronwall was no Lidstrom but he did help lead the Red Wings defense as a strong, physical player with enough skill to pitch in on the power play. He had 29 points through 48 games that season -- the schedule was shortened to 48 games due to the lockout.
The Red Wings were led offensively by Pavel Datsyuk (49 points in 47 games), Henrik Zetterberg (48 points in 46 games) and Johan Franzen (31 points in 41 games). It was also Damien Brunner’s first and only year with the Red Wings after he signed as a free agent out of Switzerland. Brunner scored 12 goals and 14 assists as he was a big part of the Detroit offense that season.
Backstopping for the Red Wings was 28-year-old goalie Jimmy Howard. He posted a .923 save percentage with a 21-13-7 record and 5 shutouts.
Notably missing from the lineup for most of the season was veteran forward Todd Bertuzzi. He missed almost the entire season and only appeared in six playoff games due to injury. Bert had 38 points in 71 games played the season before, and I wonder if things would have went differently for the Red Wings if they had a healthy Bertuzzi in 2012-13.
The Red Wings mustered 3rd place in the Central Division with an underwhelming record of 24-16-8 (56 points). That record was perhaps a bit misleading as the Red Wings appeared better than 24 wins. They would later prove that in the playoffs. Detroit increased its playoff streak to 22 seasons, the longest active streak at the time.
What happened next was a very fun playoff run from a Red Wings team with rare underdog status.
7 games with Anaheim Ducks
Coach Mike Babcock’s Red Wings entered the playoffs as a No. 7 seed facing the No. 2-seeded Anaheim Ducks in the 1st round. The Ducks were just six years removed from their own Stanley Cup championship in 2007, but they had suffered many setbacks, missing the playoffs twice including the year prior to this.
Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf were determined to make another deep run this particular time around, both leading the team in points. Perry was on a rampage with not only 36 points in 44 games played but also a team-leading 72 penalty minutes. Getzlaf was flying high with 49 points in 44 games played. Bobby Ryan, just 25 at the time, counted for 11 goals and 19 assists that season. Anaheim also had a strong goalie tandem in Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller.
The Ducks were deep, and were headed on a collision course with the one-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the West. Or so we thought. Instead, the Ducks pulled the darkhorse Red Wings, who finished just one point ahead of the Minnesota Wild, in the first round. The Blackhawks finished off the Wild in just five games, but the Ducks faced a Red Wings team that still had many of its guns from the 2008-09 finals appearances.
Anaheim grabbed a 3-1 win in Game 1. The series was split 1-1 after two games in Anaheim, then 2-2 after two in Detroit. Anaheim won what was thought to be a pivotal Game 5 at home, 3-2, in overtime, the third game to go to OT in the series. They would have a chance to close it out in six games in Detroit.
But the pesky Red Wings were not done. Game 6 was in front of a raucous Joe Louis Arena crowd. Jimmy Howard made 34 saves in one of his most iconic games as Detroit netminder, and despite his team blowing a 3-1 lead in the 3rd period he was able to help force yet another overtime. That’s where Zetterberg scored just a minute into the extra frame to give the Red Wings a thrilling 4-3 victory.
Game 7 was set. This time it would be the Red Wings jumping out to a 3-1 lead in the 2nd period, then holding on in the 3rd to complete the upset. Howard made 31 saves to ensure the 3-2 Game 7 victory, offering another dazzling performance.
This was one of the most fun Red Wings series I can remember. Again, it’s the underdog status combined with the fact that they were trailing 3-2 in the series that made this special. Those Game 6 and 7 wins go down as some of the most amazing we’ve seen in the illustrious history of the team, thanks in large part to Jimmy Howard. He was a very special goalie when he was healthy. Just because he never won a Cup with the team, you can’t say he wasn’t a playoff performer. Jimmy was a gamer.
7 games with Blackhawks
Now it was time to take a shot at the NHL’s top-seeded Blackhawks, the team the Red Wings knocked off, 4-1, on their way to the Final in 2009. The fans at the Joe were feeling the magic. Anything was possible for the Red Wings after that first-round upset. But they’d have to down the mighty Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews-led Blackhawks who were hungry for another Stanley Cup.
Just as Anaheim did, the Blackhawks jumped out to a 1-0 series lead by quieting the Red Wings in Game 1, 4-1. But Detroit roared back in Game 2 with their own decisive 4-1 victory at the United Center.
The Red Wings then stunned Chicago with victories in Games 3 and 4 in front of the electric Joe Louis Arena crowd. Howard earned the shutout in a 2-0 Game 4 win, giving the Red Wings 3-1 series lead.
Of course, the Blackhawks were not ready to fold. A two-goal game from Andrew Shaw helped Chicago force a Game 6 back in Detroit. But surely the Red Wings could close it out at home?
Unfortunately not. Former Red Wings forward Marian Hossa opened the scoring in Game 6. Remarkably, Detroit bounced back to take a 2-1 lead into the 3rd. But a three-goal third period in Game 6 was what Chicago needed to win, 4-3, and push the series to a 7th game. The Blackhawks became the 49th team in NHL history to force a seventh game after trailing 3-1 in a series.
On May 29, 2013, the Red Wings and Blackhawks played one of the most intense Game 7s I’ve ever witnessed as a Red Wings fan. Howard made 33 saves, though it wasn’t enough as an unlikely Brent Seabrook scored 3:35 into overtime to end Detroit’s underdog run, 2-1.
I remember thinking that overtime would last forever based on the tightness of the previous three periods. So it was shocking to see the Seabrook shot go in. It’s still painful to watch, but I remain very proud of that Wings team. They gave us a spring show we didn’t expect just a few weeks before.
The Chicago series showcased some of the loudest, ear-shattering games at the Joe, and I think that’s due largely to the hatred between the two Original Six fanbases and geographic closeness between the cities. Plenty of Blackhawks fans found their way to hostile Downtown Detroit during the series.
Chicago went on to win their 2nd Stanley Cup in four years. At least that Detroit squad can say they went the distance with the champs.
The Red Wings would bow out in the first round the next three years straight. They have not been past the first round since 2013, and haven’t been back to the playoffs since a first-round exit in 2016.
Look back: Red Wings game 7s over past 30 years