HERE WE GO AGAIN: COLORADO AND Detroit," center Kris Draper said before Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. It had been six years since they last butted heads in the postseason, six years since a meeting between the conference rivals held consequences beyond mere scrapes, scars and bruises. Some of it felt familiar—"It sort of feels like a Cup run is really happening now, because we have to go through Colorado," said forward Darren McCarty, instigator of the infamous Bloody Wednesday brawl of 1997—but as the second round got underway, it quickly became apparent that a lot can change in six years.
Take, for starters, the teams' rosters. With only 12 players from the 2002 conference finals remaining on either team, both sides would initiate a new class of recruits into the spirit of the rivalry. The fresh face who made the biggest impact on the series doesn't even remember watching Mike Vernon and Patrick Roy duke it out at center ice or Detroit's 7-0 Game 7 victory in '02.
An undiscovered Johan Franzen was likely vacationing after his season for the Linköping club in Sweden while the Red Wings and the Avalanche were forging their rivalry by the fire of their fists, never thinking he would one day join the league. "I never gave the NHL a thought until I got a call from [Red Wings director of European scouting] Hakan Andersson to tell me that Detroit had picked me in the draft [in 2004]," Franzen said.
As surprised as he was to make it to the NHL, Franzen surprised the league even more in the 2008 Western Conference semifinals with nine goals and one assist in the four-game sweep; his goals total for the series matched that of the entire Colorado team. "He's got a hot stick right now," Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville said. "Everything he touches seems to be going in." The 6' 3", 220-pound center used his size and skill in front of the net to knock in rebounds, tip deflections and to bury the puck again and again. His two hat tricks in the series were the most since Jari Kurri scored three in 1985.
"We said in the last series [that] if we could get that line [of Valtteri Filppula, Mikael Samuelsson and Franzen] going, we would be really good," coach Mike Babcock said. Really good was, perhaps, an understatement. Detroit's top six forwards—Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Filppula, Franzen and Samuelsson—collected 40 points altogether, and in the series-clinching 8-2 drubbing of Colorado, four of them scored a goal, and Datsyuk and Filppula settled for three assists and two assists, respectively.
Though impressive, with 21 goals in four games, the Red Wings admitted that their scoring surge was helped along by an ailing Avalanche squad. Center Peter Forsberg missed three games with a groin injury, and the team's regular-season scoring leader, Paul Stastny, went down in the first period of Game 3 with a knee injury. By the time the puck dropped for Game 4, Colorado was missing five key players. "I've seen injuries in the playoffs, but I've never seen that many injuries," Babcock said. "Healthwise, they couldn't have had worse luck."
Decimated by the end, the Avalanche had nothing left, and for the first time in this 12-year rivalry, Colorado just couldn't put up a fight.