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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Colorado Win Makes Red Wings Fade to Black

DENVER -- With grim expressions on faces scarred by the ugly marks of playoff combat, the Detroit Red Wings watched the Colorado Avalanche celebrate a triumph they expected would be theirs.

As the clock at McNichols Arena Wednesday blinked off the final seconds of the 4-1 victory that gave the Avalanche the Western Conference title in a grueling six-game series, the Red Wings' record 62-victory season faded into oblivion. It will be small consolation to the Wings, whose Stanley Cup drought has stretched to 41 years despite compiling the National Hockey League's best regular-season record for two consecutive seasons.

"The regular season almost becomes so meaningless," Detroit center Steve Yzerman said. "No matter how many games you win, you can almost take the season off. It's not necessarily about winning games during the regular season; it's about winning in the playoffs, and maybe we lost track of that a little bit."

Because the Avalanche never lost sight of that, it will make its first appearance in the Cup finals. As the Quebec Nordiques from 1979-95, they made two appearances in the semifinals; before joining the NHL, they won the Avco Cup in 1978 as champions of the World Hockey Association.

The finals will open Tuesday at Denver against the winner of the Pittsburgh-Florida series, which the Penguins lead, 3-2. The Penguins can eliminate the Panthers Thursday night at Miami Arena.

To the delight of a pompom-waving crowd of 16,061, the Avalanche Wednesday took the lead at 11:57 on the first of two goals by Joe Sakic, who is two goals short of the record of 19 in a playoff year set in 1976 by Philadelphia's Reggie Leach and matched in 1985 by Edmonton's Jari Kurri. The Red Wings pulled even on a deflected shot by Paul Coffey at 15:36, but Sakic, Mike Ricci and Peter Forsberg scored in the second period to overwhelm the battered Red Wings.

"I still think they're an unbelievable hockey club and I'm still amazed we beat them," Avalanche defenseman Uwe Krupp said. "The playoffs has its own rules. As much as Detroit dominated the regular season, the St. Louis [quarterfinal] series took a toll on them. The Blues gave them a battle. And they had some injuries. There was a game Yzerman missed (Game 2), and (Paul) Coffey (Games 2 and 3) and those are key players.

"You need breaks, you need good defense and you need good goaltending. Maybe the Detroit Red Wings had all that, but their timing was not as good as ours."

The Avalanche's timing was impeccable. While the Red Wings did little to add muscle up front or infuse youth into an aging defense, the Avalanche added goaltender Patrick Roy, defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh and wingers Claude Lemieux and Mike Keane.

Said Ricci: "We beat a great hockey team. We didn't sneak in the back door. We did it the hard way."