March 26, 1997: Regular-season game, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit — The busiest people at the aptly named arena are the maintenance folks given the task of scraping blood puddles off the ice during the Red Wings’ 6-5 overtime victory. In the most vicious game yet between the teams, Detroit’s Darren McCarty blindsides Lemieux and pummels him late in the first period to precipitate a brawl in a contest featuring 18 fighting majors and a bout between goalies Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon. McCarty bloodies Lemieux’s face and drags him along the ice as the sellout crowd of 19,983 stands and cheers. Fights break out throughout the game, and it doesn’t take much to set them off.
“They were after Claude and we expected it,” Roy says. “McCarty’s a big guy and he should face him at least, stand up and go after Claude if he wants to do something.”
It’s quite a night for McCarty, who only receives a double roughing minor for attacking Lemieux and scores the winning goal in overtime. “It just happens,” McCarty says. “We don’t plan it. You just put things in your memory bank and then you retaliate if you have to later. It must have been God’s will. I didn’t feel bad about it. It’s a big rivalry right now.”
The Avalanche call McCarty’s action premeditated, basing their claim on a Detroit newspaper column that pictures a Lemieux mug shot with a bogus prison identification number, along with quotes from McCarty threatening revenge.
Avalanche forward Mike Keane, meanwhile, calls the Red Wings “gutless” for not going after Lemieux when the teams met March 16 in Denver. “Why come home and play the role?” Keane says. “If you’re so mad at him and talk about it for six months …”