DETROIT (AP) — Henrik Zetterberg walked along a red carpet, through a sea of red-clad fans and into Joe Louis Arena for one final game.
For Red Wings fans and their star forward, it was time to celebrate.
Zetterberg scored in his 1,000th NHL game to help Detroit beat the New Jersey Devils 4-1 Sunday, fueling a party-like atmosphere in the arena’s finale as a hockey venue.
“I don’t think I ever had goosebumps this many times in a game,” Zetterberg said.
He wasn’t alone.
The last game at the building known as The Joe stirred emotions for many of the 20,000-plus in attendance, including Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman.
“I played my whole career here and I didn’t experience anything like this,” said the Tampa Bay general manager, who decided to attend the game after his Lightning were eliminated from playoff contention. Yzerman dropped the ceremonial first puck Saturday.
It didn’t look or sound as if nothing was at stake for the former NHL powers in the regular-season finale for both teams.
“It’s unfortunate that both teams aren’t going to be in the playoffs,” New Jersey coach John Hynes said. “The last game of the regular season sometimes can be a tougher game for people to get up for, but to be in this environment in this building against the Red Wings is special.”
Fans were fired up hours before the puck dropped, they rose to their feet and roared when the team skated onto the ice just before the national anthem and didn’t stop cheering even when the final horn sounded. And about 30 minutes after the game ended, it was difficult to spot an empty seat during a postgame ceremony that included former players such as Yzerman and coaches, including Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman.
“I went to the one Montreal in 1996 when they closed the Forum,” Bowman said. “The fans here, I don’t know what it is, but they’re so much more noisy. It was a good ending to The Joe with the win.”
Riley Sheahan had two goals after being held scoreless in his first 79 games this season, Tomas Tatar scored and Jimmy Howard stopped 24 shots for the Red Wings, who failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 1990 to end a postseason streak that tied for the third longest in league history.
The Red Wings rolled out a red carpet for current and former players leading into the arena, and thousands of people showed up.
Fans arriving early enough pressed up against red velvet ropes to get autographs and take selfies with Zetterberg and former players such as Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom and tough-guy, fan-favorite Darren McCarty. Those who didn’t get there in time for a prime location settled for being perched on adjacent steps that climb to the arena and standing on both sides of Steve Yzerman Drive on a sunny, windy and warm afternoon.
“We missed the playoffs and we still have this kind of support from the fans,” awe-struck defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “It gives me goosebumps.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who was among the 20,000-plus people in the arena, also seemed to be touched by the aura.
“What an amazing atmosphere here for the last game, typical of a crowd at The Joe,” Bettman wrote in an email during the game. “The end of one era. And, we look forward to the beginning of another at Little Caesars Arena.”
The Red Wings, who have played at Joe Louis Arena since the 1979-80 season, will move to a new facility nearby next season that they will share with the Pistons near the home of the Lions and Tigers. Joe Louis Arena will be demolished and the land will be turned over by the city to one of its creditors as part of a major settlement in its bankruptcy case. A hotel and condos are expected to be part of the future development.
After the game, Detroit’s players skated to center ice and raised their sticks. The fans, in turn, pointed commemorative sticks they were given toward the banner-filled rafters that recognize 11 Stanley Cup titles and retired jerseys of some of the game’s greats, such as Gordie Howe and Yzerman.
New Jersey’s John Moore scored early in the third and teammate Taylor Hall had a goal overturned later in the period.
Cory Schneider made 31 saves for the Devils, who haven’t earned a spot in the postseason since advancing to the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals.
NOTES: The Red Wings (four) and Devils (three) combined to win seven Stanley Cups between 1995, when New Jersey swept Detroit, and 2008. … Sheahan avoided the dubious distinction of being the first NHL forward to be held scoreless with at least 100 shots in a season.
Devils: The front office, coaching staff and players have to figure out how to bring the once-proud franchise back to respectability after finishing eighth in a division for the first time and having an Eastern Conference-low 70 points.
Red Wings: A new arena will not fix the team’s problems. Detroit needs more talent to surround Zetterberg, who was its best player this season even though he’s 36.
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