The Detroit Red Wings partied away their last afternoon, celebrating their home, celebrating their captain, celebrating the past and the present.
The Wings played their farewell game Sunday at Joe Louis Arena, beginning with a ceremony honoring Henrik Zetterberg for his 1,000th career game and ending with a 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils. Steve Yzerman was on hand to drop the last ceremonial puck at the Joe, which will close its doors as the Wings move to Little Caesars Arena next season. Home to the Wings since 1979, alumni from Yzerman to Nicklas Lidstrom to Scotty Bowman showed up to be a part of the Joe’s good-bye party.
“It was a good night for everyone,” Zetterberg said. “To see all the legends here, it was something special.
“When you picture the last game at the Joe, this was very nice. It was a perfect end on an otherwise not-so-good season.”
Fans chanted “Ste-vie, Ste-vie” as Yzerman came onto the ice.
“It was an awesome atmosphere,” Justin Abdelkader said. “The fans, they have made this building so special. It gives you chills. You are almost speechless.”
Festivities began with honoring Zetterberg for his incredible milestone, and he was joined on the ice by his wife, son and father. The Wings gave Zetterberg a Rolex timepiece. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Lundqvist were among those delivering video messages of congratulations.
“A lot of guys came back,” Zetterberg said with a smile. “I actually thought it was for me. No, but it couldn’t a better game, because I played with a lot of the players that are here tonight, they have been a part of those 1,000 games.”
Zetterberg had a goal and an assist.
“It is fitting not only for his career but for this season,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He has certainly been our best player night in and night out. He is an amazing competitor.”
One enormous octopus landed on the ice as the anthem ended, joined by a dozen smaller creatures. Fans cheered at every opportunity. Of all Wings to get the scoring going, it couldn’t have been any more perfect than Riley Sheahan finally finding the back of the net. After 80 games,he finally scored his first goal of the season, in the game possible. Former teammate Brendan Smith took to social media to congratulate Sheahan, tweeting, “I never doubted you!”
Howard said he “was so happy I almost jumped out of my skates. I had a smile from ear to ear.”
Niklas Kronwall said, “I can’t remember being that happy for someone scoring a goal.
“This whole day has been special. You got goosebumps seeing the fans lineup outside. That is something we will have with us forever.”
Sheahan will also go down as the trivia answer to who scored the last goal at the Joe, as he converted on a power play with 2:33 to go in regulation.
“It was kind of a blur,” Sheahan said. “It was a huge relief.”
Tomas Tatar made it 2-0 before the first period ended, finishing a setup that saw Zetterberg pick up his 51st assist of the season when he held off Jacob Josefson one-handedly to find Gustav Nyquist. Jimmy Howard only saw five shots in the period.
While the current Wings played, alumni such as Tomas Holmstrom, Larry Murphy, Mikael Samuelson and Darren McCarty hung out in the bowels or in suites. Lidstrom stopped by the press box.
Midway though the second period, Zetterberg made it 3-0 with his 17th goal of the season. In the next break, part of the ice crew included Holmstrom and Murphy, much to fans delight.
Fans chanted “Jimmy Howard” after he made a particularly nice save on a Taylor Hall backhand, one of 16 made through two periods. John Moore spoiled Howard’s shutout bid 1:15 into the third period when he angled a shot high from the bottom of the right circle. Hall put the puck in the net 14 seconds later but officials ruled it was kicked in, keeping the Wings with a two-goal lead. Tatar sent a shot on Cory Schneider as the Wings got skating again, ensuring the last game would end on a good note. Sheahan did that when he scored on a power play with 2:33 left in regulation.
Even as the Wings will not be a part of the playoffs for the first time in 26 seasons, alumni and fans showed up en masse to celebrate one last game at the Joe, home to so much of the club’s rich history.