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The Red Wings Cursed the Avs

The curse of the 2002 Western Conference Final lives on.

NHL: USA TODAY Sports-Archive RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

I know I’ve already lost a lot of folks with this title, with some wondering how a team with three Stanley Cups can be cursed while others shake their heads at any mention of a supernatural sports force, but hear me out. There’s a lot of evidence here, and it has all the classic elements needed for a proper sports curse.

Going into the 2002 season, the NHL’s blood feud between the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings was tied at two Stanley Cups apiece after Ray Bourque and the Avs claimed their second the year before. Colorado finished second to Detroit in the Western Conference the following season, and the two faced off in a Conference Final for the ages.

After Peter Forsberg scored in overtime to put the Avs up 3-2 after Game 5, it seemed like the ultimate victory was within reach, but that was the last goal Colorado would score in the series. Detroit took Game 6 in Denver in a 2-0 shutout, setting up a decisive Game 7 that would traumatize an entire fanbase and kick off a curse that lasts to this day.

In what many thought going into it may be Patrick Roy’s last game ever, backup David Aebischer spent more time on the ice. The Red Wings blitzed Roy for six goals in 28 and a half minutes and ended this heavyweight fight before it even began. This game was effectively the end of the Avalanche dynasty, and they would never be the same, failing to get past the second round (at best) for the rest of the 2000s before missing the playoffs for most of the 2010s.

This historic beatdown has reverberated through time, as the Colorado Avalanche have not won a Game 7 since, and every loss has followed one of two especially painful patterns.

The Avs lost the very next year to the Minnesota Wild in Patrick Roy’s actual last game, as the Avalanche blew two one-goal Game 7 leads before Andrew Brunette broke hearts across the Rocky Mountains in overtime.

Colorado wouldn’t play another Game 7 for eleven years, meeting the Wild again in the 2014 postseason first round. This time they blew two one-goal leads in the first two periods, then blew another two in the third period before Nino Niederreiter did his best Andrew Brunette impression five minutes into OT, providing us with the first evidence that the Avs might be cursed.

It took another five years for Colorado to get back to a Game 7, as their next gut punch came via the notorious Gabriel Landeskog “offside” that nullified a game-tying goal in a dramatic near-comeback against a San Jose Sharks team who seemed to have them overmatched up to that point.

The following year in 2020 Colorado blew three one-goal leads in a Game 7 in the Edmonton bubble against the Dallas Stars before Joel Kiviranta scored seven and a half minutes into overtime.

The Avs collapse against the Vegas Golden Knights the following season was so swift and brutal that they couldn’t even muster a Game 7, and the squad thankfully avoided Game 7s en route to last year’s Stanley Cup Championship.

Just in case we thought we were out of the woods and the Game 7 misery was over, the Seattle Kraken proved to Avs fans this year that the curse of the 2002 Western Conference Final is still alive and well, grinding down a depleted and exhausted Avs team in another Game 7 where another offside challenge took a Nathan MacKinnon game-tying goal off the board.

Prior to the 2002 Western Conference Final, the Avs were 4-2 in Game 7s (4-0 against everyone but the Dallas Stars). If a historic beatdown by Colorado’s eternal rival that stopped a winning streak and kicked off a two-decades-long (and counting) losing streak with remarkably consistent patterns isn’t a sports curse, I don’t know what is.