Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - Igor Larionov - The Pinnacle
One on One Treasure Chest Pinnacle

(Back Row): Alexei Kasatonov and Vyacheslav Fetisov and
(Front Row): Sergei Makarov, Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov. (HHOF)
While Igor Larionov would no doubt believe that the pinnacle of his hockey career was his role as a pioneer in opening opportunities for Russian players to compete in the National Hockey League, on the ice, there is little doubt where his pinnacle would lie.

The Detroit Red Wings, already two-time Stanley Cup champions with a line-up that included Igor Larionov, faced the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup final in 2002.

The unlikely Hurricanes were enjoying an improbable visit to the final. They had earned just 91 points through the regular season, the second-lowest point total for a playoff team in the NHL that season. Participating in the Stanley Cup final was new to the franchise, which had missed the playoffs in streaks of first five and then six seasons, and had only once won a playoff round, and that was before their incarnation as the Hurricanes.

Igor Larionov of the Detroit Red Wings celebrating following his team's Stanley Cup win over the Washington Capitals in 1998. (Dave Sandford/HHOF)
Yet, Carolina stunned Detroit at the Joe Louis Arena in Game One, winning 3-2 on an overtime goal by Ron Francis. That would be the Hurricanes' only win in that series, as the Red Wings bounced back and steamrolled over their opponents.

The Wings tied the series with a 3-1 victory in Game Two, but it was Game Three that proved to be the turning point in the series.

Carolina opened the scoring late in the first period, but Larionov tied the score with a marker at 5:33 of the second. Carolina and Detroit traded goals in the third; Jeff O'Neill tallying for the Hurricanes and Brett Hull for the Wings.

There was no scoring through the first overtime period, and the tension mounted further when neither team could connect through an additional twenty minutes. Then, at 14:47 of the third overtime period, Igor Larionov scored the game-winning goal on Arturs Irbe, with assists going to Steve Duchesne and Tomas Holmstrom. At 41 years of age, Larionov became the oldest player to score in a Stanley Cup final game.

Igor Larionov was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008. (Matthew Manor/HHOF)
Any momentum the Hurricanes had generated was gone. Detroit took Game Four 3-0, with Larionov contributing the contest's second goal. On June 13, 2002, the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup by defeating the Hurricanes 3-1 back in Detroit. Igor assisted on the Wings' first goal, scored by Tomas Holmstrom.

The Stanley Cup victory was the first for many of the veterans on the team, including netminder Dominik Hasek, defencemen Steve Duchesne and Fredrik Olausson and forward Luc Robitaille. For Larionov, it was his third and final Stanley Cup championship, one in which he played a crucial role.

The next generation of Wings' champions was being introduced, and one of those was Nicklas Lidstrom, who would accept the Stanley Cup as Detroit's captain when they next won, in 2008. "It was fun playing with (Larionov) because he was so good with the puck," Lidstrom told the Detroit Free Press. "He was always available as an outlet for the 'D' (defenceman) that had the puck. He was just a very, very smart player. He wasn't a big guy, but he was a strong skater, and he had quick hands, and he could make those passes that no one else saw

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and On-Line Features at the Hockey Hall of Fame.