DETROIT (AP) — Riley Sheahan had two goals and Henrik Zetterberg scored in his 1,000th NHL game, helping the Detroit Red Wings beat the New Jersey Devils 4-1 Sunday in a party-like atmosphere for the final game at Joe Louis Arena.
Zetterberg put Detroit up 3-0 midway through the second period following Sheahan’s and Tomas Tatar’s goals in the first. Sheahan didn’t have a goal in his first 79 games this year but scored his second of the game with 2:33 left to bring fans to their feet, where they stayed for the game.
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.
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.
New Jersey’s John Moore scored early in the third and teammate Taylor Hall had a goal overturned later in the period.
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.
Fans were fired up hours before the puck dropped and didn’t stop cheering even when the final horn sounded.
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 a red velvet rope to get autographs and take selfies with Zetterberg and former favorites 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 up on adjacent steps that climb up 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,” 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.
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 Steve Yzerman.
A postgame celebration was planned later in the evening on the ice, and it appeared that most of the fans planned to stick around.
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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