But if no one doubted the Wings' ability to get it done in the regular season, why did a regular-season win mean that much?
I think the game's been overrated in retrospect. The year before, didn't they get "payback" on the Devils in the regular season? Because they went on to lose to Colorado, no one ended up caring about that.
IIRC, in the '97 conference finals, didn't the Avs win Game 1 and take the lead in Game 2? They were close to being up 2-0 in the series, but the Wings rallied to steal that game and home ice. I'd argue that that was the turning point.