Kris Draper has gone from checking-line centre to a new role with the Detroit Red Wings - lobbyist.
Out the entire playoffs with an undisclosed upper-body injury, Draper is a game-time decision for Thursday’s Game 7 in Detroit’s Western Conference semifinal with the Anaheim Ducks and is determined to make the decision fall in his favour.
“I’ve been trying to get in for a long time,” said Draper, who has played in three Game 7s during his career. “This is something I want to be a part of.
“I’ve stated that, I’ve argued that. I’ve said my piece to the docs, done everything that I can do. It’s out of my hands. Hopefully, I get that nod and I’m able to play.”
While understanding Draper’s desire, Wings coach Mike Babcock noted the final call is also out of his hands, at least until Draper is given a clean bill of health from team physicians.
“The doctor makes those decisions and when the doctor makes that decision at game time, then I can get involved,” Babcock said. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity, should be a lot of fun, so Draper probably wants to play in it and I don’t blame him.”
Do the little things
That’s the key to success in Game 7, according to Ducks checking centre Todd Marchant.
“It can be one play, one power play, one save, one lucky bounce,” Marchant said. “You can’t go into the game saying to yourself, ‘I hope I don’t make a mistake,’ because then, chances are you’re going to make a mistake. You’ve got to go into the game saying, ‘I’m going to prepare myself to play the best game possibly that I can’ and lay it out there.
“Hopefully, for your team’s sake, your effort and your team’s effort is better than theirs.”
While all eyes will be on the stars in a Game 7 situation, often it’s a lesser light who shines. That was Marchant in 1997, whose Game 7 overtime goal provided the Edmonton Oilers an upset win over the Dallas Stars from the ensuing faceoff after Oilers goalie Curtis Joseph made a miraculous sprawling glove save on Stars centre Joe Nieuwendyk.
“That’s a good example,” Marchant said. “A big save and a lucky shot.
“We went into that overtime saying, ‘You don’t know when it’s going to happen or how it’s going to happen.’
“It can be anything, anyone. You never know when it’s going to happen, how it’s going to happen. It comes down to one game. It’s exciting, not only for the players, but for the fans, for the league. You’ve got three Game 7s in the conference semifinals. It’s making for great tension, that’s for sure.”
Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer will be playing in his ninth career Game 7 and is 5-3 in the situation, including the 2003 Stanley Cup final verdict over Anaheim when he was with the New Jersey Devils.
“That was the ultimate,” Niedermayer said. “Winner take all for what you’ve been playing for the past 90-100 games. It comes to one game, a big moment and it’s a lot of fun. They’re definitely fun nights to be part of.”
Babcock’s concern is that Niedermayer not have too much fun Thursday at Joe Louis Arena.
“He’s a real elite player,” Babcock said. “I think he’s a way better player in the playoffs than he is in the regular season. I don’t want to say he gets bored, but he might be accused of that. But in big games, he’s as good as there is.
“We call him the ghost, because one minute he’s here, then the next minute, he’s not there. He’s all over the place. When I coached him at the world championship, when I got back, I told everyone, ‘We’ve got this new thing. I call it Nieder-motion.’ We never ran it since, because we didn’t have him.
“He’s won everything and there’s a reason he’s won everything. He’s a good player who competes at the right time.”
Expected to have a huge impact on the series with his net-front presence, Detroit right-winger Tomas Holmstrom is pointless in the series and is minus-two.
“For sure you get really frustrated when you have those chances and think you’re going to score,” Holmstrom said. “They’re a great defensive team with good goaltending. You have to work for every chance.
“I’ve just got to go to the net and play the same way I play always. Hopefully, I can get that break and get the rebound or tip.”
Three Detroit rookies - defenceman Jonathan Ericsson and forwards Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader - will be playing their first Game 7 Thursday, but Babcock believes they can draw upon experiences from previous levels of the game to prepare.
“Helm’s played in the world juniors, been at the Memorial Cup (with Medicine Hat),” Babcock said. “Abdelkader’s won a national title (with Michigan State). They’ve been in the biggest games there is for the level they’ve been at.”
Helm recalled winning the 2006-07 Western Hockey League title with the Tigers in a Game 7 scenario.
“We won the final in triple overtime,” Helm said. “That was pretty exciting. I expect tonight to be about the same.”
Wings defenceman Brian Rafalski looks like he came in third in a two-man bout after his end of Game 6 fight with Anaheim’s Corey Perry. Rafalski is sporting two black eyes and is badly bruised and scratched on the face and forehead.
“No,” Rafalski said when asked if the marks were the result of the beating Perry administered. “My kids and I had a pretty intense game going in the basement last night."
Regardless, Rafalski indicated that game-ending scrum was long forgotten.
“Our focus is on winning the game,” he said. “That’s what it has to be. There’s no time for that now. We have to focus that energy in the right direction - putting pucks in their net and winning the game.
“The thing you have to worry about now is winning. We’re looking to move on here.”
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