Among their many accomplishments over the past 12 years, during which they’ve won four Stanley Cups, this one is new to the Detroit Red Wings.
Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.
Detroit defenceman Brian Rafalski, with New Jersey in 2003, is the only Wings player to skate in such an environment, but Wings coach Mike Babcock, who coached Anaheim in Game 7 of that 2003 final, is among those who doesn’t think that’s such a big deal.
Five Wings - captain Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Mikael Samuelsson, Niklas Kronwall and Henrik Zetterberg - played for Sweden as they won the gold medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics. Rookie forward Justin Abdelkader won an NCAA title with Michigan State in a one-game showdown in 2007. Forwards Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby won world championship (2003) and World Cup of Hockey (2004) gold medals with Canada.
“Is it any different than the gold-medal game in the Olympics, or the gold-medal game in the world championships?” Babcock asked. “Or even a kid like Abby, who played in the gold-medal game at the NCAA championship? Or for me, winning the CIS championship or the world juniors?
“They’re all one-and-done. So I think everybody’s experienced this.”
Rafalski agreed with his coach’s assessment. “At some point in everyone’s life, they’ve played in a do-or-die game,” Rafalski said.
Speaking to it
Babcock asked Rafalski to share some of his memories of that 2003 game, in which the Devils blanked the Ducks 3-0, with his teammates prior to Thursday’s workout.
“We talked a little bit before practice,” Rafalski said. “There’s really not too much to say. We’ve got so many veterans here, guys who’ve played so much. We’ve had so much adversity this year at different times when the team hasn’t played well, but we’ve always responded. I’m not worried about it.”
Despite their limited opportunities in a Game 7 of a final series, Rafalski felt the Wings would be well prepared for the situation.
“We’ve got enough experience,” Rafalski said. “Guys have been through a lot of different scenarios. We’ve won Cups, we’ve lost Cups. So you use all that.
“You don’t want to say old hat, but you’ve got experience dealing with it. You learn to handle it.”
His most sage advice?
“I told them the first goal in Game 7 is huge,” Rafalski said. “It’s very important.”
Sharing the wealth
In the last two springs, the Red Wings have won seven Stanley Cup final games and they’ve got their game-winning goals in those victories from seven different players.
Last season, Samuelsson (Game 1), Brad Stuart (Game 2), Jiri Hudler (Game 4) and Zetterberg (Game 6) delivered the goods. This year, it’s been Johan Franzen (Game 1), Valtteri Filppula (Game 2) and Dan Cleary (Game 5) who’ve netted game winners.
“That’s been a part of our success since I’ve been here,” Babcock said. “You don’t win 50 games every regular season unless you have good players right through.”
A win Friday would give Maltby his fifth Cup as a Wing and the veteran winger believes each road to the title has offered fascinating variety along the way.
“This year was totally different,” Maltby said. “We played a team in Columbus (in the first round) that was in their first playoff ever, so we knew they were going to come out and play us extremely hard, especially when we went there for Games 3 and 4.
"When you see that atmosphere from a team that’s never been there before - and they had a lot of guys on that team who hadn’t been in the playoffs period - it allows you to get focused really quickly. You don’t want to give anyone a head start.
“The (regular) season’s a little bit of a different monster. It’s so long and I think we showed there were times this year when we weren’t at our best, but even though it is a tough, grueling ride to the Stanley Cup, when you know what’s at the end of the road, it just seems to make it a little easier.”
The home team has won all six games thus far, the fifth time that’s happened in Cup final history. In three of the previous four series in which that occurred, the home team held serve in Game 7 - New Jersey defeating Anaheim in 2003, Montreal beating Chicago in 1965, and Detroit stopping Montreal in 1955.
The only exception came when Montreal won 3-2 at Chicago to take the 1971 Stanley Cup.
“It’s huge, those home games,” Detroit forward Marian Hossa said. “They give you an extra jump. That’s why it would be huge to get the first goal.”
Hossa, who left Pittsburgh via free agency after last spring’s final between the two clubs, remains adamant he made the right decision.
“Through the whole season, I got a chance to learn from all the guys in the dressing room,” Hossa said. “Basically, I was fortunate to be in this dressing room. Guys like (Chris) Chelios, who knows if he's going to play longer? If you have a chance to learn something from him, it's an amazing experience.”
Regardless of the Game 7 outcome, Hossa didn’t figure he’d harbour any regrets over his choice.
“To tell you the truth, I don't think about it right now,” Hossa said. “So far, it's been great.”
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