Red Wings pin Stanley Cup hopes on experience
GM Holland likes look of roster, Osgood as Detroit eyes repeat
In Detroit, you won't uncover this season's National Hockey League scoring champion. You also won't find the top goaltender, only a three-time Stanley Cup champion.
But if you walk inside Joe Louis Arena, you'll see 11 Cup banners hanging from the rafters and a Red Wings lineup littered with playoff experience, which general manager Ken Holland hopes the team uses to its advantage the next two months.
"They've been through it before," Holland told CBCSports.ca in reference to his club, which defeated Pittsburgh in the 2008 final for its first NHL championship in five years. "At this time of year you are trying to find as much experience as you can because most people think experience is important."
The Red Wings, who are attempting to repeat as Cup champions for the first time since 1998 when they knocked off Washington, returned this season with nearly the same squad that downed Pittsburgh in six games in last year's Cup final.
The notable additions are former Penguins Marian Hossa and Ty Conklin, each of whom signed one-year free agent contracts last summer.
Hossa, a right-winger, topped Detroit with 40 goals in the regular season and has four goals and seven points in 11 games in this year's playoffs. Conklin won 25 games and posted a 2.51 goals-against average in 40 regular-season appearances but hasn't played a minute in the post-season behind starter Chris Osgood.
Earlier in the playoffs, the Red Wings became the first defending Stanley Cup champion since Colorado in 2002 to advance past the opening round.
After completing a four-game sweep of Columbus in the first round, Detroit needed a Dan Cleary goal with three minutes left in regulation in Game 7 to oust the Anaheim Ducks.
The Red Wings open the best-of-seven West final on Sunday against the visting Chicago Blackhawks, who eliminated Vancouver in six games in Round 2.
Mix of veterans, youngsters
Holland's hope is that with Hossa on board, together with a blend of battle-tested veterans and youngsters, motivation to get back to the Cup final will be a non-issue.
Detroit's top four scorers this season — Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Hossa and Johan Franzen — are between the ages of 28 and 30. At 25, centre Valtteri Filppula and right-winger Jiri Hudler are still young, while fellow forwards Kris Draper, 37, and Tomas Holmstrom, 36, bring loads of experience.
Osgood, who seems to be a target for criticism prior to every post-season, has been a force again this spring. He enters the conference finals with a 2.06 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 11 games.
The three-time Stanley Cup champion came into the 2009 playoffs boasting a 2.11 GAA and .914 save percentage in 106 post-season contests.
"He's won 375 games (actually 389 in the regular season and 59 in the playoffs prior to this year), he's won two Stanley Cups. I don't know what to say anymore," said Holland of Osgood, a 15-year NHLer. "The critics sit on the sidelines. There's other goalies supposedly better than him and they never go anywhere in the playoffs and Chris Osgood takes the criticism.
"At the end of the day, I believe in Chris, the team believes in Chris. We've been involved in three Stanley Cup parades with Chris, two that he's been in net and one as a backup.
"The [constant] throughout his career has been his mental toughness and his resiliency. When he does have a bad game or a bad goal, he's able to put it behind him. I think that's what being a pro is all about.
"You're not going to win the Cup every year," added Holland. "And when you don't win the Cup, everybody wants to point the finger somewhere and come up with that one reason why your team hasn't won. It's not that simple."