Finals' Game 7 new thing for Wings
DETROIT -- Nicklas Lidstrom has four Stanley Cup rings, six Norris Trophies and an Olympic gold medal.
But a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup finals, that's new territory for the 39-year-old captain of the Detroit Red Wings.
"It's something new for me, too," Lidstrom said Thursday on the eve of a seventh and deciding match with the Pittsburgh Penguins. "It's only one game to win it all. That's the focus you have. But it's exciting at the same time, having a chance to play for the Cup like this."
The Wings are still the more experienced club, they are still the defending champions, and they are still the modern-day dynasty in this league. But, they have no more Game 7 experience in the NHL's championship series than do the Penguins.
Oh, sure, the Wings have faced elimination before in earlier rounds in recent years, including a Game 7 win over the Ducks in the second this year and a Western Conference finals loss to Anaheim in 2007. But one game for the whole shebang?
"You're here, you're this close, and every little mistake can be magnified that much more," said Wings blueliner Brett Lebda. "You're playing for the Stanley Cup. That's what all of us in this room dream of winning. There's a lot more on the line, even though you could go home in the Western Conference [finals] or anything like that.
"I think it makes it a lot different because you're so close."
It's one game, winner take all. That's not the way the Wings have done business in the past 12 seasons. They've wrapped up Cup possessions in six or fewer games in all four of their previous trips since 1997. They've not played in a Cup finals game where a loss would end their chances in 12 years.
We asked Red Wings coach Mike Babcock whether the media was playing that up too much in the hours leading up to Friday night.
"No, I think that matters," Babcock said Thursday. "Someone told me it was '51, the last time the Red Wings were in a Game 7 in a Stanley Cup final [actually, 1964]. So, to me, that's about an opportunity. What a great thing. Is it any different than the gold-medal game in the Olympics, or the gold-medal game in the World Championships, or even for a kid like Abby [Justin Abdelkader], the gold-medal game at the NCAA championships, or for me when I coached in the CIAU Championships [Canadian university] or the World Junior? They're all one and done. So I think everybody's experienced this."
The Olympic gold-medal game or Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals -- take your pick. It's the Super Bowl on ice in both cases.
"You get to a gold-medal game, it's one game," said veteran Wings forward Kirk Maltby. "Maybe we have more experience that way. We have half of Team Sweden that won the gold medal at the last Olympics."
Not quite half, but certainly five members of that victorious 2006 Torino squad: Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall, Tomas Holmstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Mikael Samuelsson. And don't think they didn't have any pressure on them in hockey-mad Sweden to beat Finland that February day in Italy. That experience could serve them well Friday night.
"Let's try and enjoy it, that's how I look at it," said Samuelsson. "If you feel too much pressure, you can't really play. You try to stay relaxed and do your best. Don't put too much pressure on yourself."
You want relaxed? How about Chris Osgood, the Phil Jackson, Zen-like master of the NHL playoffs. Following a triple-overtime loss to the Ducks in the second round this spring (Detroit's only loss at home), Osgood talked about how much fun it was to play in that game. And he lost. Game 7 of the Cup finals for the first time in his career? Bring it on, baby.
"To me, whatever happens, it's all positive," the 36-year-old Conn Smythe Trophy contender said Thursday. "It's great for the league, it's great for both teams, it's great for the players. I don't look at the result as being bad. I just look at it as being a great time and a great experience, and have fun with it. That's how I approach it."
For what it's worth, the numbers all back a Wings' victory:
1. 11-1 -- Detroit's home record in these playoffs.
2. 12-2 -- Home team's record in previous Game 7s in Cup finals.
3. 18-0 -- Home team's record in Game 7s of championship series from NHL, MLB and NBA since 1980.
"We feel confident playing here at home where we've had a lot of success," said Lidstrom. "But we know we can't take anything for granted, because we know they're going to be playing well."
In the end, Red Wings' culture could come into play Friday night. They may not have played in a Game 7 of the Cup finals, but they've played a lot of big games over the past 12 seasons. They've learned a lot from previous leaders, such as Steve Yzerman, Igor Larionov and Brendan Shanahan.
While the Penguins of this generation are beginning their own legacy of excellence under Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Wings have maintained a continuous link from the 1990s teams to the 21st Century teams without missing a beat. That culture of winning is bred into the players wearing red and white.
"It's just something that's been handed down, it's instilled in us," said Osgood, chasing his fourth Cup ring. "Guys just have that in them, in here. I mean, does it work out every year? No. But every year, we give ourselves a pretty darn good chance with our experience and knowhow and how to react and approach games in the playoffs."
Babcock believes that tradition, that culture, is indeed important.
"Mr. [Ted] Lindsay's always in the opening meeting before each round," said Babcock. "He sits right in the dressing room, in his stall, with our team. To me, I think that's a privilege for a coach and a privilege for a player. And that Gordie [Howe] comes in after the game or that Steve [Yzerman] comes by or that these players still care about being a Red Wing.
"To me, those are Original Six things that are very, very special. But I bet the guys in Pittsburgh are thrilled that Mario [Lemieux] still has a stall in the room and that he's around there. I think that's what history is."
With more history to come.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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