DETROIT – When asked what a player or a coach gains from winning the Stanley Cup, Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said simply: “That you’ve won it.
“I feel different than I did last year before we won, just because of the fact that you’ve won.” There will be much gained or lost for the Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins depending on the result of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final at Joe Louis Arena on Friday night (8 p.m. ET) – for some players perhaps more than others.
For four Red Wings – Nik Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby – it would be a fifth career Cup victory since 1997, all with the Red Wings.
For four more – Marian Hossa, Jonathan Ericsson, Ville Leino and Justin Abdelkader – it would be a first.
But for the Penguins, and particularly young stars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, a win would announce a changing of the guard in the NHL.
And a first championship for a team led by some of the youthful talents around the league who have captured so much attention since the 2004-05 lockout season, who also include Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin and Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
The Penguins and Red Wings, meeting in the final for a second year in a row, have produced a thrilling series, with each club winning its three home games thus far in a remarkable display of skill from both sides.
“The thing I like about this series is that there are great players going head-to-head – I think it’s fantastic,” said Babcock. “This series is really good for hockey.”
Pittsburgh’s job now is to buck the trend and beat a more experienced Detroit team on its home ice, where the Wings are 11-1 in the post-season.
A more daunting statistic is that since 1980, home teams in major North American sports in general are 18-0 in Game 7s.
“We know what the challenge is,” said Pittsburgh’s rookie coach Dan Bylsma. “We know the team we’re facing and where we’re playing the game.
“The challenge is to make sure we’re focused and get the right thoughts about how we need to play as individuals and as a team.”
Pittsburgh also has to find a way to beat goaltender Chris Osgood on Detroit ice, where they have been held to only two goals in three games. On their last visit for Game 5, the Red Wings dominated and won 5-0. Bylsma has called for his player to shoot more often and go to the net.
The Penguins will likely be without winger Petr Sykora, who injured a foot while blocking a shot in the Penguins’ do-or-die 2-1 win in Game 6 at home on Tuesday night. Sykora had just returned to the lineup after sitting out 14 games.
Draper and Dan Cleary missed practice Thursday for Detroit, but both are expected to play.
One with much to gain from a win would be Hossa, who turned down big money to leave the Penguins as a free agent after losing to Detroit in last year’s final. He joined the Wings on a one-year contract because he said he wanted to learn how to win from veterans like Lidstrom and Holmstrom.
If he wins, his decision is proven right. If he loses, he will be one of hockey’s great chumps.
Hossa, booed each time he touched the puck in Pittsburgh, has not been seen around the Pittsburgh net much and is without a goal in the final.
“I think I had some good games but obviously I didn’t score,” he said. “But I don’t really care right now.
“We have one game for the championship.”
When asked if he needs to be the difference-maker in Game 7, Hossa said: “I don’t have to be, but it would be nice. Beating Pittsburgh is the most important thing.”
For Osgood, it would not only be a fourth Stanley Cup and third as the starter for the Red Wings, but an answer to his critics, who over the years have said Detroit wins despite its goaltending and not because of it.
It’s in these playoffs that many have finally mentioned Osgood as a candidate for Canada’s 2010 Olympic team. The same could be said for Babcock, now a leading candidate to coach the Canadian team in Vancouver.
And the Red Wings as a group can be the first repeat champions since they won in 1997 and 1998.
The Penguins also have their reasons for wanting it.
Staal can match the Stanley Cup his older brother Eric won with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. Bill Guerin can win a second career Cup – 14 years after winning with New Jersey. And defence ace Sergei Gonchar can make up for losing a Cup final while with Washington in 1998 and with Pittsburgh last year – both times to the Red Wings.
“Growing up in Russia, you’re never dreaming about the NHL and at that time, not that many Russians were in the NHL,” said Gonchar. “But when I got here, I realized how important it is for everybody.
“Now I’ve been in the NHL for so many years and it’s probably the main goal as a professional hockey player – to win the Cup. I’ve been in the final two times before and the third time, hopefully, it will work for us.”
A player to watch is Malkin’s winger Ruslan Fedotenko, who scored twice in Tampa Bay’s victory in Game 7 of the 2004 final against Calgary.
But the biggest winner of all, if the Red Wings win, could be the downtrodden city of Detroit, which has had little to cheer in a period of rising unemployment due to a battered auto industry.
“I enjoy being here in Detroit because the people care about hockey so much,” said Babcock. “When you go to Canada, it’s the same thing.
“So to share this with them would be fantastic.”