DETROIT – There are two things you can count on during every NHL playoff game in Detroit. Octopi will splat on the ice, and Tomas Holmstrom will be parked in front of the net.
Holmstrom will take his usual place early and often for the Red Wings on Friday night against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 of their second-round series.
Against defencemen Chris Pronger, Holmstrom knows it won’t be easy.
“It’s the playoffs, it’s supposed to be tough,” Holmstrom said Thursday. “It’s supposed to hurt.”
The Red Wings have won four Stanley Cups since Holmstrom was a rookie in 1997, and he played a pivotal part in each of their last three title runs.
“He’s amazing, actually,” Detroit forward Jiri Hudler said. “They called him ‘Demolition Man’ in Sweden and that nickname is right on. He’s black and blue sometimes on his body after games, but he just wants to win.”
Holmstrom stands in front of goaltenders, distracting their view from shots and tipping pucks past them perhaps as well as or better than anyone in hockey history.
“The only guy that was close was Dino Ciccarelli,” 47-year-old teammate Chris Chelios said. “But nobody has perfected it like Homer.”
Holmstrom says he puts extra protection where he gets hit a lot.
“I can’t tell you,” he said, seriously. “Why should I tell.”
Ducks defenceman Scott Niedermayer had a similar response when asked what his strategy was against Holmstrom.
“It’s a secret,” Niedermayer said.
Holmstrom’s role was even more gruelling in the pre-lockout NHL when cross-checking players was part of the game.
Pronger still finds a way to mix it up within the rules just as Holmstrom straddles a fine line between interfering with goalies and doing his job.
“Pronger is as good of a net-front defender as there is, and Holmstrom and Ryan Smyth in Colorado are the two best net-front players,” Detroit general manager Ken Holland said. “The reason they’re good is they’re prepared to take abuse. Homer is not going to back off, and Pronger the same.
“That battle is going to go on for two weeks.”
Both coaches started lobbying for calls to go their way in front of the net a day before the Western Conference semifinal series started.
“Holmstrom at times gets away with a lot more than most players do,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “He’s probably the guy that has the most penalties called against him for goaltender interference.
“It seems that (Johan) Franzen and now (Tomas) Kopecky are following that lead of trying to get in front of the net and be effective.”
Detroit coach Mike Babcock, though, is hoping Holmstrom and the rest of the front-of-the-net Red Wings get the officials to call penalties when they’re illegally hacked.
“I watched the other series very closely, and there were lots of calls and non-calls,” Babcock said. “We’re just optimistic the rules from the start of the rules are the same rules.”
The second-seeded Red Wings have been resting since finishing off against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, April 23.
Eighth-seeded Anaheim, meanwhile, had a quick turnaround from the first round to the Motor City.
The Ducks eliminated the top-seeded San Jose Sharks in Game 6 on Monday, took Tuesday off and travelled to Detroit on Wednesday.
Even if the Red Wings are rusty and the Ducks tired, Holmstrom and Pronger will meet again in front of the net where two men will enter and one man will leave happy.
“Should be fun,” Babcock said.