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THN at the Stanley Cup: Wings can't get ahead of themselves

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

PITTSBURGH - Sometimes a coach has to walk a fine line while answering questions from the media.

For instance, Detroit’s Mike Babcock was asked about the 2003 final when he coached the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. After falling behind 2-0 in the series to New Jersey, losing 3-0 in each of the first two games, Babcock’s Ducks battled back to take the series to seven games, ultimately losing to the Devils.

Babcock didn’t want to disrespect the efforts of his Ducks, but nor did he want to send the Pittsburgh Penguins a lifeline. The Penguins were skunked 3-0 and 4-0 in the first two games of this year’s final.

“If you recall, the situation was very different in 2003,” Babcock said. “We had 11 days off between the Western Conference final and the Stanley Cup final while New Jersey went seven games in their third round series. The NHL didn’t want to start the final on the long weekend so we had more time off. We didn’t have our legs at the start of the series.”

Babcock’s Wings must guard against complacency, having thoroughly dominated the Eastern Conference champs. If the Red Wings need any inspiration to keep the pedal to the metal, all they have to do is think back to the first round when they won two games at home against the Predators, but then proceeded to lose twice when the series switched to Nashville.

After zipping past Colorado in four games in the second round, the Red Wings won three against Dallas and appeared to be in the driver’s seat, but dropped two in a row before winning in six.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, breezed through the Eastern Conference and is undefeated at home in the playoffs. You just have to know they’ll come out with guns blazing in Game 3 of the final. Babcock said his players will be prepared.

“Everybody says we have to be ready to weather the storm,” Babcock said. “Why does it have to be us that has to weather the storm, just because it will be loud in their rink? We couldn’t hear a thing in our rink, so how much louder can it be? We hope to have a good start.”

• How can the Penguins get back into the series? Dump and chase. Thus far they have been unable to penetrate Detroit’s trap, yet they continue to try to carry the puck into the Red Wings zone. It won’t be easy, but if they can gain the Red Wings blueline, dump the puck in and then pressure Detroit’s splendid defense, they stand a chance to make a series of it. If they don’t, it’s over in four.

• The Penguins are dreaming if they think they can intimidate the Red Wings. The shenanigans at the end of Game 2 were meant to try to have something to build on in what appears to be a hopeless situation. And the whiny post-game comments about Detroit goalie Chris Osgood diving and Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall leaving his feet during his many big hits is purely meant to plant a seed in the minds of the referees that will work Game 3.

• Is the NHL big enough for another Chris Pronger?

How about two more Prongers?

Well, if two of the top-rated prospects have their way, they will enter the league next season and their desire is to have the same impact as the much-vilified Anaheim Ducks superstar. That’s bad news for Colin Campbell who doles out fines and suspensions, but may be good news for the retired players assistance fund who uses fine money to help former players who are down on their luck. Pronger, as you well know, has donated huge chunks of his salary over the years due to repeated suspensions and fines.

Luke Schenn and Alex Pietrangelo, ranked fifth and sixth respectively by NHL Central Scouting both name Pronger as their favorite NHL player and greatest influence.

Uh oh.

“He’s a big guy who plays well at both ends of the rink,” said Schenn, a 6-foot-2, 216-pound defenseman with Kelowna of the Western League. “He’s a very intelligent player who keeps things simple.”

Added Pietrangelo: “He has a great blend of offense and defense.”

Pronger is all those things and more. One of the league’s most skilled players, he is also one of the NHL’s most intimidating individuals. Pietrangelo said he’d like to make players think twice before venturing into his territory, too. He thinks he can be a physical player.

“I’m trying to find that,” Pietrangelo said. “A lot of guys say I have it in me, I just have to bring it out more.”

Good luck, Collie.

THN senior writer Mike Brophy is on the road following the Stanley Cup final and will be filing daily reports until a champion is crowned. To read his other entries, click HERE.

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