Facing ouster, Wings keep perspective
May 22, 2007
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The plane ride was like any other this spring: Some Red Wings watched movies, others slept, the younger ones were busy with their PlayStations.
It is precisely the approach the Wings want to have to tonight's Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, the approach they've had since losing Game 5 in overtime, pushing them to the brink of elimination. Many of the team, from captain Nicklas Lidstrom to goaltender Dominik Hasek to Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper and Chris Chelios were on the 2002 team that overturned a 3-2 deficit against Colorado, and their bone-deep confidence instilled the same throughout the Wings.
"The experience showed yesterday -- the calmness and the belief that we have," Dan Cleary said Monday. "We have a good mixture of veterans that have been there before and young guys that haven't. The trickle effect that it has is great. Everybody knows deep inside how important the game is; I mean, let's not put that fact away, but you can't play tight and tentative. We have to play loose and hard. We have to just go at them and play our game, and the bounces will go our way."
Much can be made of how the Wings have outplayed the Ducks two straight games and still lost, but the Wings have eschewed that route, knowing it won't change anything. The future lies with how well the Wings start tonight, whether they can stir a power play that stagnated in Game 5, whether they can get second and third shots on Jean-Sebastien Giguere; whether Hasek does what he so often has in the past and shut down the opponent, like in '02 when he had shutouts in Games 6 and 7.
"Everyone says you need experience and leadership, and we obviously have the experience of being in those types of games," Maltby said. "We hoping we have the same outcome as in '02, but it's going to be a battle. If we get a lead and can build on it, that's going to be more important for us. I don't think we can afford to do what we did last game and spot them a 3-1 lead in the first period and not be ready to go until the second, not use our whole 60 minutes to try to get this victory. I hope no one tries to get a little too far ahead of ourselves and worry about Game 7, because that game won't happen if we don't win Game 6."
This is the first time all playoffs the Wings have teetered near elimination, the first time they've really had to extract some of the lessons learned from the adversity faced during the regular season, from some of the five real losing streaks endured -- except none of those times threatened the same drastic end. The Ducks haven't been in this position at all this spring, but having closed out the Wild and the Canucks, they know enough to recognize their opponent.
"They've got their backs against the wall and we've got to look at it as we do as well," defenseman Chris Pronger said. "It's not going to be easy. They're a proud team, they're a team that certainly feels like they should have won the last few games and we've got to come back with a lot better effort."
The Wings prepared for Game 6 with a half-hour practice, and afterwards milled about the visitors dressing room at the Honda Center as it if were the day before any other game.
"I think the players are loose," Lidstrom said. "We're focused. I think that's good."
Mike Babcock, too, showed some of that lightness during his press conference when he was asked if it was tough to stay positive.
"If I had to spend a bunch of time with you guys, it would be way tough," Babcock said, laughing. "In the world I'm living in, it's way brighter than it is in here."
The Wings enter tonight's game bolstered by experience, by the knowledge they have every chance to force a Game 7 Thursday. That much was clear even Sunday night, as they boarded their plane and flew back to Anaheim.
"It was no different of a flight if we were coming out here for Game 3 and 4," Maltby said. "And we have to have that mentality -- everyone is disappointed and upset, but at the same time if you sit there and dwell and worry about what could happen, we're not going to be playing our best hockey. I think we're relaxed, but we're focused at the same time. We know what's at hand."
Contact HELENE ST. JAMES at 313-222-2295 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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