DETROIT – As the regular season drew to a close and as their chances began to dwindle of keeping their postseason streak alive, the Detroit Red Wings played some of their best hockey just to get in.
Then, down 3-2 in the opening round of the playoffs to Anaheim, the Wings won two straight to advance to the next round.
Also in that series with the Ducks, Detroit squandered three- and two-goal third period leads only to regain its composure and beat Anaheim in overtime.
The Wings seem to play their best hockey when their backs are against the wall, which is where they’re at Wednesday night, playing Game 7 at the United Center against the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I think you’ve got to be at the right level for you,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said when asked if he would prefer his players loose or amped for the game. “But loose is a great way to be, but you’ve got to be intense about what you’re doing too, so there’s a fine line there.
“I think when players are talking about being loose, I don’t think they’re talking about loose in a bar,” Babcock continued. “I think they’re talking about loose enough to execute, do good things, to feel good about themselves. So you don’t want to be all wound up, but at the same time you want to be amped enough that you’re at the best of your ability. That’s the challenge for you to walk that fine line.”
This will be Detroit’s fourth consecutive Game 7 on the road.
“I’ve been fortunate to win some on the road and lose some,” Babcock said. “I just like the fact that it’s what competition is all about. I mean, if you’re going to continue to play you’ve got to be successful in the game. You play to play again.
“I think you grow up as a kid dreaming of scoring a goal in Game 7,” Babcock continued. “Obviously, anytime you go to Game 7 it’s been a heck of a series, so we just feel that we’ve done enough good things and feel good about our game. We got a lot of positive reinforcement from last night.
The Wings beat Anaheim 3-2 in the first round, and shellacked Phoenix 6-1 in 2010.
“I don’t know if there’s really one that stands out more than another one,” Niklas Kronwall said when asked about his previous experience in Game 7s. “Just the feeling after the first series against Anaheim was something very special, just how hard fought it was. We had our ups and downs, but we found a way through it and it always feels great coming out on top.”
They lost to San Jose 3-2 in 2011 in the second round after falling behind 3-0 in the series.
“We’re excited about being here,” Babcock said. “Would you like to have the series over and moving on? Absolutely, but in saying that what an opportunity as we played in a Game 7 last series. It was a lot of fun, and why wouldn’t this be?”
This will just be Chicago’s third Game 7 since 1995.
“When you’re in this situation you look back at what you’ve done before and use the experience you’ve been though,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “It’s nothing different for (Wednesday). It’s nice that we’ve been through it.”
After falling behind 1-0 in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series with the Blackhawks, the Wings won three in a row before dropping the final two.
“When we’re successful you go onto the next game,” Babcock said. “I’m not a big momentum guy. I just never have been. You just play the game. I think the starts of all games are really important at home and on the road. They scored early in the game (Monday) night and I thought we really responded. We need to start on time (Wednesday), for sure.”
The Wings took a 2-1 lead into the third period of Game 6, only to witness Chicago score three times in less than nine minutes to swing the momentum back on its side.
“I think we all know it’s Game 7,” Zetterberg said. “It’s win or go home. But that makes it a lot more exciting to play. Preparation-wise you just do what’s normal.”
This is just the third time in their 87-year rivalry that the Original Six teams will meet in a Game 7. They last met in a Game 7 on April 15, 1965.
The teams are 1-1 in those two preview Game 7 meetings.
“They could tell you that they just went through two Game 7s because they were elimination games,” Babcock said. “I just find that they’re all different and getting started on time is really important. That’s what our focus will be. We want to get off to a good start. Now if you don’t have it it’s not the end of the world. You have to play, but the reality is we’ve been through it. Each experience is just a lot of fun and you know it’s going to be fun. You relish the opportunity. Enjoy yourself.”