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There's no experience like Game 7 of the Cup finals

Friday, 06.12.2009 / 2:29 PM / News
By Dave Lozo
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There\'s no experience like Game 7 of the Cup finals
There\'s no experience in hockey -- or any other sport -- that equals playing in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final.
DETROIT -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are far more experienced than the Red Wings.

That may be hard to believe -- but when it comes to Stanley Cup finals Game 7s, it's absolutely true.

The only Red Wing to take part in a Stanley Cup finals Game 7 is defenseman Brian Rafalski, who was on the losing end with the New Jersey Devils against the Colorado Avalanche in 2001 and earned a ring after the Devils beat Anaheim two years later.

But does it matter if you haven't played in a Game 7 of a Cup finals but have played in other Game 7s?

"Nope," Rafalski said, matter-of-factly. "But obviously there's a little more reward at the end of the night tomorrow night."

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock took a different stance: "No, I think that matters."

Not even the core Red Wings suiting up Friday night who are going for their fourth or fifth Cups -- Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper and Chris Osgood -- have played in the last possible game of the playoffs.

Call it a byproduct of Detroit's postseason dominance since 1997, but this is new territory for just about everyone on the Red Wings.

"As a kid, you certainly played that game over and over in your mind," Draper said. "But it's, like I said, this is all new to us."

Babcock was quick to ask Rafalski's to talk about his Cup Final experience with his teammates after practice Thursday morning.

"I went to Rafi right away," Babcock said. "I said, 'What can you tell us, Rafi?' You know, he had some thoughts to share with the guys."

"We talked a little before practice," Rafalski said. "Obviously the first goal in the seventh game is huge. Very important." Rafalski speaks the truth. In the last five Finals to reach a Game 7, the team to score first won the Stanley Cup.

The Penguins have a little more experience when it comes to Game 7s in the Stanley Cup Final. Ruslan Fedotenko not only played and won one -- he scored both goals in Tampa Bay's 2-1 win against Calgary in 2004. Craig Adams logged 12:44 of ice time for Carolina in its 3-1 win against Edmonton in 2006.

Fedotenko admitted Thursday to having more nerves than usual going into a Cup Final Game 7.

"I mean, going to Game 7, you have nerves, excitement," Fedotenko said. "It's everything and above. You can't take a pregame nap because you're so excited.

"But it's still a game. We still need to focus on the game. It is probably the biggest game of your life for most people. But it's still a game. We still need to stick to the plan and play our game."

Just like Rafalski did with his teammates Thursday, Fedotenko plans on talking with his teammates about what to expect before the puck drops Friday night.

"I will have my moment, and I will talk to the team before the game," he said. "But I think I want to keep it between the teammates and myself right now, so I wouldn't want to say too much right now in the press."

Even Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was on the ice in 2003 as a player -- and was coached by Babcock -- along with Petr Sykora when the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim fell 3-0 to Rafalski and the New Jersey Devils.

Bylsma's only other Game 7 experience in the NHL came this year as a coach, when the Penguins beat the Capitals in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Bylsma admits there's a different feeling heading into Friday's game with the Red Wings, but had a hard time expressing what that difference is.

"I don't think you can define one moment with one set of words or one feeling here. You have different emotions, you have different thoughts," Bylsma said. "This is the Stanley Cup Final. We're playing the Red Wings. We won Game 6 in this series, and we lost Game 6 (against the Capitals). It's different. But I don't deny all the thoughts that go through your head."

This is Jordan Staal's first Cup Final Game 7, but it's not his family's first -- brother Eric was on the Cup-winning Hurricanes team in 2006. That doesn't mean the Penguins' center has been able to pick his elder sibling's brain.

"He's on the beach somewhere on vacation," Jordan said with a laugh, "so I haven't called him about a little advice. I think I understand, I think everyone in this room understands the stakes, where we're at. We're just going to go out and play."

Contact Dave Lozo at dlozo@nhl.com.

Author: Dave Lozo | NHL.com Staff Writer

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