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Rafalski right at home in Game 7 pressure cookers

Friday, 06.12.2009 / 2:35 PM ET / News
By Larry Wigge  - Columnist
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Rafalski right at home in Game 7 pressure cookers
DETROIT -- Brian Rafalski said his fascination for Game 7s in the Stanley Cup playoffs actually started before he played in his first NHL game with the New Jersey Devils in 1999-2000.

That might not have been the answer that many reporters were looking for, considering that Rafalski goes into Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night with a 5-1 record in seventh games. But he had a story to tell and was bound and determined to tell it.

"I was back home from the University of Wisconsin and I managed to get a ticket for the Red Wings vs. the Sharks," he explained. "I'm in the stands. Thinking good thoughts about the Wings. Game's tied 2-2. Chris Osgood stones Igor Larionov on a breakaway and then …"

There's a deafening pause, before Rafalski added, "But then, in a moment all Red Wings fans would like to forget, Ozzie had trouble handling the puck at the side of his net and Jamie Baker swoops in and scores.

"I think it was at that point that I realized just how high and how low you can get in a Game 7."

That Baker goal with 6:35 left came on April 30, 1994.

Rafalski chose not to regale us with a Scott Stevens story from Game 7 of the 2003 Cup Final that the Devils won or even the 2001 finals, when the Devils lost to Colorado in Game 7.

"You win and lose as a team and it's a feeling you'll never forget, but that night in 1994 when Jamie Baker scored, I kind of felt all alone," he said.

It's that kind of passion that has made Rafalski such a determined and successful player over the years, first for the Devils and for the last two seasons with the Red Wings.

Funny, since most teams thought that, at 5-foot-10, 191 pounds, Rafalski was too small to be drafted by an NHL team and certainly too small to play on this kind of big-game stage.

Not big enough? Rafalski always has had the quick feet, great speed, the hands of a surgeon and the creative mind it takes to be a winner. Mix in heart, soul and intellect -- he graduated from high school at Madison (Wis.) East at 17 and earned his degree in agriculture and economics at the University of Wisconsin -- and you've got yourself a champion.

"You don't just find defensemen with his skills on trees," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "It's like turning on the ignition of a powerful car the way Raffi and Nick Lidstrom work the transition game and spark our power play from the point."

Rafalski said there will be no dazzling speech inside the Red Wings' dressing room before Game 7 against Pittsburgh.

"The confidence in this locker room is so high," he said. "No one has to speak up. No one has to make a big speech."

Rafalski and the Red Wings are counting on their experience to win out in this battle against the young Penguins skills.

"It will be gut-check time for a lot of us," Rafalski said. "Emotions will be high. We'll all have to control them. Nervousness? It's allowed in this situation. In fact, nervousness can be good. I've always found it makes you sharper."

Three Stanley Cups in seven NHL seasons gives Rafalski the right to pick and choose what he thinks are important memories. No one has to tell him about the extra passion and emotion on the ice in April, May and June.

"It's the playoffs," he said with a huge grin. "It doesn't matter if you're playing shinny for bragging rights with a few neighbors as a kid, in high school, college, in Europe or the NHL, it's the time when championships are won.

"It's all about being motivated to win … and not wanting to settle for anything but the Stanley Cup. That was our mentality in New Jersey and it's the same in Detroit."

The Dearborn, Michigan, native laughed when someone told him he already sounded pretty fired up.

Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup Final Gear"That's funny," he said. "A lot of people look at me and don't consider me fiery or a fighter. But I can take you back even further than 1994 for an even better example.

"It was 1991, I'm playing in a high school game in St. Paul and some guy on the other team kept bumping into our goalie. I went after the guy. I'll never forget it, because I was thrown out of the game and spent the last two periods watching in the stands with my dad."

Rafalski's eyes were flaring at the memory. Since then, he's become fiery. He's become smarter. More skilled. Creative.

Best of all, Brian Rafalski won't have to be in the stands to watch this Game 7. He'll be able to control his emotions and help the Red Wings.

As he told us, it's playoff time, bragging rights are on the line and a championship is there to be won.




1 WSH 53 40 9 4 175 120 84
2 FLA 55 32 17 6 153 127 70
3 NYR 55 31 18 6 157 140 68
4 DET 55 28 18 9 138 134 65
5 NYI 53 29 18 6 150 131 64
6 TBL 54 30 20 4 144 130 64
7 BOS 54 29 19 6 159 148 64
8 PIT 54 28 19 7 139 136 63
9 NJD 55 27 21 7 122 123 61
10 CAR 55 24 21 10 131 143 58
11 MTL 56 27 25 4 151 151 58
12 PHI 53 24 20 9 127 138 57
13 OTT 56 25 25 6 157 173 56
14 BUF 56 22 28 6 131 155 50
15 CBJ 56 22 28 6 140 173 50
16 TOR 53 19 25 9 122 149 47


D. Larkin 54 18 20 25 38
H. Zetterberg 55 10 28 5 38
T. Tatar 54 16 17 -1 33
G. Nyquist 55 14 16 -1 30
P. Datsyuk 40 9 21 14 30
J. Abdelkader 55 14 15 -2 29
M. Green 47 4 17 -7 21
N. Kronwall 45 3 14 -10 17
B. Richards 41 5 11 6 16
D. DeKeyser 51 7 8 12 15
P. Mrazek 21 10 5 .933 1.94
J. Howard 7 8 4 .904 2.89