Mike Babcock: Meet the Press
Wings coach assesses playoff field, and his team's chances
The red Wings play in Chicago tomorrow, host Columbus Thursday and finish the regular-season with the NBC Game of the Week on Sunday against the Blackhawks at Joe Louis Arena.
Question: Are you worried about just cruising into the Stanley Cup playoffs?
MIKE BABCOCK: I've been on both ends of it in the Stanley Cup playoffs. When you're the higher seed, the other teams have usually been battling like crazy and sometimes you've been drifting along. The great thing for us this year is our games down the stretch here have been against teams that are good teams that have played us real difficult. We had Nashville in here the other day. We'll get Chicago here tomorrow or there tomorrow. And they're battling for their playoff life. So they've given us really good games.
Q. First off, just want to ask about facing the eight-seed. Obviously the pundits say 1 versus 8. The Red Wings are heavily favored. How big of a challenge is it for you to play these teams who have been basically in playoff mode for a while before the actual playoffs begin?
Babcock: It's like anything: I think the line between the best teams and the teams finishing eighth is very, very little. I said this, I don't know how many months ago, three months ago: You look at the team and who you want to play, you don't want to play anybody. They're all that good. And we've been real fortunate this year. We have a very professional group. We get prepared to play most every night. We have two solid goaltenders. That's allowed us to win a lot of close games all year long and be successful.
Yet, in saying all that, when you come in the rink and you watch as a fan, if you're expecting us to shellack the other team, that never happens. It doesn't work like that in this league now. Every team is capable of beating the other team. We all have very good players. Some of the teams that are younger and haven't been making the playoffs may have more depth in a lot of ways than the other teams just because they've got more guys in their system.
Q. That leads into my next question. How offensive is it to you when people say the Red Wings are only successful because they play in a so-called 'weak' division?
Babcock: What I know when they say that is they're not very smart. What I mean is you go through the NHL stats. I don't have it in front of me. But our record is terrible in our own division. We are 15-11-3 in the Central. We're 15-2-3 in the Northwest. We're 15-5-0 in the Pacific. So what most people think, it's the opposite way around. We've actually only lost five games in the West outside our own division.
Q. Coach, is there a lot of pressure that comes with earning the Presidents' Trophy? I know you need one more point to establish that. But is there a lot of pressure that comes with earning the Presidents' Trophy and entering the playoffs and how is your team viewing that?
Babcock: Well, the way I look at it is this: No one talks about us, they only talk about San Jose and Anaheim in the West. So to me we're just sliding in there unnoticed and we'll do the best we possibly can.
Q. And what do you think you learned about your team during that tough stretch in February?
Babcock: Well, I think any time you go through tough stretches, it's a real positive thing. The bottom line is: We found out we got a lot of young kids in the minors ready to play in the NHL. You find out how good (Brian) Rafalski, (Nicklas) Lidstrom and (Niklas) Kronwall are in a hurry. And you find out that if you're going to have a group of D that can't move the puck you better get a whole bunch of six-foot-four forwards so you can flip it in and forecheck more. Now it's not that we can't forecheck, but we play more of get on you on the rush. When you're just slamming it in or you're rimming it around, I think you have to be bigger to forecheck.
Q. What's your take on the remarkable streak of 17 straight seasons that the Wings have qualified for playoffs?
Babcock: It's absolutely phenomenal. In our hallway, going into our dressing room, you have all the years since the Ilitches have taken over. There were some tough years when they first started. But there's great years since. I think the thing that's impressive here is the ownership and their passion for success and that's in every business they're in. It carries on through their employees. They hire, I think, really good people and they let them do their job. I'm very impressed. We've got a real good hockey club here. But we've got great leadership from Mike and Marian Ilitch down through Kenny Holland and through our team with people like Lidstrom and (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Pavel) Datsyuk, obviously (Kris) Draper and (Chris) Chelios. So to me we have quality leadership here and that allows us to be successful.
Q. With Chelios and Kris Draper and Nick Lidstrom, do you believe in resting guys down the stretch and was the really the Lidstrom injury kind of a blessing in disguise?
Babcock: That's what we said right at the time. Cheli got hurt as well.
Q. Are you arranging these hits?
Babcock: It's unbelievable. That's what I said to Ken Holland, what happened with Lidstrom. You think I'm going to sit him out that many games in a row, it never was going to happen. Same thing happened with Zetterberg. And so when you go through it with (Tomas) Holmstrom, (Dan) Cleary, Draper, we've had everybody hurt. So they've had good rest.
And saying that, though, what's the best way. And I just, you know, my latest kind of look at it is just the NFL playoffs and New York Giants and them battling and not resting anybody and then winning it all. Now, if they had played and the wrong guy had got hurt, you know, you'd say, geez, was that ever dumb. But I think second?guessing is left to do after the fact. No matter what you do, if you don't win in the end you did the wrong thing. So what you're going to do is we're talking to our individuals. What I mean by that is Zetterberg and Datsyuk and Lidstrom and Rafalski and (Dominik) Hasek, we'll have talked a number of times. And these guys have been in the playoffs many times. They played a long time. They understand what they need.
That's what we talk about and that's what we try to arrange. It's interesting. The other day, we were getting ready to play St. Louis, in the weight room Datsyuk and Zetterberg are going crazy. They're getting ready for the playoffs, not for that night's game. I want to win the game that night, they want to be ready for the playoffs. I like that focus.