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DETROIT (AP) -Mike Babcock's steely glare and sharp tongue vanished in public for perhaps the first time in three seasons with the Detroit Red Wings.
A simple question stirred emotions Babcock usually hides.
"What would it mean to you have your name on that Cup," a reporter asked Babcock.
"When I've seen it out and around, I haven't gone near it," Babcock said. "When I saw it at the Hockey Hall of Fame, I took the time to read all the names on it.
"I'm not thinking about that - about my name."
Babcock then paused again and took a sip of water, trying to keep his composure, before finishing his answer.
"It would be nice," he said softly.
After walking away from the news conference, Babcock acknowledged that the question tugged at his emotions.
"Yeah, no question it did," he said. "The biggest thing is, I believe in the process and when you get ahead of yourself things don't work the way they should."
Babcock and the Red Wings will get their first chance at moving toward their goal on Saturday night at home in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
When the NHL emerged from its lockout in 2005, Detroit didn't offer coach Dave Lewis a chance to return as coach and hired Babcock away from the Anaheim Ducks.
The Red Wings got too cozy playing for Lewis, a former Detroit player and longtime assistant, but it was clear that wouldn't be possible under Babcock.
During a morning skate before a preseason game three years ago, players were simply gliding around the ice and Babcock didn't care for their pace.
"Let's go!" he shouted.
Instantly, the Red Wings started skating faster and their days of coasting and relying on their resumes were over.
"I don't want to say there was a lot of yelling, but our practices were a lot more intense and he was much more vocal," Kirk Maltby recalled Friday. "I don't think he's changed. He's still very much about preparation and his system."
Babcock has helped Detroit be at or near the top of the league in each of his three regular seasons. After a first-round exit in 2006, the Red Wings reached the conference finals last year and made their 23rd trip to the finals this month.
He has preached the importance of driving to the net to score, digging in the corners for pucks and punishing players in open ice.
The changing style of play has paid off, maximizing the talent on the roster and creating roles for other players.
"Everyone said we weren't tough or physical enough," Chris Osgood said. "He's instilled in us the need to play physical and for everybody to play stronger."
Babcock had a simple explanation for his insistence on crowding the net with players and pucks instead of passing it around the ice, looking for a picture-perfect shot.
"If you play on the perimeter, you go home," he said.
The Red Wings found that out in 2003 when the Babcock-led Ducks beat them in the first round and advanced to the Stanley Cup finals, where they lost to the New Jersey Devils in Game 7.
Babcock was 69-76-19 over two seasons in Anaheim, which offered him a one-year extension that he rejected, leading to his hiring in Detroit.
He likes Detroit's chances to fare better than the Ducks did.
"I know our team is better than the teams I coached in the past and I'm a better coach," Babcock said. "You would hope experience makes you better. I'd like to tell you it does."
The Penguins believe they've made up for their lack of experience thanks in part to coach Michel Therrien.
"He always emphasized the defensive part of the game," Darryl Sydor said. "It didn't work for a while, but he stuck with it and these young guys picked it up. Once that happens, it's such a talented group of kids it's not hard to just turn them loose."
After coaching the Montreal Canadiens from 2000-03, Therrien replaced Eddie Olczyk when he was fired early in the 2005-06 season.
The disciplinarian helped the Penguins earn 105 points last season - a 47-point improvement to rank among the best one-year turnarounds in league history - and a spot in the postseason for the first time since 2001.
Pittsburgh broke the 100-point mark again this season, then lost just two games over the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Therrien deflected credit to his players.
"What's fun about coaching this team is they want to learn," he said. "Even with the playoffs started, they weren't nervous. They were excited."
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