- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 11, 2009

DETROIT (AP) - Mike Babcock is excited about Game 7. Not restless, nervous or anxious. The Detroit Red Wings coach has every reason to be relaxed and confident. He is the leader of the Stanley Cup champions, who have a chance to repeat with one more win at their home rink _ a friendly place where they are 11-1 in the playoffs.

Sure they hoped to wrap up another title Tuesday night in Pittsburgh against the Penguins, but they fell short in a 2-1 loss. Now they have another chance to reclaim the Cup at home in the deciding game on Friday night.

“I slept good,” Babcock said Wednesday. “Were we disappointed we didn’t get the win? No question. … When I got up this morning it was, ‘Let’s get out there. Let’s enjoy this.’ My phone’s ringing off the hook. Everybody wants a ticket. I don’t know where they think we’re getting those from.”

Good luck finding a seat in what will surely be a packed Joe Louis Arena. Last year, when the Red Wings topped the Penguins in the finals, they missed a chance to finish the series at home in Game 5 and were forced to celebrate in Pittsburgh after a Game 6 victory.

Detroit is not dwelling on any missed opportunities. Instead, the Red Wings are embracing new ones. They are 3-0 at home against the Penguins in this series and 5-1 there in the last two finals.

The Red Wings have won four titles in 11 seasons, but none have been earned in seven-game finals.

“Playing in a Game 7 for the Stanley Cup finals is new to all of us,” four-time champion forward Kris Draper said. “We’ve played in some big games, no doubt. We’ve played in some games where we’ve had opportunities to close teams out, but never have I been in a situation like this in a Game 7 where so much is on the line. I’m excited about it.”

So are the Penguins. This is the chance they never got last season after falling behind the Red Wings 3-1.

“We should be proud of where we’ve come from,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “That’s the way they should feel, and they should understand exactly how precious this opportunity is coming for Game 7.”

If not for a perfect five-game road trip in the dog days of the regular season, Pittsburgh probably wouldn’t be gearing up for this chance. The Penguins might not have even made the playoffs.

The trip started on Feb. 27, 11 days after Bylsma replaced fired coach Michel Therrien, and it bridged the trade deadline when Pittsburgh acquired veteran forwards Bill Guerin and Craig Adams.

An overtime victory over playoff-bound Chicago kicked it off, and a shootout win against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals wrapped it up. The days of sitting below the playoff cutoff line in the Eastern Conference were over, and the Penguins could finally start thinking about repeating as Eastern Conference champions.

Starting with the trip, Pittsburgh went 15-2-3 in its final 20 games to grab the No. 4 seed in the East.

“We were in 10th or 11th place,” Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi said Wednesday in Pittsburgh. “After that, once you saw the team play we had a realistic chance of really turning this around. For me, that was a turning point in the season.”

No matter what happens Friday in Detroit, the Penguins can say they have gotten further than last year. Not that the Penguins would feel any better to see the Red Wings celebrate again at home, but Pittsburgh at least knows it has a shot to win the Cup with one win in a place that hasn’t produced many happy moments for them.

The Penguins have been outscored 11-2 in this series in Detroit, and captain Sidney Crosby hasn’t scored a goal there in two finals series.

“I’m not a very good odds maker, so I’m not going to give you any odds,” Bylsma said of the Penguins’ chances. “We said it before Game 6, that on Feb. 15 we all would have signed up for whatever odds we’ve got going into Game 6 against Detroit. That is an opportunity we’ll gladly take, and we’ve given ourselves an opportunity to do it in Game 7.

“Whatever the odds are, we’re going to take them. We’re going to go in there and be determined and play our game. We’ve given ourselves a chance to do what only one other team has, and that’s Detroit and us. We get one match for the Cup.”

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