ANAHEIM -- Patrick Eaves didn't know what his personal record in Game 7s in the Stanley Cup Playoffs was until a member of the media told him Sunday morning at Honda Center.
He did know that he played in several (four), and that experience is supplemented by the many he played out in his mind during his childhood in Fairbault, Minn. Eaves' Detroit Red Wings will face the Anaheim Ducks here Sunday night and the winner will advance to the Western Conference Semifinals.
Both teams have several young players who will be playing in a Game 7 in the NHL playoffs for the first time. Detroit coach Mike Babcock's message on that matter is clear, and alluded to what Eaves meant when he mentioned all those Game 7s as a kid.
"You've got to excited to play on this stage," Babcock said. "You grow up dreaming about it, scoring the winning goal in overtime. Anybody who's been involved in hockey knew who they were and who you tried to emulate at the time. You've done it a million times. Just play the game.
"You spend your whole life growing up -- like for me it was Leaf Rapids, Manitoba, road hockey games, I was always Bobby Orr. They were the team, and I loved Bobby Orr. You're always the guy scoring the winning goal in overtime. You've done it your whole life, so just go do it."
Eaves will return to the lineup for the Red Wings after being a healthy scratch in Game 6. Babcock knew it was a tough decision to make leaving Eaves out, and he's going back to him for essentially the team's third elimination game of the season (Detroit needed at least a point in the final contest of the regular season to secure a playoff bid).
He will play on the team's fourth line like normal, but Eaves will replace Cory Emmerton and that leaves the Red Wings without a typical center among the trio. Mikael Samuelsson skated in the middle of Emmerton and Todd Bertuzzi during the morning skate.
"We're three good hockey players," Eaves said. "I don't think it really matters if we're wingers or whatever. I think at some point we've all played center in our career, but we're all good hockey players and we can help each out other. It is just about communication and we'll be fine ... We're not looking at it as a big deal at all."
Added Babcock: "Someone will [play center]. We've got lots of centers on the team, just not necessarily on that line. We'll work it out. ... I didn't think we were physical enough [in Game 6]. I think the last time Eaves played, he had seven finished checks or six finished checks. I trust him with the puck. I want Samuelsson for the power play. I like [Bertuzzi]'s big body. I went through it all and tried to figure out how to do it."
It could make for an interesting matchup -- the fourth lines have spent a lot time in this series facing each other, and the Ducks employ David Steckel, one of the top faceoff guys in the League, on their fourth unit. Earlier in the series, Emerson Etem (a breakout star of sorts with his strong play) noted Steckel's ability to win draws and help the line start with the puck as a big key for his and Kyle Palmieri's success.
Speaking of matchups, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau will have the last change at home for this contest, which will afford him the chance to keep his top line away from Pavel Dastyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
Boudreau will put his third line, centered by Saku Koivu, out against Detroit's big guns instead.
"That's the goal with the home ice," Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. "We want to put [Koivu] and those guys against them and let them try to check them, rather than us trying to play offense and defense."
This will be the fifth Game 7 of Boudreau's NHL coaching career. As he put it, they're all different because each series "tells its own story." He acknowledged being opposite Babcock, who has been the Stanley Cup Final three times and won gold with Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics, has been a challenge.
"I know at the end of the each of these games I am pretty whipped," Boudreau said. "That tells me I'm having to do more thinking than I really want to do. And besides, when you're trying to match wits with Mike, who has been in every pressure situation in the world, it is not the easiest thing."
Babcock, when told of this, responded, "My wife would tell you that matching wits with me isn't that tough, so I don't know what he's talking about."
Here are the projected lineups for Game 7:
Injured: Toni Lydman (head)