It's not too often you get the chance to repeat a repeat. But for six Detroit Red Wings – Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Osgood, Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty – the 2009 Stanley Cup Final represents a chance to capture back-to-back championships for a second time.
A lot has changed since 1997 and 1998, which saw Detroit sweep Philadelphia and Washington, respectively -- there's been plenty of roster turnover, coaches coming and going, League-wide rule changes, etc.
But what was the first difference between then and now that came to the mind of the 38-year-old Draper?
"The biggest thing is the full beard compared to what I had back then," Draper laughed. "I couldn't grow one. There's a little gray in there now, but that's all experience."
Even Maltby, who was 25 when the Wings won it all in 1997, recognized there's a little more gray in the beard this time around.
"Not quite as much as Holmer though," Maltby joked.
Facial hair aside, the obvious difference for this group is they are no longer the younger and less-experienced members of the team, taking their cues from such legends like Steve Yzerman, Mike Vernon, Igor Larionov and Slava Fetisov. They're the go-to guys for youngsters Jonathan Ericsson, Darren Helm and Ville Leino.
Lidstrom wore the "A" the first time around, deferring to the leadership of Yzerman. Now he's the captain of the team and a sure-fire Hall of Famer, the guy who is counted on to log the major minutes against the opposition's best.
Osgood was a backup during the 1997 championship before winning the Cup as a starter the following season. After stops with the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues, he's looking to win his third Cup with the Red Wings as a starter.
The 36-year-old goaltender sized up this incarnation of the Red Wings in comparison to teams that won it all in the 1990s.
"I think both teams are pretty complete teams. They're both deep," Osgood said of the past and present squads. "It's tough because it's a different era so it's different hockey, different teams. That was more clutch and grabbing hockey. I think the talent level is a lot higher now.
"I think this team can win in more different ways than those teams could. We can win ugly. We can win a wide-open game. We can win the grind-them-out games where they're close 2-1 games where maybe we don't have anybody or we're not on our game. We're capable of just being satisfied grinding out a 2-1 win.
"I think that would be the No. 1 difference between these two teams and the teams from '97-98."
At no point during the 1997 or 1998 Cup runs did the Red Wings get pushed to a seventh game. Of the 32 wins the Red Wings amassed in those years, only nine were of the one-goal variety. Compare that to the current Red Wings, who have 11 one-goal victories the past two seasons with one more series to play.
While the roles of Lidstrom, Osgood and Holmstrom are greater now than they were then, that's not the case for everyone.
"For me to be back in the Finals is something that I've never taken for granted and I never will. I feel lucky to be able to share it with my family now. My kids are older and they certainly get very excited about this. The older you get, the more you appreciate getting back into the Stanley Cup Finals."
-- Kris Draper
Draper was just coming into his prime during the last Wings' repeat of 1997 and 1998. He's now a grizzled veteran just dying to get back into the lineup. An upper-body injury has limited Draper to just four games this postseason, but the Toronto native still appreciates how special it is just to be playing at this time of the season.
"It's amazing how fast it goes," Draper said of his time in the League. "For me to be back in the Finals is something that I've never taken for granted and I never will. I feel lucky to be able to share it with my family now. My kids are older and they certainly get very excited about this. The older you get, the more you appreciate getting back into the Stanley Cup Finals."
A lot has changed over the years for these six players, but the will to win clearly isn't one of them.
Contact Dave Lozo at firstname.lastname@example.org