DETROIT -- Jimmy Howard lost his train of thought thanks to a compliment paid by none other than Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe.
"Forwards hate this guy," Howe told a reporter interviewing Howard on Tuesday inside the Red Wings' locker room after Detroit's 3-1 win in Game 6 of their Western Conference Semifinal series against the San Jose Sharks.
Not long afterward, legendary veteran teammates and future Hall of Famers Nicklas Lidstrom and Mike Modano shared a smile, a high five and mini-chest bump after Modano's first appearance in what's been a memorable series for the Wings, who have overcome long odds to even up a series the Sharks once led 3-0.
"Hey, nice game," Lidstrom said, patting Modano on the back.
"You, too," Modano replied.
Indeed, it was a special night for an organization that has had many in its annals. Howe was there. Ted Lindsay visited earlier in the day. Former star defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov, who nearly died in a limousine accident after Detroit won the Stanley Cup in 1997, paid a visit to Detroit's locker room before the game.
"It's special to have a man like (Howe) come into the dressing room and Mr. Lindsay was in here … Vladdy was in here," Howard marveled. "It's just the tradition and the guys who played prior to us … they come around showing their support and it means a lot to us."
Now there's still one significant detail keeping the Wings' dream scenario from joining the sweetest memories in franchise history: Game 7 on Thursday at HP Pavilion in San Jose (9 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN, RDS). If the Red Wings can't win a fourth straight game and complete their improbable comeback, all the cool stuff that happened at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday will become much less memorable.
A win, though, and this team will accomplish something no other Red Wings team has done and only three NHL teams in all can claim -- winning a series after falling down 0-3. That, however, was a topic the Red Wings tried to avoid Wednesday before flying to San Jose.
"It's not going to be easy," said Lidstrom, who's had an impressive series with 4 goals and 6 points. "We're going to have to show up (Thursday) to get away with a win. You can't think about (making history). Your focus has got to be the same approach we had in the last three games. We're one win away from moving on, but we're also one loss away from not playing anymore in the playoffs. We know what's at stake, so our approach is going to be the same as the last three games."
Star forward Henrik Zetterberg, who missed Detroit's first series with a lower-body injury but is having a big series against the Sharks (2 goals, 7 points), echoed Lidstrom's outlook.
"It's still the first to four," he said. "They won three, we won three. Now it's one game that decides what team is going to move on. We're going to embrace that challenge because it's not often you have a chance to play Game 7s."
Rarer still are Game 7s created by fighting back from near-impossible odds to force the ultimate elimination game. In fact, teams losing the first three games of a series between 1976 and 2010 failed to force a Game 7 in 112 consecutive series. That streak was snapped when Philadelphia rallied from 0-3 down in the 2010 conference semis against Boston to become the first team in 30 years to win a Game 7 after being down 0-3 in a series. Detroit now follows Chicago in the first round this year against Vancouver to pull the trick.
Many thought the Blackhawks were in the driver's seat after their overtime win in Game 6 at the United Center, despite Game 7 being in Vancouver's Rogers Arena. Instead, the Canucks controlled most of that game and clinched the series on Alexandre Burrows' overtime goal.
The Red Wings expect no less of an effort from the Sharks on Thursday. What can the Red Wings do differently than the Blackhawks to come out on top?
Howard just hunched his shoulders.
"Play," he said following Game 6. "I mean, what can you do? You just go out there, play, give it your all and see what happens. That's all that anyone can ask from you, so that's what we've got to do -- just go play and leave it all out there."
Having confidence can't hurt, either.
While the Red Wings players have chosen their words carefully ever since falling into the 0-3 hole, Detroit's confidence in this series has grown immensely with each of their wins. Coach Mike Babcock even went so far as to say before Game 6 that his team "definitely" was going back to San Jose.
He turned out to be correct, even though his team wasn't aware of his supremely confident quote. Once told, however, it didn't surprise any of them.
"I had no clue he said that," Howard said. "It is confident talk, but I think a lot of the confidence comes from within this dressing room, when you're looking over at No. 5 (Lidstrom), No. 33 (Kris Draper) and the calmness they have. They have the same demeanor every single day and it trickles down through the team."
For our team, as a group, we've never been this far before, and so it's just more lessons learned, and sometimes you have to go to the school of hard knocks to find out what works and what doesn't. We've got a young group. They've played some unreal hockey here to get us this far, and we showed if we're not going to play the proper way, a really, really good hockey team is going to beat you, and that's what they did. It's a lesson learned.
— Lightning coach Jon Cooper after Rangers win in Game 6 forced a Game 7 that will be played at Madison Square Garden on Friday