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Draper closing in on fifth Stanley Cup

by Brian Compton
DETROIT -- Some players go their entire careers without ever being just one victory away from a Stanley Cup championship.

For someone as fortunate as Detroit Red Wings forward Kris Draper, this is almost like Groundhog Day.

Incredibly, Draper -- as well as teammates Nicklas Lidstrom, Kirk Maltby, Tomas Holmstrom and Darren McCarty -- is just a win away from a fifth Stanley Cup championship. The Wings can win their fifth crown in 12 years with a victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final at Mellon Arena on Tuesday night.

"It doesn't matter if it's your first time, or if you've played in multiple Stanley Cup Finals … this is the best thing that a hockey player can go through," Draper said at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday. "That's the one thing that we've talked about -- to make sure that we're ready to play and lay everything on the line and have no regrets. Just enjoy the moment. That's what we've been doing."

It's been 14 years since Draper played in his first Stanley Cup Final, when the Red Wings were swept by the New Jersey Devils in four straight games. Two years later, Draper fulfilled a lifelong dream when Detroit defeated the Philadelphia Flyers -- which also ended a 42-year title drought in the Motor City.

Little did he know it would be the start of one of the most remarkable runs in professional sports.

"My first Stanley Cup Final, when I played against the New Jersey Devils, we lost and it was disappointing," Draper said. "But with that fact, it's a great opportunity and it's a great thrill. It doesn't matter if you're in your early 20s or if you're getting old. This is always a great experience and it's a lot of fun to be going through with the teammates that we have."

 It's been somewhat of a bittersweet postseason for Draper, who has fought injuries and other obstacles -- such as being a healthy scratch for Games 2 and 3 of this series -- along the way. And although the Red Wings often find themselves in the position they're currently in, Draper -- who turned 38 on May 24 -- has never allowed the feeling to get old.

"It's so hard to get back to this point that I think the older you get, the more you appreciate everything that's involved," Draper said. "The sacrifices from training camp to the 82 games to the start of the playoffs … you put yourself in that situation and you try to get that opportunity to get back in the Stanley Cup Final and to make yourself successful.

"I know for me, it's something that I'll never take for granted. I realize how fortunate that I am to be back here, how fortunate I am to be playing with the teammates that I have. I'm just really taking it all in. For a hockey player, it just doesn't get any better than this."

It could on Tuesday night for Draper, whose team is a solid 60 minutes away from a fifth championship. Or, as it's referred to in sports, "one for the thumb."

Never in a million years could Draper have imagined he'd be in this position as he shook hands with the Devils 14 years ago.

"I love watching the game, but I'll be honest … when we're not in the Stanley Cup Final, I never watch the end," Draper said. "I watch the hockey and as soon as I kind of realize what's going to happen, I turn the TV off or change the channel. Everything that we do as hockey players, all we want to do is get your name on that Stanley Cup. You can never have it on enough."

Being the seasoned veteran he is, though, Draper is doing his best to not get ahead of himself. After all, the Red Wings have yet to win in Pittsburgh in this series. If necessary, Game 7 would be played at Joe Louis Arena on Friday. That gives Draper and his fortunate teammates two cracks at the drive for five.

"I can't even look to that right now. When you only think that you need one more win, the imagination is going to wander," Draper said. "But right now, you just have to keep everything in check. We haven't accomplished anything. When we lost the two games in Pittsburgh, we basically said it was best two-out-of-three now. That's the one thing this team has been very good at -- just staying even-keel. I would love to talk about that in a couple of days, but I know how much work we have."
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