Skip to main content

Red Wings aren't looking past Blue Jackets

NHL.com @NHL

DETROIT (AP) -The Detroit Red Wings are just about always in the playoffs.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are there for the first time in franchise history.

The defending Stanley Cup champions, though, insist they're not looking past the postseason neophytes.

"We're taking this seriously," Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg said Tuesday. "The first round is tough.

"You have to get off to a quick start or it will be over quick. We've been in that situation, too."

With many of their current players, the Red Wings lost in the first round three years ago against eight-seeded Edmonton and didn't advance in 2003 or '01.

Columbus is about to make its own postseason history.

"We're an underdog because of the names," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "But we're here. We're at the dance. So, let's play."

Game 1 is Thursday night in Detroit.

The Blue Jackets won a franchise-high 41 games - six more than their previous best season since joining the NHL in 2000 - in Hitchcock's third season behind the bench.

Changing the losing culture in Columbus keyed the turnaround, Hitchcock said.

"When you exit the locker room and you feel the same way after a win or after a loss, you're in deep trouble," said Hitchcock, who was hired early in the 2006-07 season. "That was what was going on here. The wins felt the same as the losses.

"That's completely changed now."

Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said players such as goalie Steve Mason and forward Rick Nash, along with Hitchcock's coaching are enough to get his attention.

"Mason had a terrific season and Nash had 40 goals," Lidstrom said. "But the biggest reason they're in the playoffs is how well they're playing Ken Hitchcock's system.

"They play real well without the puck and they don't give you a lot of space to skate."

The Red Wings won a lot of games this season, as usual, but they stumbled down the stretch with a 3-6-1 record.

Detroit coach Mike Babcock said the Red Wings weren't emotionally or physically engaged when it was clear the San Jose Sharks would finish with the NHL's best record.

Overall, though, he was pleased with how his players avoided a championship hangover.

"If you told me at the start of the year that we were going to get 51 wins, I would've said, 'You're out of your mind.' I never dreamed we could do that," Babcock said. "I thought we would be too worn out.

"It wasn't pretty, but a lot of people would like to be us."

Columbus doesn't need to be envious of the Red Wings because it fared pretty well in the regular season, winning twice in regulation and once in overtime against them, including an 8-2 victory last month at Joe Louis Arena.

"We beat every team that's in the playoffs this year at least once," Columbus' R.J. Umberger said.

While the Red Wings are not publicly looking past Columbus and toward a third Stanley Cup title in seven seasons, Blue Jackets defenseman Mike Commodore wouldn't mind if they were.

"I don't think they will, but I hope they do," he said. "That would be fine with me."

Chances are, though, the Red Wings will be mentally and physically on top of their game.

They assembled a team talented enough to compete in the NHL before the salary cap and they know financial constraints will break up the current roster.

Marian Hossa is playing on a one-year contract, hoping his financial sacrifice will pay off by hoisting the Stanley Cup in a couple of months, after turning down a chance to make a lot more money with the defending Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

"The feeling after you win must be amazing," Hossa said. "Last year, I was very close to that and that is going to drive me to feel that feeling."

Zetterberg and Johan Franzen signed 12- and 11-year contracts this season to stay in Detroit, instead of become free agents this summer, and those deals will prevent some teammates from returning next season.

Seizing the moment will be one of Babcock's messages.

"These opportunities with good teams don't come very often," he said.

View More