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Red Wings have Game 7 experience on Sharks

by Brian Hedger
DETROIT -- When it comes to Game 7 experience, the numbers for the Detroit Red Wings are staggering.

Not counting inactive veteran goalie Chris Osgood -- who has played six Game 7s in his career -- the Red Wings have a combined 77 Game 7s under their belt spread among 21 players.

That's nearly twice as many players with Game 7 experience as the San Jose Sharks (11), whom the Red Wings will play Thursday at HP Pavilion (9 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN, RDS) in the deciding game of a Western Conference Semifinal series that's knotted 3-3 after Detroit stormed back from a 0-3 deficit.

"Everything is thrown out now," said Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi, who has 2 goals in three career Game 7s. "It's just one game and winner takes all. I like where we're at."

Why wouldn't he?

Though the Red Wings still are trying to overcome near-impossible odds to become just the fourth team in NHL history to drop the first three games and still win a series, they know the experience factor is weighted heavily on their side.

Scoring in Game 7s is no different. The Red Wings have scored 17 goals and 39 points in their plethora of Game 7s, while the Sharks have tallied just 3 goals and 4 points in their 11. Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard also has one Game 7 to his credit, beating the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round last season, while neither San Jose goalie -- Antti Niemi or backup Antero Niittymaki -- has played in an NHL Game 7.

However, Niemi didn't need any Game 7s en route to winning the Stanley Cup last season with the Chicago Blackhawks. Still, this will be a new experience for him while literally every Red Wing player will know the feeling of making plays under hockey's most intense microscope.

Even the younger Red Wings have a Game 7 under their belts thanks that first-round win last season, as well as 2009's seven-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final.

"Our younger players have some serious experience, and I think that's the great thing about it," said Red Wings veteran forward Kris Draper, who has played in six winner-take-all games. "These guys can draw from it. They've played in Game 7s. They've played in elimination games. So if you're talking about a player like (Justin Abdelkader) or (Darren Helm) or those guys, they've done that before and that's something that's great. There's nothing like hands-on experience, and that's exactly what those guys have."

Detroit's coach does, too.

Mike Babcock is 2-2 in four Game 7s as a head coach, and when his experience is added to his team's, it's getting close to a full, 82-game regular-season schedule's worth of seventh-game memories.

Babcock, however, wasn't exactly basking in that experience Wednesday.

"I guess until you do it the first time you just think you can do it," Babcock said. "That's where experience, I guess, comes in. Yet, you've got to do it again. That's what you've got to do every time. You've got to find a way. Experience when you have none is overrated, and when you have it you think it's great."

Like a large portion of his team, this will be Todd McLellan's first seventh game as a coach.

Defenseman Niclas Wallin leads the Sharks with four Game 7s, which is exactly half as many as Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski each has played.

Lidstrom, who leads Detroit with 7 Game 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists), is 5-3 in those series deciders.

Fellow veteran Mike Modano isn't far behind, logging six Game 7s in his illustrious career with the Stars organization. Modano played in his first game of the series in Game 6 in place of injured forward Johan Franzen (three Game 7s), and said experience helps in seventh games mainly because of the pressure to not to make mistakes.

"The nerves are very high, obviously," he said. "You just want to be quick, you want to be precise in what you do, you want to be very direct in your play as far as with the puck and without it. Ultimately you want to skate, you want to relax and take the plays that are there and not force the issue, especially on the road. I've never been in one on the road, so it's just about playing smart."

It's also about enjoying the moment and the nail-biting that comes with it.

"Those Game 7s have a lot of drama," Modano said. "Every shot, every save and everything that happens out there is magnified."
"Everything is thrown out now.  It's just one game and winner takes all. I like where we're at." -- Todd Bertuzzi
Of course, this also is new ground in at least one way for the Red Wings, who like most teams have never come back from a 0-3 deficit to force a Game 7 until now. Before the Philadelphia Flyers became the third team in NHL history to win a series after being down by three games last season, there hadn't been another team facing an 0-3 hole to even force a Game 7 since 1976 -- a span of 112 consecutive series that never got to a seventh game.

Counting the Flyers' feat and the Chicago Blackhawks taking the Vancouver Canucks to overtime of Game 7 in the first round this season, however, there's now been three series in the past seven that started 3-0 that got to a Game 7.

None of these statistics, however, interests the Red Wings at this point. Now that they've pushed the Sharks to the brink, all they see is a new one-game series with everything on the line.

"I don't know if we care how we got here," said Danny Cleary. "We're at Game 7. It can go either way. It's going to be a fun game."
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