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Wings' Rafalski has plan for sleep before Game 7 @NHLdotcom

DETROIT (AP) - Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski knows what it's like to play in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals because he's done it twice.

How does he sleep the night before such a big game?

"Ambien," Rafalski deadpanned Thursday. "That helps.

"It puts you to sleep. I'm serious."

Detroit coach Mike Babcock said he leaned on Rafalski for advice in a team meeting a day before facing the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.

"I went to Rafi right away," Babcock recalled. "I said, 'What can you tell us, Rafi?'

"He had some thoughts to share with the guys."

Rafalski relayed his message to reporters.

"I said, 'The start is very important. The first goal is important,"' Rafalski recalled saying. "If you get an early one-goal cushion, it allows for a bad bounce or a bad penalty."

Rafalski, who is 5-1 in Game 7s, has experienced the joy and pain of the last game in the finals.

He played in two of the previous four Stanley Cup Game 7s, helping the New Jersey Devils beat the Babcock-coached Anaheim Ducks in 2003 and losing against Colorado in 2001.

"It's the peak and the bottom," Rafalski said. "To get that close and lose, it's heartbreaking and difficult.

"If you win, you have an enjoyable summer."

Rafalski enjoyed last offseason because he won his third Cup in his first season with the Red Wings.

He was born in nearby Dearborn, raised in a few towns in the area and chose to sign with his hometown team when he was a free agent two years ago.

Rafalski plays home games at storied Joe Louis Arena, which is less than 10 miles from the place he became a "rink rat" in Melvindale.

"I remember him as a regular kid, who was really good and was here all the time," Brian Thomas said Thursday from the Melvindale Civic Arena. "I was the Zamboni driver then. I'm the supervisor now.

"To me, it was a great story when he played for New Jersey and in the Olympics. But it's a better story now because he's playing for my favorite team."

When the 35-year-old Rafalski was a kid, his favorite team was so bad it was called "The Dead Wings," because they lost a lot and no one cared.

"We used to come down to the Joe back in the '80s when you could sit anywhere you wanted," Rafalski recalled. "We used to try to sit up by the organ player and watch him for a little while, then move around and try to sit down by the glass."

Rafalski insisted, though, he will not try to soak up the atmosphere and gaze into the banner-filled rafters in the first Game 7 of Stanley Cup finals in the Motor City since 1955.

"Not right now," he said. "Those are things you look back on."

Rafalski's debut season in Detroit almost ended in a spectacular way when he scored a go-ahead goal midway through Game 5 last year against the Penguins. But Max Talbot scored on an assist from Marian Hossa at the 19:25 mark of the third period.

"Yeah, 33.36, I don't remember exactly," Rafalski joked about how much time was left on the clock before his magical moment was negated.

Petr Sykora ended up lifting Pittsburgh to a triple-overtime victory in that game and Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall will never forget what Rafalski said to his shaken teammates in the dressing room to get them ready to hoist the Cup in Game 6 at Pittsburgh.

"After we lost Game 5 at home he said, `Guys, I've been through this. Just stick together. We're going to pull it off,"' Kronwall recalled. "Things like that just calms guys down."

Rafalski said he can chill out enough during the regular season that he usually can get to sleep without a sleep-inducing pill, but that changes during the playoffs.

Will he pop two Ambiens the night before Game 7?

"No, you'd be comatose on the bench," Rafalski said with a chuckle.

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