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Babcock says adversity will pay off

by Staff Writer / Detroit Red Wings
By Bill Roose

-- Statistics can often be very good storytellers.

That's not the case for the Western Conference champion Red Wings and the adversity that they collectively experienced this season.

As a team, the Red Wings lost 239 man-games to injuries and illness. But it didn't slow them from winning at least 50 games for the second straight season. Even without goal scoring leader Henrik Zetterberg (back), who missed the final 19 games, the Wings managed to fend-off Nashville and Anaheim for the top-seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

Zetterberg, who scored 33 goals in the regular-season, has been skated with the team in practices and plans to be in the line-up for Thursday's Game 1.

"In the time I've been here all we've done is win," said Wings coach Mike Babcock, during a Thursday morning press conference. "It's been unbelievable. Last year we couldn't get on a bad streak. This year, we flat-out were no good at the start of the year, then five times we had lulls where we couldn't win."

Besides the injury to Zetterberg, the Wings were force to fill other significant holes with the losses of defenseman Niklas Kronwall, and forwards Tomas Kopecky and Mikael Samuelsson. Coupled by the loss of defenseman Jiri Fischer last season and forward Greg Johnson during training camp, the Wings had major issues.

Fortunately, the Red Wings have had a surplus of depth that continues to play roles in maintaining the team's edge. "We lost good players, and if you go through our stats for chucks of time, real good players, and so we had to play people all over," Babcock said. "Since I've been here we lost the Fischer kid; he'd be a stud for us. Then this year at training camp, Johnson, who's a captain of another team, who's going to be a great match-up guy for you, and he doesn't play.

"Suddenly, Val Filppula is supposed to play the whole year in the minors, is on your team, and Jiri Hudler, who would never have gotten a stiff, because Johnson would be playing, is on your team. Well, it turns out that those are real good players for us. So our depth here, obviously through scouting and development, but through accident as well, has allow us to be a better team."

New Appreciation: Babcock has always appreciated the talents of his star center Pavel Datsyuk. But he's gained a much great admiration since taking the Wings' coaching gig in the summer of 2005.

"When I first arrived in Detroit, we used to preserve him as an offensive ?wow' guy who was on the highlights some times when the game was on the line," Babcock said. "That's not what I see every day now. He's been matched up against the best people all year since (Zetterberg's injury). He's been as good a two-way player that there is in the league, for sure."

Datsyuk, who signed a seven-year contract extension last week, finished the regular-season with 27 goals and 60 assists. He missed only three games this season with a groin injury in early January.

Still, Datsyuk has his detractors, primarily because of his past poor performances in the playoffs. Babcock, however, believes that Datsyuk will surprise those critics.

"He's a dominant, elite player in the league, who gets checked every night and still finds a way to be great," Babcock said. "Now he just needs an opportunity, and health was a big part of the opportunity last year and that's not a question this year. You're going to see him dance."

Bertuzzi Update: Todd Bertuzzi returned to the ice for the Wings' morning skate on Thursday prior to Game 1 of the Red Wings playoff series with Calgary. Bertuzzi has been bothered by a concussion received when he collided with Wings goalie Chris Osgood in the first period the Wings' game at Chicago on April 7. "He had a battery of tests, I guess is how you would describe it" Babcock said. "He skated today, he exercised and did all of the things that you do in a walk-through to get ready. We'll look at him again tonight, or talk to him again tonight. Then he'll do his testing again tomorrow, and we're optimistic that he goes on Sunday."

OT Thriller: Following the opening night of the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs - where two games were decided in overtime - there must have been some sleepy eyes around the office this morning.

In the longest game, Vancouver's Henrik Sedin scored at 18:06 of the fourth overtime period, lifting the Canucks to a 5-4 win at home over Dallas.

Asked if he prefers deciding the outcome of games with overtime or by shootouts, Babcock said he would pick OT every time. "I think it's an exhilarating experience," he said. "When I was in Anaheim we won against Dallas in the fifth overtime. It was as good of an experience that I ever had. Now, to me that's what it's about. It's about competing. That's what this time of year is about.

"You spend all year waiting for your chance to compete. I think we lost eight of those shootouts this year. That leaves you with an awful feeling. For me, I don't like it. So I like for the teams to compete. I don't care what time they finish. Now I couldn't stay up, I got to tell you. I wore out last night, but I did my best. But that's exciting. What a way to start the playoffs for the National Hockey League. To me, you get teams going to overtime, whether it's in Nashville, or whether it be in Vancouver, that's exciting stuff."
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