DETROIT -- At the end of the 2006 regular-season, the Red Wings seemed poised to once again make a run for the Stanley Cup. They won the Presidents’ Trophy for most regular-season victories and went into the playoffs as the top seed once again.
The Edmonton Oilers had a different plan. With only 95 points -- 29 fewer than the Red Wings -- Edmonton had secured the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs in the last week of the season, and came into Detroit on a mission.
It took Edmonton all of six games to knock off the league’s top team, and the Wings remember it as part of a building process.
“Really, for me the rebuilding really started when the work stoppage came,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “We had some young kids, (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Pavel) Datsyuk, who are just starting to get the experience of playing in the playoffs. We went out and our staff found some home players like Dan Cleary and Andreas Lilja, Mikael Samuelsson, and (we had a) disappointing loss to Edmonton.”
Disappointing for Detroit, but not for Penguins right winger Georges Laraque, who was a part of that Oilers’ team who went all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, losing to Carolina in seven games.
Losing to the Hurricanes helps Laraque understand just how special the Stanley Cup finals is for those who play the game.
“The thing we talk about is the experience of being in the finals and knowing that if you lose, you can’t be like ‘Well there’s always next year,’ ” he said. “And if you’re down two nothing you can’t say ‘Oh, next year we’ll have another chance’ because you don’t know.”
That kind of advice is helpful to the younger players, like Pittsburgh’s Jordan Staal.
“I’ve talked to guys who’ve won it, it’s kind of neat just to pick their mind a little bit about what they think,” said Stall who will make his first finals appearance.
Beating Detroit in 2006 hasn’t exactly filled Laraque with any more confidence.
“They’re a different team, they’re way different than two years ago when we played them,” he said. “They’ve added grit and a lot of great players and they’re a way better team than they were two year ago, so it’s going to be way harder to beat them.
“They’re a great team, a lot of speed in their lineup, kind of similar to our team so it’s going to be really hard, so we have to take it one day at a time, especially starting in Detroit.”
Laraque isn’t the only one who learned from that defeat in 2006. Wings coach Mike Babcock was able to get a playoff series under his belt as the new coach for Detroit.
“I had no idea what it was going to be like the first year when the playoffs started, because the expectation, not just because of the expectations, but because of previous defeats and the tightness of our team,” said Babcock who will be making his second finals appearance as an NHL head coach. “For me my first year here in Detroit was a real learning experience at playoff time.”
What Babcock and Laraque both learned though is how precious these opportunities are.
“You gotta try to win it now, because you never know if you’ll have this chance again in your career,” Laraque said. “Two years ago in Game 7 I didn’t know that two years later I’d have a chance to be in the Stanley Cup finals. You only get this chance so many times in your career. It doesn’t matter that we’re young, we gotta win it now, and we’re going to do everything in our power to do it.”