DETROIT – As the youthful Phoenix Coyotes prepare for a decisive Game 7 Tuesday night, they will be leaning on a pair of former Red Wings.
Forward Robert Lang and defenseman Mathieu Schneider spent parts of three and four seasons in Detroit, respectively. Now, they both play the role of seasoned veteran on an inexperienced roster hoping for their franchise’s first playoff series win since 1987.
In the Coyotes’ Game 6 victory, Schneider scored a power-play goal that gave them a 2-0 lead, while Lang set up Radim Vrbata’s power-play goal that gave them another two-goal cushion, 3-1.
Phoenix coach Dave Tippett revealed a nickname for Schneider and Lang when he was asked about their contributions on the power play.
“The Old Timers,” Tippett said with a laugh. “Those guys have played on a few power plays in their life, so they’ve got some experience there, and we’re relying on both those guys in that department. I thought both of them, even though they’re not playing big minutes for us right now; they’re both playing smart minutes. Schneider’s giving us some poise on the blue line, and Robert Lang, he’s been a great player for a long time.”
Schneider understands that he and Lang have a responsibility to lead the young Coyotes in Game 7.
“A lot of guys here haven’t been in this situation and I think it’s up to guys like myself and Lang to keep things a little calm,” the veteran defenseman said. “But it’s an exciting time, and we’re looking forward to going home. Winner takes all.”
Defenseman Keith Yandle said the former Red Wings have helped relax the locker room in pressure situations.
“Those two guys, they bring a sense of calm, cool, collectiveness to our team when they’re playing,” Yandle said. “They really know how to slow the game down, and they’ve been doing it a lot of years - they’re really good at it.”
Despite being on the same team for the past two seasons, Game 6 was the first time the two former Wings played together over that span. Both were members of the Montreal Canadiens last season, and Schneider was traded from the Vancouver Canucks to Phoenix on March 3, yet injuries and healthy scratches prevented them from playing at the same time.
“He was hurt last year in Montreal, and this year we haven’t played together until … that was our first night,” Schneider said. “We joke about that, but for us, it’s so much fun. We really enjoy it. It’s not just about coming back in here, but we’ve been good friends and teammates for a long time.” Lang said it was easy to reconnect with Schneider on the ice.
“I think every time you have somebody you have a good history together, it’s kind of easier, and you know, you just have fun,” he said. “(Game 6) could have been the last game of the season, and you just want to make sure everybody enjoys it. What happens happens. Play hard and enjoy it. It’s a fun game.”
Coyotes fans don’t need to be concerned about the two having mixed emotions heading into Game 7, however. Both said they enjoyed playing for the Wings, but the main thing on their minds is advancing to the second round.
“We always had really good memories,” Lang said. “So every time you come here, I love playing here, it’s always been good, fans have always been great. Do we want to beat them? Of course. We’re not going to lie. Of course you want to beat them.”