Been there. Done that. Have multiple T-shirts.
The easiest reason to say the Red Wings will win the Stanley Cup this spring is because they know every bump and pothole along the way on the grueling road to the finals.
For long stretches this season, the Red Wings appeared to have lost the map, but their struggles were the logical outcropping of transitioning to a younger lineup; one missing the likes of Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler
, Mikael Samuelsson and Tomas Kopecky.
Now throw in a seemingly endless run of injuries. Johan Franzen
, Tomas Holmstrom
, Valtteri Filppula
, Dan Cleary, Niklas Kronwall
, Jason Williams, Kirk Maltby and Andreas Lilja all spent time on the injured list. That's a pretty good second reason why the Red Wings looked like imposters to the powerhouse of seasons past.
But Franzen got back right before the Olympic break and the Red Wings roared back from that two-week break to climb steadily up the Western Conference ladder, eventually reaching 100 points again.
"Now, a couple of things happened to us over the Olympics," coach Mike Babcock said. "Pavel's (Datsyuk) team lost out early. And the Swedes lost out early, giving them a little more rest than maybe some of the teams that would have went to a final. So that was a positive situation, even though in their mind probably negative, it was good for our team being self-serving. We've been able to get on a run.
"We've got a proud group here. I think we easily could have been derailed if we didn't have good leadership and our best players didn't care a lot. But they found a way to dig in.
"The great thing about the playoffs is we all know everybody has a shot now. It's as tight as it's ever been top to bottom. And, in particular in the West, I think there's a lot of parity. It should be fun."