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Wings hold pre-series press conference

by Staff Writer / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT -- The Red Wings held a press conference following their practice on Thursday -- the day before Game 1 of the Western Conference finals against the Anaheim Ducks. Coach Mike Babcock, center Kris Draper and linemates Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk met with the media at Joe Louis Arena. Below is a transcript of what was said:

Questions for coach Mike Babcock
Q: All three Norris Trophy finalists are in this series. You know them all well. Can you compare and contrast them at all?

Coach Mike Babcock
MIKE BABCOCK: Well, they're all really good players. They're better than really good. They're all super players. You know, Nicklas Lidstrom is just Mr. Dependable, does everything right, slides on the blue line in the offensive zone as good as anybody, makes as good a first pass, great stick, good defensively, smooth. Great human being and good leader. Scott Niedermayer is a rover, can jump past you, skates the puck out of trouble, skates better than any D man in the league. I said yesterday, I thought he was the difference when we lost in '03 to New Jersey. He just makes special, special plays. It's hard to handle him. One minute he's there. The next minute he's gone. You have to know where he is on the ice. He seems to raise his game at the key times. He's won everything there is to win as a team guy. Obviously, a real leader, good person. Pronger, I don't know personally. I haven't coached him. I coached the other two. Just from coaching against him, obviously a huge presence, great stick. Playoff guy, can play the game mean and nasty, has an absolute bomb on the power play. I think he's a model for not cleaning the puck off. He gets it on his forehand, can move it up the ice as good as anybody. They're all really good players.

Q: You've coached a team that's been an overwhelming underdog in the playoffs, you've coached when you were a big favorite. Pendulum may have swung a little bit back. What is the difference in coaching in those dynamics?

MIKE BABCOCK: There's no difference in the third round. The only time there's any difference like that is in the first round. I mean, everybody here in the final four has had a good year. Pressure's an interesting thing. You can accept pressure or you can apply it, put it on the other team. To me, the bottom line is that's not the case at this time of the year. It's just about playing the game. It's interesting, we weren't a favorite against Calgary. We weren't a favorite against -- who did we play next? -- San Jose, and we're not a favorite now. I don't know if that has any effect on the outcome of the series. Bottom line is, they got a good team, we got a good team, let's play.

Q: The guys still in Anaheim that you coached, especially the guys that went through it with you in '03, is it going to be odd at all? Talk about coaching against them, especially with so much at stake here.

MIKE BABCOCK: Well, I mean, the first thing is when you win with guys -- it was interesting, someone called me yesterday, I was sitting on my couch looking at the TV, I looked on the wall, I have Anaheim '03 picture, I have a World Championship '04 picture. '04 you have Giguere, Niedermayer brothers. In the Anaheim one you have -- obviously Giguere was a huge part of it. There were a few guys. A lot of those guys were kids in the minors. The team is drastically different. I'm very appreciative of the effort those people gave me and gave the organization when I was there. They're obviously real class people, real good competitors, real good people. I mean, I enjoyed my time in Anaheim. Thus far, the best ride I've had in my coaching career at the professional level was in '03 going to the final. It was disappointing to lose, but it was still a great ride. To be back to the Final Four here again with a different organization, one that's treated me first class, it's been fantastic as well. As much as I miss the pool and the sun, my home in Anaheim, where I live in Northville is no slouch, either. Pretty nice spot.

Q: How much did your message have to change in terms of the style of play you wanted Detroit to play since last spring?

MIKE BABCOCK: (Smiling.) Not really at all. It's interesting. You get this all the time. When I was in Anaheim, we were a defensive team. They wanted to open it wide open. Then they did that for a couple months, then they started the check. We came to Detroit and scored all these goals and played exactly the same way, lots of ways, as we did in Anaheim. A lot of the same principles. But we had more talent. This year, we played exactly the same way, but the puck wouldn't go in the net. When the puck doesn't go in the net, everyone started talking, it was like seven games into the year, now we were this defensive team that checks, checks, checks, but we didn't score. Instead of the score being 5-2, and you open it up a little bit more, the score was 2-2 and we had to check like crazy to find a way to win. Now, I'm a big believer in you work with what you have. You'd like to score a whole ton every night. When I looked at Anaheim, scored about the same amount of goals, we were both pretty good defensively, I still believe you got to look after your own end to allow success to come out. But I think our message here wasn't about offense or defense; it was about being more competitive, being harder to play against. I thought Anaheim really helped us with that this year. We went into their building and they abused us the first game of the year, so did San Jose. That kind of got us on our way. If we want to be successful, if we don't want to be one-and-done at playoff time, we better become more competitive. Part of that is the roster changes that take place. You don't turn apples into oranges very often. We were able to make changes. But not just make changes -- the people we had first-year players last year, there were a lot of them on our team, are now in the second year, playing harder. Cleary, Franzen, Samuelsson, huge parts of that, Lilja, Markov. I think that's more what's changed here than anything. Long answer, sorry.

Q: I think Chris (Chelios) is 15 months older than you are. Did you imagine coming here how it would be to coach a player given that dynamic, and what has it been like over the two years, how you coach him?

MIKE BABCOCK: Well, the first time I ever saw Cheli, I was 17 and he was 18, or I was 16 and he was 17 and he was playing at Moose Jaw and I was playing Saskatoon. I was playing against him. He was a lot better than me. He got to play hockey, I had to do something else. This is what I'll tell you about Chris. His hunger to win and his hunger to compete is as good as -- we have Hasek and Lidstrom, it's phenomenal, but Cheli will do anything you want as long as it leads to winning. He's a great leader and he's a great man. We've been real fortunate, or I have, to get to know his family a little bit, to see how proud he is of his boys, to have them around. They're on the father-son trip. Just to see how he is. I think Cheli is a great contributor to our team, but I think he's a huge contributor to the community. These guys, Steve Yzerman, Lidstrom, Hasek, (Brendan) Shanahan, when he was here, because they've been around so much, they make you a better coach. What I mean by that is they got some ideas and they deserve the right to be heard. They help you become a better coach. They see things differently sometimes than you do. You better know what you're talking about when you're talking to 'em. If you think they're in just because you're the coach, they're not. They're in if you're right. They're in if they believe it's going to work. In saying that, I think he's been fantastic. It's been a real opportunity growing-wise for me to get to coach him. I learned a lot from him. You know, even today we were going out on the ice, he was last in the room, him and Hasek, he was telling me something about the penalty kill. We'd already discussed the same thing as a coaching stuff, but he was making sure we knew. I don't know how you get better than that.

Center Kris Draper

Questions for Kris Draper
Q: Kris, I don't know if it's fair or not, but there seems to be a perception that you guys have become a much harder team to play against now as opposed to maybe a year ago. Could you talk a little about that and also the transition from previous coaches to Mike Babcock, how that has all eventuated, if the two are related at all.

KRIS DRAPER: First of all, I would agree with that. I think we are a tougher team to play against. At the trade deadline, we added some size and strength, some grit when we added obviously a big body in Todd Bertuzzi. Helping him certainly helped our team, added a lot of size and strength. Kyle Calder is a tough guy to play against, gritty guy, great along the boards, similar to a Tomas Holmstrom-type player, likes taking the puck down along the boards, driving it to the net, the kind of plays you need come playoff time. I think that certainly helped us out. Johan Franzen has been great for us, big, strong, really his confidence, you can see him getting more confident every game and every series we've played in, especially when he scored that big goal against Calgary, which was huge for our team. Danny Cleary, the list goes on, Markov has been playing tough for us. I think we are a tougher team to play against. We made some changes, needed to make some changes after having early exits the last couple years. I think that has been addressed. With that, obviously that's exactly what Mike Babcock wants. He wants us to be a tougher team to play against. He felt at the start of the year that we're a faster team, but certainly if we could get bigger, we would like to get bigger. That's exactly what Kenny Holland did at the trade deadline by adding the size of Todd Bertuzzi. A guy, when he's finishing his checks, everyone is looking on the ice to see where Todd is. That's obviously a presence that's been huge for our hockey club.

Q: For many years I think you guys have been expected to win every playoff round that you've been involved in. Maybe it's changed a little bit this year. Certainly I think the pressure on Anaheim to win after what happened last year in their regular-season. Do you think it makes a difference in the dressing room if you are or are not expected to win?

KRIS DRAPER: I've been lucky to only be on the side of being the favorite. You know, here in Detroit, like you said, when we come into the playoffs, the expectations are that we're going to have a successful run. Unfortunately that hasn't happened here the last couple years. You know, coming into the playoffs, when you're an eight seed or seven seed, you're in a series 1-1 or 2-2 with a favorite, you know, you realize that you can play a little bit looser. I think we've seen that in the past by teams coming into this building, whether they've got a split or whether they've won two games, the next thing you know they're going to the Stanley Cup Finals. Anaheim did it to us, Calgary did it to us, Edmonton did it to us. I think that's kind of where the confidence builds.

Q: Kris, you had Calgary, big team, San Jose, big team, now you have a huge team with Anaheim, how do you deal with the likes of Chris Pronger?

KRIS DRAPER: Well, you know, we have a lot of respect for Pronger. He's certainly one of the elite defensemen in the league. Same thing said with Niedermayer. You know, what we want to do is very similar to the way we played Dion Phaneuf, try to get pucks behind him. Any time we have a chance to finish our checks, we want to finish our checks. That's not just one line. That's what we want every line doing. I think at the start of the playoffs, watching Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Holmstrom, how they were finishing their checks, competing, kind of rubs off on everyone. We've been able to do that. I think a big part of our success has been using four lines and trying to wear down the other team. That's exactly what we're going to continue to do here. We know Pronger, Niedermayer are, basically one of them is going to be on the ice half the game. They play 31, 32 minutes. They're a huge part of the success of Anaheim. We know that. We respect that but for us, any time we get opportunities to finish checks, we have to do that. We have to be, you know, that same tough team to play against.

Q: The physical drain of playing a six-game series against teams that were fairly physical, coming into this series, does the mental adrenaline you get from playing in the Conference Finals, does that outweigh the banging up you took in these first two series?

KRIS DRAPER: Yeah, absolutely. I think both sides know what's at stake here. That's obviously having an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup. Fatigue, you can't set it in. The important thing for us is we were able to beat San Jose in six games, not having to play obviously Game 7, it would have been last night. That would have been something that I think would have been an advantage for Anaheim. But we had travel day on Tuesday, optional yesterday before we skated today. We've had the three days here to get some rest. So fatigue shouldn't be a factor. Like I said before, we've used pretty well steady four lines all through the playoffs. A lot of guys have been playing a lot of minutes, which is I think good for our hockey club. The physical fatigue at this time of year, you just realize you put that on the back burner and realize how close you are to getting into the Stanley Cup Finals, and that outweighs anything. It's just the opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup once again.

Left wing Henrik Zetterberg

Questions for Zetterberg and Datsyuk
Q: Henrik, can you talk about Niedermayer and Pronger, how maybe they're the same and how they're different as defensemen.

HENRIK ZETTERBERG: I think they started -- they're two good defensemen. They're playing a lot. So I don't think they're going to play together. But they are really good defensemen. They're a big part of their team.

Q: Henrik, after missing the last 19 games of the regular-season, have you felt stronger and stronger as the playoffs have gone along? How do you feel now?

HENRIK ZETTERBERG: Yeah, I think first couple games was a little bit tough. Not so much physically, but timing-wise. I think the more I played the better that I've become. I feel good now. I think these few days here, it was good for my body, too. I'm ready to go tomorrow.

Q: Henrik, can you just talk about the team going into this series. What area do you feel you need to improve on the most? Is there anything in particular that you guys are looking to?

HENRIK ZETTERBERG: Well, the start of the games I think we have to play a little bit better (smiling). We've been giving up a little bit too many chances from the start. I think that has to improve. Other than that, just need to keep going, keep playing, keep the special teams going.

Center Pavel Datsyuk
Q: Which one is the tougher defenseman to play against, Pronger or Niedermayer, and why?

HENRIK ZETTERBERG: I don't know. You know, Pronger is of course a bigger guy. But I think Niedermayer is a better skater. It's maybe tougher to go around Niedermayer because he's such a good skater. But on the other hand Pronger is a big guy, so he's got a long reach.

PAVEL DATSYUK: I think Niedermayer is more better skater. I think not too different on Anaheim team, good team. We'll still plan, looking forward, do good job.

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