It’s the last full practice before Detroit kicks-off the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs against the Phoenix Coyotes, and the mood on the ice and in the locker room is changed, elevated somehow. Babcock can see it in his players.
“Just night and day different,” Babcock said after Tuesday’s practice. “Not just the practice, but how they were sitting around before practice, how the (pre-practice) meeting was, you know, it doesn’t matter who you are.”
Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom
acknowledged the increase in focus and fervor in his teammates.
“There’s 16 teams battling for the Cup now, and instead of having 82 games, now it comes down to winning a series,” Lidstrom said. “It’s a different mindset. You could tell in practice that it was a different mindset out there.”
Despite having a winning record over the Coyotes during the regular-season – Detroit went 2-1-1 against Phoenix – the third-seeded Wings realize they have a tough road ahead of them against the sixth-seeded Coyotes.
“They play a very good system,” Lidstrom said. “They don’t give up any 3-on-2s or 2-on-1s. They just play a very sound system, defensive system, (in the) neutral zone and defensive zone. So they’re very tough to get scoring chances against.”
Shoring up Phoenix’s defensive prowess is netminder Ilya Bryzgalov, who is in the league’s top-10 for save percentage (.921) and wins (36).
“He’s one of the best in the league,” Lidstrom said. “He’s so big in net. He’s very athletic. He’s making those saves where you think you’re going to score on them.”
Babcock knows the test that’s ahead of his team, one made perhaps more difficult by the extra hunger Phoenix has to avenge last spring’s early exit out of the postseason, courtesy of the Wings.
“We beat them last year in the playoffs, and they’ve got a long memory,” Babcock said. “Just like everybody else. They’ve got real good goaltending, they stabilized their back end, and they’ve got veteran players, and they work hard up front. They’re going to be a real test for us, we understand.”
With a shaky end to the regular-season, the team realizes they have to improve in key areas if they want to succeed far into the postseason.
“You want to tighten up defensively,” Lidstrom said. “You want to play well in your own zone. Push the shooters to the outside and give them not as good as a chance to score from the outside. Be there for the rebounds and help out the goalies. That’s one of the things we haven’t done a good job on, being there for the rebounds.”
Still, Detroit is a confident team moving forward, and with good reason. After all, the Wings have made the playoffs every year in the past 20, a major professional sports record.
“We’re optimistic that we’re a good team and that we’re going to be well prepared and we’re going to go out and play hard,” Babcock said.
“We’re all excited again,” Lidstrom said. “It feels like you’re 18 again and heading into the playoffs. We’re all excited about getting going.”