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Wings want The Joe rockin' on Monday

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Al Sobotka is the only man in the world who can stir a crowd into temporary delirium just by swinging an octopus over his head at Red Wings games. (Photo by Dave Reginek)

DETROIT – As desperate as the Chicago Blackhawks played on Saturday, the Red Wings now find themselves in a similar situation, needing a win to avoid a return trip into the Windy City for Game 7.

And that’s where the Wings’ fans can help out Monday night at Joe Louis Arena.

“When you play well in front of your home crowd, they got something to cheer about and they can help you along,” coach Mike Babcock said Sunday afternoon. “When you don't play well, there's not much they can do for you. We like to play at home, we're comfortable here. We're excited that they're excited to support us. We've done a real good job of getting our group excited again about the Red Wings because we're a much different group than we have been.”

Facing elimination before their home fans, the Blackhawks played with urgency that helped them extend the Western Conference semifinal series with a 4-1 victory at the United Center. Now it’s the Red Wings’ turn. The players feel the same urgency to finish the best-of-seven series before their home crowd, which traditionally is one of the loudest buildings in the league.

“A lot of guys have played deep into the playoffs when it gets really loud, but I will say that the loudness that it’s been … the first round of the playoffs,” Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “We’re really looking forward to tomorrow and we know it’s going to be loud again. We want to play a good game for them.”

The Red Wings are 4-1 at home in the postseason. Since the start of April, they are 8-1-1 at home while outscoring their opponents 29-19.

Fans have always gotten behind the Red Wings at playoff time. However, success has led to complacency over the years, and The Joe hasn’t always been at its loudest over the last decade.

In the last few years though it seems that the crowds at JLA have gotten younger and definitely more boisterous, especially at key moments of the game or when arena manager Al Sobokta picks up an octopus that’s been tossed from the stands, then gives the cephalopod a vigorous twirl over his head to incite the Wings’ faithful.

“Our fan base is incredible, has been for so many years,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “But I will say the atmosphere in the building here of late has been phenomenal, even throughout the year. It's been taken to another step it feels like.”

The national anthem at the United Center is one of – if not the best – spectacles in North America sports. From the instant that anthem signer Jim Cornelison breaks into the “Star Spangled Banner” the building is electric. And the players feed from that emotion.

For Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith, who played two seasons at Michigan State before turning pro, there are no mystical powers that give the Red Wings an advantage to playing at Joe Louis Arena.

“I don’t think there’s any difference other than the crowd’s cheering for them,” Keith said. “It’s just like any other building. It’s a fun place to play, a fun atmosphere. I think it’s just they’re a good team. They play hard and we need to be ready like we were last game.”

One thing Keith doesn’t plan on being is as curious the next time a creature with eight-tentacles lands near him on the ice, as one did before the start of Game 4 at The Joe.

“Oh, I just wanted to look at that thing,” Keith said. “I’d never seen something like that, that big.”

As the Blackhawks’ defenseman skated toward Sobokta to get a closer look at the octopus, Keith said, “That thing’s gross.”

“You’d better get out of the way,” Sobotka said, “or you’re going to get hit.”

Wisely, Keith thought, “So, I was like, ‘Alright, I better get out of the way then.’ ”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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