The previous two Stanley Cup champions are meeting in the playoffs for the third time since the NHL expanded four decades ago.
ROMULUS, Mich. - The previous two Stanley Cup champions are meeting in the playoffs for the third time since the NHL expanded four decades ago.
Perhaps fittingly, a Game 7 is necessary.
The Detroit Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks have pushed their Western Conference semifinal series to the limit just as Edmonton and Calgary did in 1991 and Montreal and Boston did in 1971 in the last two match-ups of Cup winners.
"It should be exciting," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said yesterday when the team plane landed in rain on a miserable evening that matched its mood following a 2-1 loss. "Game 7s are always a lot of fun.
"It's a good opportunity for us. We played all year to have home-ice advantage."
The second-seeded Red Wings will face the eighth-seeded Ducks tonight at home, hoping to follow a trend.
Entering last night's Pittsburgh-Washington finale, home teams had won 63 percent of Game 7s since 1939.
Two of the exceptions, though, happened when the Oilers defeated the Flames in overtime and the Canadiens beat the Bruins by two goals as road teams in match-ups of previous champions.
This postseason, the Ducks have proven they can win anywhere and their confidence has grown.
"Everyone is believing we can beat this team," Anaheim star Ryan Getzlaf said.
Anaheim won Game 2 at Joe Louis Arena in triple overtime and opened the playoffs with two road wins against the top-seeded San Jose Sharks.
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle hopes his team turns the tide in shots on goal, but said that statistic isn't foolproof.
"They've gotten more shots than we have. So did San Jose," Carlyle said. "But where is San Jose?"
The Ducks avoided elimination with a 2-1 win Tuesday night, then Scott Niedermayer roughed up Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, and Corey Perry pounded Detroit's Brian Rafalski.
"I felt that some guys took liberties on certain players unknown to fight," Red Wings forward Daniel Cleary said. "So, we just have to see Thursday."
With so much at stake, Red Wings star Henrik Zetterberg doesn't expect gloves to drop again.
"I think the feelings and emotions will carry over to Game 7, but I don't think the fighting will carry over," Zetterberg said on the eve of his first Game 7.
The winner will advance to play the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals.
The loser will go home.
"I said a few words last night, and Babs said a few words," Detroit's soft-spoken captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "We know what's on the line for us, and for them."
As experienced as Lidstrom is, with a franchise-record 224 games of postseason experience, he hasn't played in a Game 7 since Detroit beat Colorado 7-0 in the 2002 conference finale and he's been in just five in his career.
"Everything is on the line," Lidstrom said. "We have to play with a sense of desperation from the start, and we have to do that for 60 minutes."
Early or late, Detroit needs Datsyuk to score.
The NHL MVP finalist is goal-less in his last eight games and has just two assists against Anaheim.
"It's not like he's been void of chances," Carlyle said. "Even if stat-wise he hasn't had a huge impression, he still has quality chances on creates a lot."
Babcock is hoping for Datsyuk and the team, his scoring drought ends against Anaheim goaltender Jonas Hiller, whose first NHL postseason has been nothing short of sensational.
"Any time you're a scorer and you haven't scored, no matter what anybody says, you always are squeezing a little bit," Babcock said. "The big thing for him - he's a real good, dominant player - is to just play. Don't think too much."