Remain calm was the mantra as the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks prepared Wednesday for the seventh and deciding game of their NHL playoff series.
But that phrase conjured opposing images on each side of the equation.
Out on the West Coast, where the Sharks are trying to catch themselves in their latest postseason pratfall, it carried the whiff of Kevin Bacon's character, Chip Diller, in Animal House futilely screaming, "Remain calm!" just before he is trampled by a panicked crowd.
In Detroit, as the Red Wings were about to board their charter flight to San Jose, it was simply a phrase meaning business as usual. That is the attitude that brought the Wings back from a 3-0 San Jose lead in the Western Conference semi-final to force Game 7 on Thursday.
The Red Wings kept their poise despite blowing a 3-0 lead in Game 4 and rallied to win in overtime. It stayed in place in Game 5, when the Sharks led 3-1 in the third period before the Wings came back to win. And it was there in Game 6, when they practically ran the Sharks ragged only to find themselves down 1-0 in the third period but once again rallied for a win.
"Our focus the last three games was basically like a Game 7: If you win, you get to play another game or lose and you're done," Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall said. "So we play like that again. Try to focus on emotions and stay calm. That's where the leadership comes in."
Leadership is something the Wings have in abundance, which works to their advantage in this situation. Players such as Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Kris Draper and Tomas Holmstrom have all been down this pressure-packed road many times. Even an old warhorse like 40-year-old centre Mike Modano, who skated through many tense situations in his salad days with the Dallas Stars, can't help but admire how the Red Wings believe in each other and keep their heads when all looks lost.
"It doesn't take a genius to see why we've had that success for so long," said Modano, who got into his first game of the playoffs Tuesday, replacing the injured Johan Franzen. "Year after year, the top guys motivate each other. They push one another in the locker room. It's neat to see.
"Most of these guys have been in this situation in their careers over and over again. They seem to relish them and can't wait to do it again. Ultimately, when you've had that success, you've got that in your memory bank about what to do."
What to do is quite simple. Stick to the game plan. Keep hammering away at Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi until he cracks or you catch a break. Doing it while the clock ticks your season away is much, much harder.
"Veteran leadership is a great thing but determination is a better thing," Wings head coach Mike Babcock said. "That is about poise and understanding what you have got to do.
"The key to this time of year is do your little part. If you do your part then we have an opportunity to be great together."
Like goaltender Jimmy Howard, who shook off a weak goal to make a couple of big saves down the stretch. Or Modano putting in some quality minutes on the first line after a month on the sidelines. Or Datsyuk making a nifty return feed to Valtteri Filppula for the winning goal after Filppula picked off a sloppy pass.
Now, with the season coming down to a final 60 minutes for one of these teams, victory will go to the one with the most poise and the one willing to do what Babcock says it takes in the playoffs.
"There's lots of nice players in the league but they don't get to play long at the end of the year because it's not about being a nice player," the coach said shortly before Game 6. "It's about winning your battle every time you are on the ice. There's no space. There's no room and the ice gets worse as the year goes on. So it's not about being pretty. It's not about open ice or about looking good in practice with no pressure on.
"It's who can make a play in a small area and win a battle."Report Typo/Error