Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock will be fresh off guiding Canada to a gold medal as he arrives in Denver following the NHL’s Olympic break.
Adding a second Stanley Cup to his trophy case this season presents a much stiffer challenge.
The Red Wings return to action Monday night to begin a final push they hope will net them a 19th consecutive playoff appearance, but the surprising Colorado Avalanche are in much better shape in the Western Conference heading into the rivals’ clash.
Babcock was the head coach for Canada as the host team gathered the top prize Sunday in Vancouver, earning a 3-2 overtime win over a United States team that included Avalanche center Paul Stastny(notes) and Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski(notes).
Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby(notes) slipped past Rafalski and scored 7:40 into overtime to give the Canadians their eighth men’s hockey gold. Former Red Wings great and current club vice president Steve Yzerman had served as Team Canada’s executive director.
“I don’t even think it’s something you dream about,” Babcock said. “I feel very fortunate and very lucky.”
Babcock didn’t have much time to celebrate before traveling to the NHL’s only Monday game.
Returning to his NHL team may bring the coach quickly back to reality, considering Detroit has struggled through an unexpectedly uneven season and is in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1990.
The Red Wings (28-21-12) won the Cup in 2008, and reached the finals again last season, but are currently tied with Dallas for ninth in the West, one point behind Calgary.
“It’s been tough,” Wings forward Kris Draper(notes) told the team’s official Web site. “There’s been a lot of injuries. … They all seem to be major. But we’re getting guys back; we’re going to get guys healthy. We have to go and be the team that we feel that we can be night in, and night out.”
Although forward Kirk Maltby(notes) will miss the next month following shoulder surgery, defenseman Andreas Lilja(notes) expects to be back in the lineup Monday for the first time since Feb. 28, 2009, after a year-long battle with concussion symptoms. Center Tomas Holmstrom(notes) should return from a knee injury that kept him from competing for Sweden at the Olympics.
The Red Wings’ four other Swedish Olympians - Nicklas Lidstrom(notes), Henrik Zetterberg(notes), Niklas Kronwall(notes) and Johan Franzen(notes) - were disappointed by a quarterfinal loss to Slovakia, but could benefit from the extra rest as they gear up for the stretch run.
“It was a good break and we had a good time,” rookie T.J. Galiardi(notes) told the Avs’ official Web site. “It was obviously my first time having a break in the middle of the season like this, but I’m really happy to get back and get into some games.”
Anderson has been perhaps the biggest reason why the Avs (35-20-6) are in sixth place in the West, with a clear path to the playoffs one season after finishing at the bottom of the conference.
A number of young players have also helped. Matt Duchene(notes) leads all rookies with 42 points, the same total as 22-year-old teammate Chris Stewart(notes). Rookie Brandon Yip(notes) has 11 goals and 18 points in 25 games since being recalled from Lake Erie of the AHL.