No matter how many times your name is on the Stanley Cup, there is nothing old or routine or easy about the push to get another engraving.
Just ask someone who ought to know.
"It's so hard to get back to this point that I think the older you get, the more you appreciate everything that's involved -- the sacrifices from training camp through the 82 games [of the regular season] through the start of the playoffs -- to put yourself in that situation and try to get that opportunity to get back in the Stanley Cup finals and to make yourself successful," said Detroit center Kris Draper.
Draper is part of a five-for-five drive contingent. They are veterans who are one victory away from a fifth Stanley Cup championship with the Red Wings.
The others are defenseman and team captain Nicklas Lidstrom and wingers Tomas Holmstrom, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty -- although McCarty has been used so sparingly this season that he won't be eligible to have his name etched on the Cup unless he appears in one game during the ongoing final or the Red Wings successfully petition for it to be added.
Their first chance to wrap up a fifth title comes tonight in Game 6 against the Penguins at Mellon Arena. If that doesn't work out, the drive for five stays alive, with a winner-take-all Game 7 scheduled for Friday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
Lidstrom, 38, Draper, 37, Maltby, 36, Holmstrom, 36, and McCarty, 37, predate Detroit's Cup title in 1997, which was followed by championships in 1998, 2002 and last year.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who is chasing his second Stanley Cup in as many years, has a difficult time putting the potential of five titles by some of his players into perspective.
"I can't even imagine in today's world, in the [salary] cap world, I don't know if it's possible," he said.
The NHL salary cap was instituted in 2005. It's difficult to know if highly successful teams assembled in the cap era will be able to keep a core of players together for more than a decade. The Penguins, with stars such as centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, will no doubt try to test that idea.
"I'm very fortunate to have been with the same team for a lot of years and been with an organization and ownership that really are dedicated to winning," said Lidstrom, a six-time Norris Trophy winner who was drafted by Detroit in 1989.
"They've been willing to -- before the cap world -- spend money to get players. In the cap world that we're in now, they're able to keep players or draft players, you know, players that really fit our team and our system."
Holmstrom was a 1994 Red Wings draft pick, McCarty a '92 Red Wings draft pick. Maltby was acquired in a '95 trade with Edmonton, Draper in a '93 trade with Winnipeg.
Lidstrom and Holmstrom are Swedish. The other three are Canadian.
Even with another Stanley Cup this close, Lidstrom was reluctant to talk about getting one for the thumb.
"Winning four Stanley Cups is something I'm very proud of," he said. "Having a chance to win another one, it's a good feeling. But we know as a team that we're not there yet. We know we need another win to get to where we want to be."
Draper initially backed off, too, but then got going as he thought back to his first time in the final, when Detroit was swept by New Jersey in 1995.
"Everything that we do as hockey players, all we want to do is get your name on that Stanley Cup," he said. "You know, you can never have it on enough. So when we lost in '95 to the Devils we didn't want to experience that kind of bitterness, and that bad taste again.
"We've had some success and we've had some disappointments, and that's exactly what's going to happen within a great organization. But you know, when you get here, you just want to lay everything on the line and have no regrets.
"I know for me it's something that I'll never take for granted," Draper said. "I realize how fortunate that I am to be back here, how fortunate I am to be playing with the teammates that I have, and just really taking it all in.
"I've said it once, and I'll continue to say it -- for a hockey player it just doesn't get any better than this. ... Everything we do from this point on, all the sacrifices, whatever it is, it's absolutely worthwhile to try to get it done and get that one more win."
Shelly Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721. First Published June 9, 2009 4:00 AM