The Red Wings take a team photo with the cup. (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)
PITTSBURGH -- Way back in training camp owner Mike Ilitch had an inkling this all could happen.
Back then, when the regular season wasn't even underway, assistant general manager Jim Nill, a man of few words, gave Ilitch some good news.
"Jim Nill hardly ever mentions anything like that, but one day Jimmy told me, 'We have a real good team here,' " Ilitch said amid the on-ice celebration after the Wings' 3-2 Stanley Cup-clinching victory over Pittsburgh. "Jim doesn't say much, so for him to say that ..."
This Stanley Cup feels a little more special, Ilitch said, than the previous three under his regime.
Few people around the NHL expected the Red Wings to achieve this kind of success again after the lockout three seasons ago.
Many analysts felt the Wings had won before because of Ilitch's willingness to spend money on expensive free agents.
Now, just three seasons after the lockout, the Wings are champions again with a team built largely through the draft.
"Everyone anticipated with the salary cap we'd fall apart," Ilitch said. "That's the thing that really drove us. That's why I'm a little more excited about this one
"We haven't done it in six or seven years and you get used to it."
Ilitch gave credit to the front office, led by the work of general manager Ken Holland and Nill, and a team of scouts that have unearthed stars such as Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in late rounds of the draft.
But Ilitch gave credit, also, to coach Mike Babcock, who replaced Dave Lewis after the lockout.
"He came in here and he's a hard driver," Ilitch said. "It took him a little while to find a happy medium as to how hard to push these guys and that's been a key.
"But the guys know he (Babcock) knows his stuff, and he has a real positive attitude."
It's that upbeat attitude that Ilitch feels is crucial.
"He's even a little on the cocky side, but he does have a real good, positive attitude," Ilitch said. "It doesn't change."
The fact the Wings have matched the four Stanley Cups the New York Islanders won in the 1970s is something Ilitch cherishes.
"I brought over (senior vice-president) Jimmy Devellano from the Islanders, and when I looked at what they accomplished I said, 'What an organization they have,' " Ilitch said. "Now we've been able to duplicate what those guys did and it's a wonderful feeling."
Ilitch also had a special feeling when he saw Swedish captain Nicklas Lidstrom raise the Stanley Cup. Lidstrom became the first European captain to ever hoist the Cup.
"That was very special," Ilitch said, noting the Hall of Fame-caliber play of Lidstrom and the fact the Wings won the Stanley Cup with seven Swedes in the lineup. "There's been so much distinguishing of nationalities. I had a strong feeling when they (the Swedes) won the Olympics three years ago. They showed so much heart there."