Detroit — This was a selfish move. Daniel Alfredsson admitted that from the start.
And oddly enough, the one guy who had nothing to do with the Red Wings’ prized playoff streak was among the most relieved when it was extended earlier this week.
Because what comes next is what this is all about. It’s why he’s here.
“That’s what you play for, to get into the playoffs,” said Alfredsson, who signed with Detroit last summer after spending the first 17 seasons of his NHL career in Ottawa. “I played a long time in this league and played a lot of playoff games, but I haven’t won the Stanley Cup. And that’s what you dream about. That’s the only reason I’m still playing, I guess.”
And I guess it’s fair to say it’s showing, as Alfredsson’s contributions down the stretch — even in a lesser role, with a wonky back and aging legs — helped push the Wings over the hump.
Before Friday night’s lackluster effort against Carolina — a 2-1 loss that makes a daunting first-round date with top seed Boston more likely — the 41-year-old Alfredsson had points in five of his last six games, including last week’s winner at home against Buffalo.
Using his head
He could’ve easily added a few more points Friday, testing Cam Ward with a quick flick of the wrist in the second period and setting up Tomas Jurco and Pavel Datsyuk on mini-breakaways. And after teaming with Jurco and Darren Helm all week in a new line combination — paired with their speed, “Alfie gets to use his skill set, which is his brain,” coach Mike Babcock explained — the veteran winger was shifted to Datsyuk’s line for the third period in this one.
“(Alfredsson) is just so good with the puck,” said Jurco, who assisted on fellow rookie Riley Sheahan’s power-play goal in the second period. “He’s really smart. He’s got so much confidence and he makes plays. It just seems like he’s got more time with the puck than everybody else.”
It might seem that way, but Alfredsson knows he has precious little time left in his career.
He is one of four active NHL players over the age of 40, and one of three that’ll be in the playoffs, along with Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne and Dallas' Ray Whitney. (New Jersey’s Jaromir Jagr is the other member of the over-the-hill gang.)
This’ll be Alfredsson’s 15th trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs, and possibly his last. He signed only a one-year deal with the Wings last summer, though if he’s willing, Detroit’s open to one more season after this.
And yet on this injury-plagued roster, only two forwards (Justin Abdelkader and Tomas Tatar) will have played more games for the Wings this season. That has made his veteran presence all the more valuable, particularly with Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg missing so much time.
“He speaks up when he needs to,” said Franzen, a fellow Swede who compared Alfredsson’s presence this year to Dallas Drake’s last-gasp Stanley Cup push when the Wings won it all in 2008. “He’s good like that. He’s not the guy who’s going to sit there and throw out clichés all night long. But if someone needs to step up and say something, he’s been doing it.”
Defenseman Brendan Smith calls it a “huge” bonus for the Wings’ younger set, players that can easily lose themselves in the energy of a game — and lose sight of the details.
“A lot of times it’s just little things that we’re not thinking about,” Smith said. “Sometimes it’s about turnovers at our blue line. Or maybe he’ll notice something about the goalie that nobody else will notice. Or talking about a D-man who’s having a rough night, telling guys to take him wide. Just stuff like that.”
Stuff like that’ll come in handy in a seven-game playoff series. As will that right-hand shot that has produced 18 goals this season, including back-to-back winners against Toronto and Pittsburgh three weeks ago that sparked the Wings’ late charge.
But stuff like this helps put it all in perspective, too.
Alfredsson uprooted his family — wife Bibbi and sons Hugo, Loui, Fenix and William, not to mention dog Bono — and put them up in a hotel for their first month in Detroit, before settling in their new house here.
Jurco, meanwhile, got the call-up from Grand Rapids in mid-December, figured he might not stay past New Year’s, then ended up lasting the entire season. Of course, being a young bachelor, he “didn’t see the reason” to move out of his downtown hotel. He has a big room — “I actually have two rooms connected,” he said — and all the necessities a 21-year-old needs.
“I mean, I brought my Xbox and they brought a huge TV for me and I just set it up right in front of my bed,” Jurco said.
And besides, he added, “It’s just nice to leave for a practice and I get back and my bed is set up nicely. I like that the most.”
It’s an odd mix, all right. Young and old, eager and desperate. But together, they’ve made it this far.
“We knew it was gonna be tough,” said Alfredsson, who compares it to the shorthanded push his Senators made to get in the playoffs last spring. “But if you get something going and you get a good feeling in the locker room, you can accomplish a lot of things. And I think that’s what we’ve done.”
Now, unlike his former team, they get to do it a little longer. And selfishly, he couldn’t be happier about it.