Young Red Wings feel a rivalry with Lightning

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Tampa, Fla. — There is a rivalry between the Red Wings and Lightning.

Sort of.

Two years ago, the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit's minor league affiliate) defeated the Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay's affiliate) in six games to win the Calder Cup.

Today, nine players off that Griffins roster are with the Red Wings and seven Crunch players are with the Lightning.

And instead of the Calder Cup top of mind, there's first place in the Atlantic Division at stake Thursday night when the teams meet in Tampa.

"When you know guys on the team, it's a rivalry," said goaltender Petr Mrazek, one of the Griffins now with the Red Wings. "Two years ago, we won the Calder Cup. I also know three of the Czech guys on their team. They're good friends."

Still, despite the importance of the game, the veteran Red Wings not part of that Calder Cup final aren't calling this a rivalry game.

Not yet, anyway.

"When you play them in the playoffs, that's when rivalries start," Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "When you go six or seven games against them, that's when you really start playing against them tough, and that's when you get anger a little bit more. It gets a little more heated."

There are some similarities between the organizations.

■ High-end skill;

■ Built largely through the draft;

■ Good goaltending;

■ Good coaching;

■ Stable front offices; and

■ Appear to be set for the long term.

Former Red Wings legend Steve Yzerman, now the Lightning general manager, has built his franchise somewhat in Detroit's image.

"They're as skilled a team as we have in the Eastern Conference," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "They have a kids' team and we have a team that's been good for a long time and trying to regain being good.

"They're a team built on young kids who are going in the right direction. They've done a good job drafting and they have lots of players who are going in the right direction and it looks like a team that'll be good for a long period of time."

But for right now, as both battle for the top spot in the East, it's the Red Wings looking down at the Lightning.

And Zetterberg said while his teammates are very aware of the standings, it's not something they dwell on this early in the season.

"We know we're up there but we know we have to win games because Montreal, Tampa Bay and Boston are winning games," Zetterberg said. "If we're going to be up there, we have to win and we can't go on a losing streak, or then you're chasing."