Detroit — Talent alone doesn’t bring a team Stanley Cups.
The Red Wings during their 25-year run of making the playoffs and winning four Stanley Cups during that timeframe, had an incredible amount of talent. But along with that talent, it wasn’t until they established a certain culture behind the leadership of Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom, among many others, who took the Wings to another level.
The Wings have faced several contenders in recent weeks, including two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning; the Pittsburgh Penguins, led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang; and Tuesday the Boston Bruins, who have that needed combination of elite talent and winning culture.
Coach Jeff Blashill has coached a Calder Cup-winning team in Grand Rapids, coached a playoff team with the Wings, and had success in the college and junior ranks.
The definition of “culture” in hockey can be a bit hazy, but Blashill goes along with the definition most hockey followers have. Generally speaking, it’s about your best players committing to excelling defensively, as well as offensively, and being your hardest workers.
“It comes from those best players being committed to playing two-way hockey,” Blashill said. “That’s when teams start winning a lot.”
In recent years, Tampa was a team that earned well over 100 points every season and was an offensive powerhouse. But until the Lightning had a mindset of stopping people on the other end, the Stanley Cup proved frustratingly evasive.
“Tampa didn’t win those two Cups until they committed to playing a 200-foot game,” Blashill said.
Blashill pointed to Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron, a four-time Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) winner, as a key reason for the Bruins’ consistency being among the NHL’s elite.
“Patrice Bergeron is probably one of the very best winning hockey players in our generation, in the sense he’s a very talented, very good player, but his ability to play both sides of the puck and he does it great,” Blashill said. “When you do that, you can demand that of everybody else.
“You need both, and culture and talent and when you have both, you can do special things.”
Blashill credited the Bruins’ leadership for being a key reason for the continued success they’ve had.
“They had (Zdeno) Chara, then they added Bergeron and (Brad) Marchand is the same way, and I’ve seen them practice and I know how hard they practice and know they aren’t afraid to give guys grief for not (practicing, working) to that standard, and that’s when you can build consistency over time,” Blashill said.
Michael Rasmussen might never be the prolific scorer he was in junior hockey, but that’s fine. There are many NHL players who duplicate their offensive success as a teen-agers.
But Rasmussen has shown further signs this season of developing into a rugged, 6-foot-5 forward who can be a force stopping the other team from scoring — while still supplying offense of his own.
Rasmussen scored his career-high 10th goal Sunday, while playing one of his best all-around games of the season.
Blashill often has compared Rasmussen to Carolina’s Jordan Staal, who has a similar body type. Now, Staal has had a long, prolific career and been a cornerstone of an organization.
But Staal is a player Rasmussen would do well to emulate heading into the future.
“Jordan helps Carolina win a ton of games and he’s not their highest-scoring player,” Blashill said. “But we’ve talked lots this year of being better defensively, and one of the best ways of being better defensively, if he (Rasmussen) can grow into that checking type of center who is long and brings physicality and brings an edge and goes up against the other team’s best players and shuts them down, and wears them down in the offensive zone, and scores goals net-front, he’ll be an extremely valuable to this organization.
“We’ve asked a lot of him this year, and there’s been times he’s checked well and times he’s still had to learn. Sometimes it comes with experience and he’s gained experience.”
Red Wings at Jets
► Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Canada Life Centre, Winnipeg
► TV/radio: BSDextra/97.1 FM
► Outlook: The Jets (33-27-10) are seeing their playoff hopes slip away, having lost their last two games. … LW Kyle Connor (Shelby Township/Michigan) is having a career-best season with 41 goals, and G Connor Hellebuyck (Walled Lake Northern) remains among the NHL’s best at his position.