IN EYE OF THE STORM, BABCOCK STAYS CALM

So he woke up the morning after one of the toughest, longest playoff losses in Red Wings history, and he drove his daughter to school. On the way she said her knees were bruised from the game, because she kept jumping up and down and banging her legs into the seats in front of her. When they reached the high school, “she gave me a kiss,” he says, “and she said, ‘Good luck, Dad’ “

And off she went. And off he went.

And off they all go, onto the next game. “Normalcy,” says Mike Babcock. He says it over and over, speaking from a phone at Joe Louis Arena before his team departed for Pittsburgh. Normalcy. Nothing special. Business as usual.

“The reason we’re successful is because we do the same good things over and over,” Babcock insists. “It’s not like we need to reinvent the wheel here.”

So you’re not panicked?

“Not at all.”

You’re not at a precipice?

“Nope.”

But since your team was 35 seconds away from the Stanley Cup and lost, do you feel the need to say something … different?

“Well, I always try for new material,” he says, “just like you.”

And he laughs.

He laughs? Time for a coach to show the way

Mike Babcock, 45, may or may not win the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year, but he could earn that honor based on his actions between 1 a.m. Tuesday and 8 tonight. Teams that lose triple-overtime games, at home, with the Stanley Cup in the building, with their families in the stands, with the parade all but started, with less than a minute left, with a goal that shouldn’t have happened – well, teams facing all that risk going off the rails.

Babcock is confident that won’t happen. And for his part, he is making sure it doesn’t, by giving his possibly shaken team exactly what a possibly shaken team needs: Stability.

“We are going to do what we always do,” he says. “The biggest thing is clearing your mind, remembering that the only people that can help you are the people in the room. … If we can create normalcy, I think we win.”

So he came to the Joe on Tuesday, and he made sure to say a crisp “good morning, how you doing?” to everyone he saw. The security guard. The clean-up crew. The guy on the forklift. “Sometimes people are hesitant after a game like that,” Babcock says. “You have to show them everything is fine.”

He broke down the tape, same as usual. He went through the goods and the bads, same as usual. He saw plenty of things that went wrong in Monday’s Game 5, starting with losing the puck twice on the first shift, and ending with 40-plus shots that didn’t get to the net. But even amid the smoke of the epic-like defeat, he still smiled.

“In every game in this series, even the ones we lost,” he says, “holy mackerel, we’ve been pretty good.”

As Alfred E. Neuman said: “What, me worry?” Time to do what you do best

Remember, Babcock is a guy who was within two periods of a Stanley Cup back with Anaheim a few years ago – and lost it. But that was a Game 7. This was different. This time “we live to fight again,” he says.

Besides, he notes, the Wings have won their last three rounds on the road. “So why not this one?”

And as far as the Big Picture? “Do you mean to tell me if I told you as a member of the Red Wings at the start of the year you’d be up, 3-2, in the Stanley Cup finals, playing hockey in the first week in June, that you wouldn’t be ecstatic?”

So that’s the problem. We’re not ecstatic.

Well, if he can, we can. It’s not that Babcock is wearing blinders. He’s just doing what a good coach should do: taking the disappointment and turning it into an opportunity. You wonder, privately, if he isn’t heartsick, being 35 seconds from jumping the boards and landing in heaven, his first Stanley Cup.

“I’m already done with me,” he says. “You can’t get anyone else right if you’re not right with yourself.”

So the players, today, will do their jobs by mentally preparing, by stretching, by taping sticks, by envisioning success. Meanwhile, the coach will do his job by creating an atmosphere where all that seems normal, and the biggest game of the year is also just another game. If you think that’s easy, you haven’t tried it.

The puck drops tonight. Prepare your knees.

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