DETROIT Nicklas Lidstrom's feet rested inches away from the winged wheel logo on the floor of the Detroit dressing room, a veritable shrine to the storied history of the Original Six franchise.
Pictures of Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay and all the Red Wings greats of the past adorn the walls along with a row of Stanley Cups depicting the franchise's 10 championship seasons.
Lidstrom will one day join that elite group, but for now he is a proud member of a gang of five that own three Stanley Cup rings with the Red Wings and are one win away from another.
"It's nice when you've had a chance to win with the players of the past. You've got some great memories from back then, but you want to create new memories, too, with the same guys," Lidstrom said Sunday. "It's something we don't talk a whole lot about in here, but I think everybody has thought that in the back of their minds."
Back in Detroit after a stirring 2-1 victory in Pittsburgh on Saturday night, the Red Wings gathered for what well could be their last off day before a championship parade.
They lead the Penguins 3-1 in the series and can end it tonight at home where Detroit outscored the Eastern Conference title winners by a combined 7-0 in the opening two games.
This is where the Red Wings' experience can be a big edge over the Penguins' youth. Detroit nearly let a 3-0 series lead against Dallas get away in the Western Conference finals before finishing it in six games.
"Just because we're at home, we can't take for granted or assume we're going to have any sort of an advantage," forward Kirk Maltby said. "We have to come out and play the way we're capable of playing. If we do that, we'll have a good chance of winning, but we know they're not going to lie down for us."
Maltby, Kris Draper, Tomas Holmstrom, and Darren McCarty make up the rest of the quintet that changed the hockey culture in Hockeytown.
In 1995, with a chance to end a 40-year Stanley Cup drought, the favored Red Wings were swept in the finals by the upstart New Jersey Devils. Questions of when the Cup might finally return grew louder until they finally were answered two years later as Steve Yzerman hoisted the prized trophy at Joe Louis Arena.
Fittingly, it was another sweep, this time over the Philadelphia Flyers, who had home-ice advantage in the finals but never stood a chance. A year later, the Red Wings repeated with a four-game wipeout of Washington.
There was a three-year hiccup before the Red Wings claimed the Cup again, but now they are shooting for their fourth in 11 seasons.
With another title merely a handoff away from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, it was hard for the core of champions not to look back as they keep an eye on Game 5. The bridge from the retired Yzerman to new captain Lidstrom, who has worn the 'C' for two seasons, is nearly complete.
"A lot of us learned about winning and playing from the guys who have had a long, long tenure here," said McCarty, who returned to the Red Wings in January after two seasons in Calgary and a fourth stint in substance abuse rehab. "It's sort of what the nucleus is all about. It hasn't really changed. ... It's special that way. When I came back, I felt like I was home.
"That carries over into relationships individually and as a team in this dressing room, and that carries over onto the ice. That's one of our biggest assets that goes sort of unnoticed. It's a family. We've been through so much on the ice, but off the ice we've seen each other's kids be born and grow up and guys get married and have parents and important people pass away. Guys were here for that."
Even though Detroit has been in the playoffs 17 straight seasons, the longest current streak in North American pro sports, longtime Red Wings general manager Ken Holland has managed to add key pieces through the draft and free agency.
The biggest find might've been Henrik Zetterberg, who is second to teammate Johan Franzen with 12 goals in the playoffs. Zetterberg, chosen with the 210th pick in the 1999 draft has been every bit as important on defense in the finals. He locked his stick against Sidney Crosby's and prevented a goal during Pittsburgh's critical 5-on-3 power play late in the 3-2 win in Game 4.
Franzen, one of seven prominent Swedes on the Red Wings, was picked 97th in 2004. He leads the NHL with 13 postseason goals and is looking for his first championship.
"Under the (salary) cap there is more of an even playing field and we've still been able to find players or even find draft picks that aren't real high but still are contributing a lot to our team," Lidstrom said. "That's one of the keys for our scouting department and Kenny finding all these players."
Chris Osgood was with the Wings for the first two titles and returned in 2005 following the NHL lockout after spending three seasons with the New York Islanders and St. Louis. At 35, Osgood is having a better run now than the one that led to the 1998 title.
"It was time for me to leave. I was here for 10 years and some things just run its course," Osgood said. "That was my time, but I always knew I'd be back. I never had the feeling I wasn't going to be back. I just bided my time. I didn't go to Kenny and beg him because I didn't want to put him in a bad position where I was forcing myself back.
"During the lockout it was time for me to come back and become a Red Wing again, and I loved it. I wanted to be back here."
Since taking over for Dominik Hasek in the first round against Nashville this year, Chris Osgood is 13-3 with a 1.45 goals-against average. He has allowed 24 goals in 17 games and only four to Pittsburgh in the finals.
That doesn't bode well for the Penguins, who hope to force a Game 6 back in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. Only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs have rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the finals, surging from 3-0 down to beat the Red Wings.
"We've got to win to stay alive," Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. "It's pretty clear and simple. We're going to be desperate, and all we focus on is winning that game."