Catching the fever

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:53 PM ET

Coaches are acting funny, players are pulling out the good luck charms and wives are sleeping alone — even when their husbands are playing at home.

It must be Stanley Cup Playoff time.

Nothing cranks up the intensity quite like the NHL’s second season.

“Everyone’s really excited,” Detroit Red Wings forward Darren Helm, the pride of St. Andrews, was saying Tuesday. “It’s the first time we haven’t had home-ice advantage going into the first round. It’s new for everybody here.”

Helm was on the phone from Phoenix, a strange place for anybody to be at this time of year, at least with a hockey stick in their hands.

The fourth-seeded Coyotes, life or death to even survive as a franchise, are in the Cup chase for the first time in eight years.

In their way, a Red Wings team, seeded fifth, that had an off year but has rediscovered its swagger just in time, going 8-1-1 down the stretch.

“You can definitely see we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Helm said. “We’re back to that mentality where we’re expecting to win games. We’ve got a good enough team to make a good push, here.”

This isn’t Helm’s first post-season rodeo. In fact, he’s been something of a playoff specialist, getting called up from the AHL to contribute to Detroit’s last two Cup runs, winning a championship in his first.

Now that he finally has a full NHL season under his belt, managing his first 11 regular-season goals, the lightning-fast 23-year-old has a secure spot on the Wings’ third line.

It’s a superstitious bunch in Hockeytown, Helm admitted. If things are going well, rituals are observed religiously.

At this time of year, the focus gets cranked up a few notches, too.

At home, Wings players have the option of checking into a hotel to get away from the distractions at home.

“I live by myself so I don’t have to worry about too many distractions,” Helm cracked.

In New Jersey, they don’t get a choice.

We couldn’t reach Winnipeg’s Travis Zajac because his wife said he’d already checked into the team hotel in preparation for Games 1 and 2, at home, to Philadelphia.

The pressure of being a top seed hasn’t changed the way they’re doing business in Washington.

Winkler’s Eric Fehr, one of seven 20-goal scorers in the vaunted Capitals lineup, says he’s sleeping in his own bed this week.

As for the bed the Caps have made for themselves, it looks pretty comfy. If the Wings have a new role as road warriors in the West, the Caps are trying to get their heads around being Cup favourites in the East.

“It’s a bit of a different element for us,” Fehr told the Sun. “The last couple of years we were just happy to be in the playoffs.

“We’ve said all along our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. Now it’s time to go out and show how badly we want to win it.”

There’s been plenty of intrigue surrounding the Caps as their series with Montreal approaches, everything from rumoured injuries to superstar Alex Ovechkin to questions about who’ll start in goal, an issue head coach Bruce Boudreau finally put to rest by anointing Jose Theodore, Tuesday.

Fehr’s not sure who Boudreau will have him playing with, either.

“He’s a pretty superstitious guy, so you could see all kinds of things happening,” he said, recalling the year Boudreau rode the same ugly neck tie all the way to the AHL’s Calder Cup title.

As for Fehr, he claims to stay far away from superstition.

Then again, he’s been riding Ovechkin’s super-curved stick all year, to the tune of 21 goals.

“It’s a science thing,” Fehr said.

Sure it is.

Let the Cup chase begin.


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