Steve Yzerman makes no apologies for playing in the Weak Sisters Division.
And if you think the Red Wings aren't a club to be reckoned with because they feasted on the dregs of the NHL all year, he says drop the puck and see.
"We don't have any say in our schedule, you go out and you play the games and try and win them," said Yzerman, defending Detroit's 58-16-5-3 record in a conference call of playoff captains. "I would have loved the opportunity to play against Ottawa this year, we missed that entire division. Having said that, I think we played enough quality games against top teams and very good teams that we know what to expect."
HEARD THE SNICKERS
The Wings, along with the Nashville Predators, have been hearing the snickers all season: How can you not have a great record in a division that includes Columbus, Chicago and St. Louis, the 13th, 14th and 15th-place teams in the Western Conference?
While Edmonton went to war against Calgary, Colorado and Vancouver, the Red Wings were running up a a 25-3-4 record in the the Central Division.
And you have to think much of Nashville's fourth-place finish in the West was built on the backs of losers.
"Early in the year we were getting a lot of grief from people, saying you're playing some teams that aren't quite as strong," Predators' coach Barry Trotz said in a phone interview. "But they were strong teams, we just sort of got their number early."
He says it's not like Edmonton had their way with the so-called weakest links. The Oilers, in fact, had a losing record (5-7) against the Central slouches.
"The St. Louis Blues went 4-0 against the Vancouver Canucks this year," said Yzerman. "I think these teams were better than a lot of people think. There's weak teams in every division. When we played the games, we won them, but there's not much we can do about the schedule."
While the Oilers didn't fare so well against Chicago, Columbus and St. Louis, they played even-up with the Red Wings (2-2, with 13 goals for and 14 against) - a fact both captains are well aware of.
"I don't really know a specific reason," said Oiler captain Jason Smith. "I think we've gotten some good breaks against them and obviously enjoyed playing a team of Detroit's calibre. It's a great challenge for a team like ours any time we're playing one of the better teams in the league to come out and play well, because we're not given really much of a chance. We look forward to that challenge."
So does head coach Craig MacTavish, who says regular season points aren't worth the paper they're printed on anymore.
"The slate is wiped clean," he said. "What Detroit did over the course of the 82 games ... we're all starting at ground zero."
Yzerman, whose club either goes to the Cup final or loses out in the first round, knows how fine the line is.
"It's obvious that finishing first doesn't guarantee anything," he said. "I think it's more important how your team plays (in the regular season). "I don't think where you finish in the standings is incredibly important. We finished first overall before and haven't had playoff success. We finished third or so in the conference and have been able to win the Stanley Cup. There's really no guarantee.
NO HUGE DIFFERENCE
"So I don't put too much stock into a record finishing first overall. I'm not going to get caught up on that. I don't think there was a huge difference between the No. 1 seed and the No. 8 in either conference. I think all of the series are going to be competitive and looking at us and them, I don't see a huge difference, and I base that on the four games we played over the course of the regular season."