DETROIT You know its playoff time around Joe Louis Arena when the beards start to show and the Grind Line is reunited.
Kirk Maltby, Kris Draper and Darren McCarty havent played together much this season for the Red Wings, but theyre expected to be back intact for Wednesdays series opener against Nashville.
The Grind Line has been one of the constants during this eight-year run by the Wings that has included three Stanley Cups.
Theres Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brendan Shanahan ... and Maltby-Draper-McCarty.
McCartys back injury and Drapers shoulder injury kept them apart for most of the regular season, but all three are healthy now.
We played together maybe half a dozen games, said Draper, who centers the line. But its just like riding a bike for us. Weve played a lot of hockey together and, obviously, a lot of playoff games together.
Coach Dave Lewis said he considered not reuniting the Grind Line and instead keeping Henrik Zetterberg with Maltby and McCarty.
More than likely, hell go with tradition.
We tinker with things a lot throughout the whole year, assistant coach Joe Kocur said. But weve always known that when the games get tough or when we have to check somebody, were going to put them together. We know their chemistry will be perfect.
Kocur was actually an original Grind Line member during the 1997 playoffs when the Wings won the first of back-to-back Cups. McCarty was playing on a line with Yzerman at the time.
A lot of people think it was just Mac originally, but it was really Joey, Maltby said.
When Kocur was injured and eventually retired, McCarty was a natural to fill the void.
Macs not going to miss out on an opportunity to get on a T-shirt or a poster, you know, Draper said.
The trio complements one another well. Its their job to be the Wings checking line and disrupt the other teams top offensive players.
Draper and Maltby also form the Wings top penalty-killing unit.
They all bring a different dimension, Wings General Manager Ken Holland said. Kris has got speed, Kirk Maltby is an agitator and Darren McCarty has got toughness. And theyll all got a passion.
Although they excel at that grinding, checking style, which every team needs in the playoffs, Maltby, Draper and McCarty also have some skills and an ability to make big plays.
Draper scored a career-high 24 goals this season and is considered one of the top candidates for the Selke Trophy, presented to the leagues top defensive forward.
Maltby scored eight playoff goals while the Wings were winning Cups in 1997 and 1998. McCarty scored four during the 2002 championship run.
A lot of checking lines just shoot it away and start to chase it again, Holland said. The other teams offensive players have the puck the majority of the shift.
But these guys get the puck and theyre in the other teams zone and theyre cycling (the puck). They play puck possession a lot of times. They can kill 40 seconds when the other team is chasing them.
They also have the ability to score goals. Many times, theyve scored big goals for us come playoff time.
Ultimately, youre going to need to win 2-1, 3-2, low-scoring games (in the playoffs), and you need to figure out a way to shut the other teams best players down at even strength and also penalty-killing. Were No. 1 in the league in the penalty-kill and theyre a big reason why.
Despite a knack for scoring timely playoff goals, the Grind Line understands its role.
In fact, Maltby laughed at Hollands description of them as puck-possession players.
Well try, Maltby said. But sometimes its not the prettiest. It might go off a shin pad or something.
We dont think we can go out and score goals every night, but we know that we can contribute the odd one here and there. We know what our jobs are and what were capable of. I dont think we try to fool ourselves. We know we have to take care of our own zone and shut down the main line on the other team.
But a lot of success for this organization has been when our third and fourth lines are contributing (offensively). If were able to put a couple in the net, it can be the difference in a game, if not a series.
Thats the trademark of the Grind Line find a way to win.