DETROIT — There are four head coaches left in the Stanley Cup playoffs. All have been this far before, but three are tied together by one franchise.
It is what links the Ottawa Senators' Bryan Murray, the Detroit Red Wings' Mike Babcock and the Ducks' Randy Carlyle.
Call it the Anaheim Connection, one that extends to Ron Wilson, the first head coach of the Ducks, whose San Jose Sharks were eliminated Monday night by Babcock's Red Wings.
"I guess everything good starts from here," quipped Ducks forward Teemu Selanne, referring to Anaheim.
The connection bemuses David McNab, the Ducks' longtime assistant general manager.
"I don't know," he said. "I'm not sure what it means. It's a neat thing, I suppose."
The Ducks are making their fifth playoff appearance in their 13 seasons. Their track record pales in comparison to that of the Red Wings, an Original Six franchise with 10 Stanley Cups and the Ducks' opponent in the Western Conference finals that begin here Friday night.
And while Murray was a veteran head coach when he was hired by the Ducks -- in 1990 he took the Washington Capitals to the East finals -- Wilson, Babcock and Carlyle were rookies.
All four share something else. They know how to win.
Babcock, in his second season here, has the Red Wings back in the third round for the first time since Detroit won the Cup in 2002. Yet, he is forever tied to the Ducks. Any mention of his name transports fans to 2003, when Anaheim shocked the hockey world by advancing to the Cup finals before losing in seven to the New Jersey Devils.
Now Babcock, 44, will try to keep the Ducks from making a return trip.
The current Anaheim team, however, barely resembles the one led by Babcock, who left for Detroit in 2005 after rejecting a one-year deal offered by General Manager Brian Burke. Only Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Rob Niedermayer, Andy McDonald and Samuel Pahlsson are left from that 2003 team.
Nearly everything else has changed: the "Mighty" nickname is gone; owner Walt Disney Co. is gone; the uniforms with the duck mask logo are gone; and the Arrowhead Pond has become the Honda Center.
Babcock's memories haven't changed, however.
"I think it was a fantastic team," he said. "We were a group of guys that really fit together. We had guys like Jiggy, Keith Carney and [Paul] Kariya, [Adam] Oates and Steve Rucchin. And then we brought in Robby Niedermayer and Steve Thomas who really solidified our lineup."
It was the Ducks' greatest success to that point, and Giguere, whose remarkable play in goal became the focal point of those playoffs, holds a lot of respect for his former coach.
"If anything, he's helped me with preparation," Giguere said. "Babcock will never be caught off guard with what he does. When I was younger, watching him, it made you want to be prepared too. If you prepare the right way, things will go your way."
Babcock wants things to go his way now, in this conference series, yet 2003 will always be there. He added fondly: "I'm looking at a portrait of that Mighty Ducks team that's hanging in my den."
Carlyle, of course, is the current leader. And with several core players signed though the 2008-09 season, most notably defensemen Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, this playoff appearance is unlikely the last.
But when Babcock sees Carlyle's team, he is quick to think of Bryan Murray.
Murray, 64, has been a coach or general manager in the league for 27 years but spent only three full seasons with the Ducks, beginning in 2001. His impact has been lasting, and not because of his coaching. The indelible thumbprint is from his two years as the Ducks' general manager.
"Murray did a wonderful job of getting that team some good young players," Babcock said.
Murray's legacy includes rising stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, both first-round draft picks in 2003, and Joffrey Lupul and Ladislav Smid, the Ducks' No. 1 picks in 2002 and 2004, respectively. Lupul and Smid enabled Burke to get Pronger from the Edmonton Oilers.
The signings of wingers Dustin Penner and Chris Kunitz, who combined for 54 goals this season, also occurred under Murray's watch.
Burke, the Ducks' GM, has been steadfast in crediting Murray for laying a solid foundation.
"Brian has been very gracious and has almost gone beyond what he had to say or do," Murray said. "He's obviously a real good GM. He's put things in great order there."
Murray said he hated to leave but he couldn't resist an opportunity to coach again near the place he grew up.
"I watch them as often as I can," he said of the Ducks. "There's a lot of pride that goes into seeing ... the development in these players.
"It was difficult leaving. I wouldn't have if I hadn't been coming home and the opportunity to come back was something I thought I'd do at the end of my career. I think Brian has done a hell of a job there and I credit what Randy has done in developing those guys.