They both suffered from hiccups in the regular season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars have certainly proven that they belong in what should be a pulsating Western Conference Finals.
After storming out to a commanding lead in the conference in the first half of the season, the Red Wings had a mediocre second half and barely held off the San Jose Sharks down the stretch to win the Presidents’ Trophy. Dallas, meanwhile, won just five of its first 12 games and endured a front-office shakeup in November. General Manager Doug Armstrong was replaced by Co-GMs Les Jackson and Brett Hull.
"Ozzie has been great for us. He's been a steadying influence. He's playing with a lot of confidence. But we're collectively playing at a high level of intensity and execution. We're getting a lot of big contributions from a lot of guys."- Detroit coach Mike Babcock on Chris Osgood
When the Stanley Cup Playoffs began, Detroit coach Mike Babcock handed Dominik Hasek the goaltending duties. But the 43-year-old struggled in the team’s opening-round series against the Nashville Predators, and the keys were handed over to Chris Osgood. Since then, the Wings are driving like a well-oiled machine.
Detroit simply overmatched the Colorado Avalanche in Round 2, outscoring the latter by a 21-9 margin in a four-game sweep. Much of that had to do with the play of Johan Franzen, who has 11 goals in the playoffs and 26 over the past 25 games. He had two hat tricks against the Avalanche.
“We've talked about the Stanley Cup since training camp. We've got eight (wins). We need to get eight more. It’s a great feeling, but we’ve got a heck of a test against Detroit.”- Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas
The Stars entered the postseason as the fifth seed, but have shown just how phenomenal the parity is in today’s NHL. Dallas eliminated the defending champion Anaheim Ducks in the opening round and is coming off an impressive series win over the San Jose Sharks, who were the No. 2 seed in the West and finished the regular season with 108 points.
Gritty captain Brenden Morrow had a tremendous series against the Sharks, and scored the clinching goal in quadruple overtime in Game 6. It was his second overtime goal of the series and his seventh goal of the postseason. Goaltender Marty Turco made a franchise-record 61 saves in the marathon and has long put his recent playoff woes behind him. He has won eight games while posting a 1.73 GAA this postseason.
Detroit will win if -- The offense continues to click the way it did against the Colorado Avalanche. Should Johan Franzen have another series like the one he enjoyed in Round 2, he’ll be one step closer to accepting the Conn Smythe Trophy next month. Franzen’s freakish performance (11 goals in 10 games) has helped the Wings reach the conference final for the seventh time in 13 seasons.
Detroit will also be counting on All-Star netminder Chris Osgood – who replaced Dominik Hasek as the go-to guy in the middle of Round 1 – to continue his solid play. The 35-year-old allowed just nine goals in four games against Colorado.
Dallas will win if -- It can three-peat with another two victories on the road to start a series. By winning Games 1 and 2 in Anaheim and San Jose in the first two rounds, the Stars set themselves up quite nicely heading back home. While the Red Wings have enough firepower to erase a 2-0 deficit, they might suffer from shell shock if they were to drop the first two games of this series at Joe Louis Arena.
The Stars will also need Marty Turco to continue his tremendous play between the pipes. Turco set a franchise record when he made 61 saves in the Stars’ quadruple-overtime win over San Jose in Game 6. Besides Johan Franzen, Turco must also deal with the likes of stud forwards such as Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, so he’ll certainly have his hands full against the Presidents’ Trophy winners.