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No matter the playing field, Red Wings excel

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PITTSBURGH (AP) - From Bowman to Babcock, Yzerman to Lidstrom, the Detroit Red Wings have this Stanley Cup thing all figured out.

Free market spending or salary cap shackles, it doesn't matter in Hockeytown, where the Cup will reside for the fourth time in 11 seasons.

"Well, the news is since the cap world, everybody's good," coach Mike Babcock said Wednesday night after the Red Wings eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. "We played four tough series. I can't remember who we played last it seemed so long ago, but they're all good."

That is exactly the point in the world of the Red Wings, an Original Six franchise with 11 Stanley Cup titles. It really makes no difference who the opponent is because they are going to play their game and make whatever club is on the other side adapt to them.

Nashville went out in six games, Colorado exited in four, Dallas and Pittsburgh posed some threats but never put Detroit on the ropes facing a must-win contest. They both were gone in six games, too, and the common theme is that each club was knocked out on home ice.

With Nicklas Lidstrom anchoring a solid defensive front, and Henrik Zetterberg - the Conn Smythe Trophy winner - and linemate Pavel Datsyuk showing that their checking is every bit as impressive as their scoring touch, the Red Wings are virtually impenetrable.

Well, they would be if they ever decided to give up the puck in the first place.

"Hopefully this will teach our young kids how to win," said Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux, a two-time champion with Pittsburgh in the early 1990s. "Hopefully next time we'll do much better."

Even with a slew of 20-somethings like captain Sidney Crosby, fellow forward Evgeni Malkin, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, and teenager Jordan Staal, there is no guarantee that the Penguins will be poised to make another run next year.

Crosby is signed for five years and big money, but the bill on the others is coming due in the next two seasons. A new arena will give the Penguins a necessary financial infusion, taking away the issue that nearly cost Pittsburgh its team on several occasions, but now it is cap dollars creating the problem.

The Penguins are facing the prospect of losing key players Marian Hossa, Brooks Orpik and Ryan Malone to free agency.

That makes the Red Wings' semi-dynasty even more impressive.

They captured the Cup in 1997, 1998 and 2002 in the old financial landscape where All-Stars and Hall of Famers could be stockpiled. Steve Yzerman was a fixture that was complemented by other luminaries such as Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan.

They even had Scotty Bowman behind the bench as he added to his astounding total of nine NHL championships.

Lidstrom is joined by Kris Draper, Tomas Holmstrom, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty as the gang of five to be with the Red Wings for each of their four most recent titles. Chris Osgood has been a part of three, including as the starting goalie for the 1998 run.

"We've proven that under the new system where it's more of an even playing field, that the team has really responded well," said Lidstrom, the first European captain of a Stanley Cup winner. "We've had the same core group of guys - four, five, six guys for a lot of years - and I think that's been very helpful.

"It shows that we're still able to play well with the new system. People probably thought we were going to drop off a little bit going into that first season after the lockout, and the team didn't lose a beat. I thought we played well in the first year after that, and I think we've just been getting better and better under Mike Babcock."

Babcock came over from Anaheim in 2005, right after the yearlong lockout, and Lidstrom took the captaincy reins from Yzerman when he retired a year later.

Five years ago as a rookie coach in the league, Babcock took the Mighty Ducks to the Stanley Cup finals and they pushed the champion New Jersey Devils to Game 7.

Babcock watched the Devils celebrate, getting a taste of what it would be like to win. It was a dream finally realized Wednesday night when shots by Crosby and Hossa barely missed beating Osgood for the tying goal before the final horn sounded.

After seeing Pittsburgh get even with 34.3 seconds left in regulation on the Red Wings' home ice in Game 5 and then losing to the Penguins in triple overtime just before 1 a.m., nothing could be taken for granted.

Detroit has been in the playoffs 17 straight seasons, the longest current run among teams in any North American sport. The Red Wings have captured the Central Division seven straight seasons and have had the NHL's best record in three of the past four.

Coming off a first-round ouster against eighth-seeded Edmonton in 2006 and a six-game loss to eventual Cup champion Anaheim last year in the Western Conference finals, it is almost as though nothing less than the ultimate title would be accepted.

"Well, it's difficult, obviously," Babcock said. "If you go through the last three years in the NHL and the amount of games we've won ... I mean, we won 58, we won 50, and we won 54. So do the math there, and then we flamed out.

"This year it's been a process. It didn't happen overnight. We've been a good team, and I think an elite, elite team for the last three years. We were finally able to get it done."

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