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Red Wings and Sharks set for intriguing series @NHL

DETROIT (AP) - Home ice might be the only advantage the Detroit Red Wings have over the San Jose Sharks in their second-round series.

Detroit bolstered its chances of avoiding another first-round exit in the playoffs by retooling its roster to add toughness, speed and depth. The Red Wings also played more physical in Mike Babcock's second season behind the bench.

The changes were effective enough to get past the Jarome Iginla-led Calgary Flames, but Sharks coach Ron Wilson wasn't impressed.

"This is a little different because Calgary is a one-trick pony and we're not," Wilson said. "We've got a lot of weapons."

Game 1 in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series is Thursday night in Detroit.

The Red Wings will have at least two home games and as many as four, but that edge might be negated because the Sharks won an NHL-high and franchise-record 26 times on the road this season.

San Jose is led by reigning MVP Joe Thornton, who centers one of the NHL's top lines with Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek. Second-line center Patrick Marleau is the top scorer in franchise history. Evgeni Nabokov's seven shutouts during the regular season trailed only one goaltender.

Thornton is coming off his second straight season with at least 90 assists. Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux are the only other NHL players to do that.

"He's 6-foot-4 and he's an immense talent," Babcock said. "He hangs onto the puck like nobody's business, he's a better skater than people give him credit for and he loves hockey."

Goalie Dominik Hasek, a six-time Vezina Trophy winner, four-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and talented forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg lead the way for the Red Wings.

"You always want the chance to go against the best in the business, and these guys were the best team in the Western Conference this year," San Jose forward Bill Guerin said.

The Sharks dominated the season series, winning three of four. They scored a franchise-record six power-play goals in a 9-4 win on Jan. 4, and scored seven times with a man advantage in the three previous games.

Both teams made significant moves at the trading deadline, with the Red Wings adding Todd Bertuzzi and San Jose picking up Guerin and defenseman Craig Rivet.

"We're obviously a little bit of a different team than we were in the regular season when we played them," Wilson said. "And with Bertuzzi in there, they're a different team as well."

San Jose lost only one of its first-round games against the Nashville Predators, despite going just 2-for-30 on the power play with the second-worst percentage (6.7) in the playoffs.

Hasek said the Red Wings can't count on the Sharks to continue struggling with the man advantage.

"They have a great power play, so we have to stay out of the box," said Hasek, who faced an average of 21 1/2 shots against the Flames. "I definitely expect more shots this season because they are more skilled than Calgary."

Red Wings general manager Ken Holland is looking forward to the matchup and he said even non-hockey followers might be, too.

"Even casual fans can be excited about the series because of the name players both teams have," Holland said. "It will also help that it will look like a track meet at times, with highly skilled players keeping up a high-tempo pace.

"And if you asked hockey people to list the top five or six teams in the NHL, I would think both teams would be in that group."

For at least Game 1, Detroit will be without forward Tomas Holmstrom, whose presence in front of the net on power plays will be missed because of an eye injury, and defenseman Brett Lebda with an ankle injury and concussion.

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