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Red Wings roll back to Stanley Cup Final

by Brian Compton

Selke Trohpy finalist Henrik Zetterberg helped Detroit maintain the fewest goals allowed this season, while the team overcame many blue line injuries. Zetterberg highlights
They give new meaning to the word mainstay.

Sure, it's been six years since the Detroit Red Wings have made it this far, but Hockeytown is rocking once again now that the Wings are just four wins away from their fourth Stanley Cup since 1997.

Let's face it – these Red Wings have become a model franchise for all NHL teams to follow. Year after year, Detroit is among the top teams in the League, and was No. 1 during the regular season with 54 wins and 115 points. The Red Wings have finished first or second in the West each year since winning their last Stanley Cup in 2002.

Unlike previous seasons, though, the Red Wings battled through plenty of adversity during the 2007-08 campaign. Their blue line required band-aids for much of the season, as the Wings saw Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Chris Chelios and Brad Stuart all go down with injuries at different times.

But the Wings overcame those hurdles and still managed to allow the fewest goals in the NHL (184), thanks in large part to All-Star forwards and Selke Trophy candidates Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Despite playing .500 hockey for much of the second half of the season, the Red Wings held on to finish atop the Western Conference and win the Presidents' Trophy.

After hitting a slight bump in the road in the opening round against the Nashville Predators, including a change in goaltenders from Dominik Hasek to Chris Osgood, the Red Wings basically have been on cruise control. They eliminated Nashville in six games before sweeping the Colorado Avalanche in Round 2. In those four victories, the Wings outscored the Avs, 21-9, keyed by two hat tricks by Johan Franzen. They even chased Colorado goalie Jose Theodore three times.

In the early going of the Western Conference Finals, it appeared the fifth-seeded Dallas Stars would suffer the same fate as Colorado. The Red Wings won the first three games of the series in relatively easy fashion, outscoring Dallas by a margin of 11-4. Their 5-2 win at American Airlines Center in Game 3 was a historic moment for the Wings, as it marked their first nine-game winning streak in the postseason.

With a 3-0 series lead, Detroit seemed primed to achieve back-to-back sweeps. And considering only two teams in NHL history ever had come back to win a series after dropping the first three games, the Red Wings had all but clinched their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final in six years.

Not so fast.

Behind some stellar goaltending from Marty Turco, the Stars clawed their way back into the series. Turco made 33 saves in Game 4 in Dallas, while Mike Modano and Brenden Morrow scored in the third period in a 3-1 decision as Detroit was handed its first loss since Game 4 of the conference quarterfinals against Nashville.

Things still looked good for the Wings, considering they held a 3-1 series lead heading back to Detroit, where Turco was 0-9-2 as a professional. But the Stars' netminder stood on his head in Game 5, making 38 saves in a 2-1 victory. Suddenly, the Wings were feeling some pressure to close out the series.

"There's pressure on both teams," Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "If they lose one game, the series is over. If we win, it's over, too. I don't really feel that pressure. The thing is, you have to be ready to play the game that's coming up. You can't think too far ahead." 

Once the puck dropped in Game 6, one could sense the Wings were not about to allow the Western Conference Finals to slip away. Kris Draper scored just 3:45 into the contest in what turned out to be the first of three goals for Detroit in the opening period. Henrik Zetterberg put the Wings up 4-0 with a shorthanded goal early in the second period, and Detroit never looked back en route to a 4-1 win at American Airlines Center.

"We thought we were going to be good," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "We didn't play bad last game. We were nervous early. We've got a professional team. We just talked about doing what we do and getting started on time and doing it harder and for longer. We drove the net hard early and we were rewarded."

In order to win their first Stanley Cup since 2002, the Red Wings will have to beat the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins enter the Stanley Cup Final having won 12 of 14 games this spring, and they're undefeated at Mellon Arena with an 8-0 record.

"They've got high skill level, they've got big forwards, the back end moves the puck and the goaltender's playing well," Babcock said of the Pens. "You start out with 30 (teams) and I believe in our League now, everybody's good. For two to be remaining, they must be really good. Their transition is fantastic. They've got a bunch of kids who can really skate. It's going to be a huge challenge for us, but we're excited about the opportunity."

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