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Western Finals get under way

by Adam Schwartz /

Joe Louis Arena will be the site of Game 1 of tonight's Western Conference Finals between Mike Modano's Dallas Stars and Pavel
Datsyuk's Detroit Red Wings, who won the regular season series 3-1.
The Western Conference Finals begin Thursday night in what should be a raucous matchup between the Dallas Stars and the Detroit Red Wings.

The Red Wings eliminated the Nashville Predators in six games and swept the Colorado Avalanche to get to their second consecutive Western Conference Finals.

Dallas knocked off the Stanley Cup-defending champion Anaheim Ducks and the San Jose Sharks in a pair of six-game series en route to their first trip to the Western Conference Finals since 1999.

Here’s what to keep an eye out for:

* After scoring two goals and adding seven assists for nine points in his first eight playoff games this season, Dallas center Brad Richards has two assists in his last four games. Richards, who averaged 23:27 of ice time per game during the regular season, is averaging 20:55 per game in the playoffs.

* Dallas defenseman Sergei Zubov, who has won the Stanley Cup in 1994 with the New York Rangers and in 1999 with the Stars, has one goal and three assists for four points in five games since returning from a foot injury in Game 2 against the Sharks. Zubov, who led the team with an average of 25:41 of ice time per game, has played less than 20 minutes in two of his five games since returning, but played 53:50 in Dallas’ quadruple overtime 2-1 win against the Sharks in Game 6.

* The Stars, who have allowed just six goals at the American Airlines Center this postseason, have won as many playoff series this season as they have in the last six seasons combined. Dallas, which has the best power play of the four teams left with a 25 percent success rate, has just an 83.3 percent penalty killing success rate.

* Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas, who has never had more than two points in a playoff season prior to this season, has one goal and seven assists for eight points in 12 games. Robidas, selected No. 164 overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, leads the Stars with 23 blocked shots.

* Stars left wing Brenden Morrow, who scored the game-winning goal in the fourth overtime that eliminated the Sharks in Game 6 of the last round, has never had a plus-minus rating less than a minus-1 in any playoff season, including this season’s plus-3 rating. Morrow, who hasn’t scored more than six points in a playoff season since 2003, has seven goals and four assists for 11 points in 12 games.

* The Red Wings, who allowed the fewest goals in the League during the regular season with 184, have allowed an average of 2.1 goals against per game during the playoffs. Detroit, which has won five playoff series in its last four seasons, is averaging 39.3 shots per game, which is more than any other team in the playoffs – the Pittsburgh Penguins are the closest at 33.9 shots per game.

* Detroit right wing Johan Franzen, who leads the League with 11 playoff goals, had three goals in four games against the Stars this season. Franzen, who played in just 24 playoff games prior to this season, has a plus-17 rating in 34 career playoff games.

* Red Wings right wing Daniel Cleary, who missed 19 games with a broken jaw during the regular season, has just one goal and one assist for two points in 10 playoff games. Cleary, who scored 20 goals in just 63 games during the regular season, had two goals and two assists for four points and a plus-4 rating in two games against the Stars during the regular season.

* Detroit center Pavel Datsyuk, who is tied for seventh in the League with 13 playoff points, has two goals and six assists for eight points and a plus-4 rating in his last four games, including a pair of three-point efforts in Games 3 and 4 against the Avalanche while playing just 13:43 in Game 4. Datysuk, who plays with Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom, leads the team with 12 takeaways.

* Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronvall, who averages the third-most ice time on the team with an average of 22:39 per game, leads the team with 22 hits. Kronvall, who plays for Detroit’s second power-play unit, is tied for the team lead in assists with eight.

* Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski, who has been to the Stanley Cup Final three times with the New Jersey Devils, has been a minus player in two of just eight playoff seasons, including a plus-7 rating so far this season. Rafalski, who has recorded at least eight points in three of his prior four playoff seasons, has seven points in 10 games.

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