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Wings on the verge of Final appearance

by Brian Compton / NHL.com

Pavel Datsyuk scored a hat trick in Detroit's 5-2 win over Dallas and helped the Wings take a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals.
Watch Pavel Datsyuk score a hat trick
A few thoughts while Doug Wilson sorts through resumes …

Three Down, One To Go
-- The Detroit Red Wings are playing much like they did during the first half of the season -- like the best team in the NHL.

The Wings set a franchise record with their ninth-straight win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as Pavel Datsyuk picked a heck of a time to record his first hat trick in Monday night’s 5-2 win against the Dallas Stars in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals at the American Airlines Center.

Detroit is now just one win away from its first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals since 2002. It would be their fourth trip to the last round in 11 years -- a feat that simply can’t be overlooked or underappreciated.

But the Wings refuse to look ahead. Despite their stranglehold on the Stars, they know the series-clinching win is the always the toughest to attain. Their focus is strictly on Wednesday night’s Game 4.

"There's a lot of experience in here," center Kris Draper said. "We're not getting caught up in the little things. We have a chance to eliminate a great hockey team. We have to get focused and be ready to play a great game Wednesday night."

A couple of more wins in these playoffs, and maybe Chris Osgood will get the recognition he deserves? The All-Star netminder is 9-0 this postseason with a 1.47 GAA.

Only dishwashers are more underrated.

“He’s been excellent,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I think when you start talking about it sometimes, you think like he wasn’t playing all year … he was our best goalie all year. He won the most games; he played really, really well.”
    
Not Down On Downie -- For those who are waiting for John Stevens to announce that Steve Downie will be replaced by Patrick Thoresen when the Philadelphia Flyers host the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals tonight, you may be waiting a while.

“Right now, I’m a lot more confident than when I first got here, but there’s still a lot more confidence I have to find. It was a lot for me to learn.” - Flyers wing Steve Downie
The 21-year-old Downie was responsible for a critical turnover in Sunday night’s Game 2 loss at Pittsburgh, as it ultimately led to what proved to be the game-winning goal by Maxime Talbot.

Twenty-four hours later, though, several members of the Flyers spoke highly of Downie, who was selected in the first round of the 2005 NHL Draft by Philadelphia.

“He’s a good player,” Stevens said. “Hindsight is 20-20. A guy can come in the game and score the game-winning goal and it looks like a great decision, or he can come in and he’s on the ice when you get scored on late in a game. But he’s a great kid. I thought he was having a good game. He did a lot of great things in the game – he cycled the puck, he won puck battles, he was physical. You can look at similar things that happened in the hockey game and didn’t end up in the net and you forget about them.”

As for Downie, the young forward says he’s already moved on from Sunday’s gaffe. It’s the type of mentality that one has to have at this time of year.

“It’s been a long road this year, but I’ve learned a tremendous amount, and I’m continuing to learn every day,” Downie said. “Right now, I’m a lot more confident than when I first got here, but there’s still a lot more confidence I have to find. It was a lot for me to learn.”

No Brotherly Love For These Guys -- The Pittsburgh Penguins know they will receive the patented Philadelphia welcome when they skate onto the ice at the Wachovia Center as the series shifts to the City of Brotherly Love.

Love, though, is the last thing the Pens will receive from what will surely be a raucous crowd – especially since they’ll enter with a 2-0 series lead after winning the first two games in the Steel City.

“They are a tough team to play against and they are playing great,” Penguins forward Maxime Talbot said. “I think it’s going to be even tougher in their building. The Wachovia Center is a tough place to play in and they are going to be waiting for us. It’s nice to win two games at home, but we’re going to have to win on the road, too.”

With a sense of desperation sinking in for Philadelphia, the Penguins know the Flyers will try to seize the momentum early in the contest. It’s one of the many reasons why Sidney Crosby knows this series is far from done.

“Going to Philadelphia up 2-0, that’s the best position we could have been in at this point,” the Penguins’ captain said. “We know it’s going to get tougher from here on in.  I think going home, they want to play well.  Every game is important, but they want to make sure that they win this next one, there is no doubt.”

The Nashville Predators signed right wing Martin Erat to a seven-year deal worth $31.5 million yesterday.
Locked Up -- Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile was not about to let Martin Erat even consider free agency.

So he made the up-and-coming forward an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Erat -- who will turn 27 just prior to the start of training camp -- signed a seven-year deal with the Predators on Monday worth $31.5 million. The Czech Republic native set a new career high with 23 goals in 2007-08, and tied a career high with 57 points. Erat also had a goal and three assists in Nashville’s opening-round loss to the Detroit Red Wings in the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Erat would have been a restricted free agent on July 1. But Poile believes the former seventh-round draft pick (1999) is one of the Predators’ core players.

Martin Erat is a perfect example of this organization’s philosophy,” Poile said. “He came to us as a seventh-round draft pick, and grew steadily into an elite player when given an opportunity to succeed. He has continued to take on more responsibility and is an integral part of our team moving forward. We look forward to his leadership and production for the next seven years.”

New Coach In San Jose -- After three-straight exits in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson had seen enough.

One Wilson relieved another Wilson on Monday, as Ron Wilson was removed as San Jose’s coach. The Sharks were the hottest team in the League entering the postseason, but went the distance in the opening round against the Calgary Flames and dropped the first three games of the Western Conference semifinal against Dallas. The Sharks would lose that series in six games.

“Obviously, we didn’t win a Stanley Cup while I was here -- and I’m disappointed in that and I’m disappointed they decided to go in a different direction.” - Former Sharks head coach Ron Wilson
“I think we all were disappointed,” Doug Wilson said. “I’m proud of how the team played in key games, but I don’t think we played enough good games out of the 13 playoff games that we played. We’ve been in this business long enough to know that sometimes change takes place. Obviously, he was very disappointed. There are emotions involved, and there should be emotions involved because it shows how much you care. I know how hard he’s worked for us.”

The Sharks won 206 games and two division titles during Ron Wilson’s watch. They lost just two games in regulation following the acquisition of Brian Campbell on Feb. 26. But Ron Wilson’s inability to at least guide San Jose to the Stanley Cup Finals is the main reason why he is now unemployed.

“In most ways, I was shocked when Doug told me, but I guess in some ways not surprised,” Ron Wilson said in a conference call with reporters Monday night. “I’ve read about this so much for almost a year. However, when it happens when you don’t expect it, you’re disappointed.

“But in lieu of the fact that this happened, I couldn’t be prouder of my work here. I think our team’s record speaks for itself. Obviously, we didn’t win a Stanley Cup while I was here -- and I’m disappointed in that and I’m disappointed they decided to go in a different direction.”

Think Joel Quenneville has put Doug Wilson on speed dial?

Contact Brian Compton at: bcompton@nhl.com.



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