By Evan Grossman, NHL.com Staff Writer
While owning the top seed in the Western Conference is a familiar scenario for the Red Wings, it's not a position that's been very lucky for them the last few years. In fact, the Red Wings have found getting out of the first round of the playoffs to be an incredible challenge the last few years, no matter how high in the standings they've finished, no matter how low their opponents have finished.
Last season was the most recent example of a disappointing Detroit exit when the No. 1 seed in the West fell to No. 8 Edmonton in six games in the opening round. In 2003, the Red Wings also were erased in the Western Quarterfinals by another eventual Cup runner-up when they were bounced out of the first round by Anaheim in four-straight games. In 2004, the Wings won their fourth Presidents' Trophy, but the Wings were taken out by the Calgary Flames, also a Cup Finalist.
The Wings won it all in 2002, but in 2001 they also didn't get out of the first round when the Los Angeles Kings eliminated them in six games.
With their dynasty years in the rearview mirror, the Red Wings are trying to rekindle some of the playoff magic of the past and Detroit is hoping to win again with the group of veterans that's been intact since the 1996 championship. The vets aren't getting any younger and this may be their last chance at hoisting the Cup again, with the same group.
Standing in the way again this spring are the Calgary Flames, a team looking to add to the line of early knockouts suffered by Detroit in recent years. With a hard-hitting defense and stingy goaltending, the Flames might be able to continue Detroit's disappointing trend.
The Russian playmaker was recently rewarded with a seven-year, $46.9 million contract extension, a deal that was most likely engineered behind his regular-season play, versus what he's done in the playoffs. Datsyuk led the Red Wings in scoring this season with 27 goals and 87 points and is one of the more dangerous attackers in the game. But in the playoffs, Datsyuk has not had that same kind of production with three goals in 42 career playoff games. He won a Cup in 2002 with the Wings, but if they are going to raise it again this spring, he's going to have to find the net more than he ever has.Nicklas Lidstrom:
The rock the Red Wings lean on, especially in the playoffs. So far, the 36-year old has won three Cups in Detroit and he's not showing any signs of slowing down. This season Lidstrom averaged a team-high 27:29 of ice per night, played in every phase of the game and scored 62 points, third on the team. In the playoffs, he's always been just as effective, scoring 118 points in 174 career playoff games, all while mostly being matched against the opposition's most dangerous forwards.Dominik Hasek:
The last time "The Dominator" played in the playoffs, he walked off with the Stanley Cup, backstopping the Red Wings to their last championship in 2002. This spring, Hasek returns to the tournament and he returns wearing the uniform of the only team he ever won it all with. Hasek has a 53-39 record in 97 playoff games and will be a finalist for the Vezina this year as one of the elite goalies in the game. His 2.05 goals-against were second in the league. Not bad for a 42-year-old.
Calgary Game-BreakersJarome Iginla:
Any discussion of the Flames begins and ends with Iginla. He is coming off a strong regular season and the whole atmosphere of the playoffs fits him perfectly. A prototypical power forward, Iginla can take a hit, a punch or just about anything else and still make the play.Kristian Huselius:
The Swede's cover is blown for good now. Previously a productive but quiet -- very, very quiet -- winger with the Florida Panthers and Flames, Huselius enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2006-07 with 34 goals and 43 assists. No more runs under the radar for him.Daymond Langkow:
The speedy, hard-nosed center is coming off a career season that saw him surpass the 30-goal mark and the 40-assist plateau. After NHL stops with Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and Phoenix, Langkow has been a perfect fit in Calgary.
This is the reason why the Red Wings rolled the dice and traded for him at the deadline. He can be the force that gets Detroit over the top this year. The only question is, "Can he do it?" Bertuzzi only played in eight games with the Wings after missing most of the year with a back injury before the trade deadline. When healthy, Bertuzzi is the elite power forward in the game, a player capable of dominating a series. In 24 career playoff games, Bert has six goals and 14 points.Craig Conroy:
Rescued from a sour season in Los Angeles, Conroy is back in Calgary, where he was an important player during Calgary's run to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final. Since returning to the Flames in deal with the Kings, Conroy has looked like his old self again, meaning the Flames have another solid playmaker.
Crystal BallDetroit will win if:
Hasek plays like he always has in the playoffs. If Hasek can outplay Kiprusoff, the Flames have no chance. But the Wings are also going to have to find a way to crack Calgary's stingy defense, and the only way they win this series is if the Detroit attackers like Datsyuk, Holmstrom and Bertuzzi can operate around the Flames' net. Look for Lidstrom to be matched against Calgary's big guns like Jarome Iginla, a match up that dramatically favors the Red Wings.Calgary will win if:
Miikka Kiprusoff once again rises to the occasion in the Flames' net. The Calgary defense will play a key role here as they need to keep Detroit's physical forwards away from the front of the net in order to give "Kipper" a chance at seeing shots.
Up front, the Flames need to make their shots count. Dominik Hasek has a reputation of being hard to beat once he gets rolling in a game, so striking early and often will be important for Calgary. Jarome Iginla will be in Detroit's sights, so it will be important for Alex Tanguay and Daymond Langkow to strike at every possible opportunity.
Five Fast FactsOld Man Hockey:
Chris Chelios is the oldest defenseman to ever play in the playoffs at 45. The oldest player to ever dress in the postseason is Gordie Howe, who played in the playoffs as a 52-year-old. In 23 seasons, Chelios has played in 228 playoff games and won Stanley Cups with Montreal in 1986 and Detroit in 2002.Sixteen and Counting:
The Red Wings have qualified for the playoffs 16-straight years and has accumulated over 100 points in the regular season for seven-consecutive seasons. Detroit finished with the best record in the Western Conference this year, fended off the Nashville Predators for the Central Division crown, and amassed 113 points.Marathon Man:
During the regular season, sophomore defenseman Dion Phaneuf led all Flames players in ice time, averaging over 25 minutes per game.Trade A Plus: Brad Stuart
went from being a minus-22 player with the Boston Bruins to a plus-12 player with the Flames.Home Not So Sweet:
The Calgary Flames, who advanced to Game 7 of the 2004 Cup Final, own the record for the most home losses in one playoff year with seven defeats that spring. The Flames dropped two games in the first round to Vancouver on home ice, one to Detroit in the second round, and two more each in the third and fourth rounds to San Jose and Tampa.