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Wait is over; Wings return to Cup

by Lindsey Ungar / Detroit Red Wings
Valtteri Filppula exits Red Bird II after the Red Wings returned home from clinching their Western Conference championship on Thursday in Dallas.
ROMULUS, Mich. — The Stanley Cup finals don’t start until Saturday at Joe Louis Arena, but for fans itching to cheer the Red Wings to the Cup for the first time since 2002, the wait may seem like eternity.

But for the team, which wrapped up the Western Conference championship Monday night in Dallas, the break gives players and coaches time to rest and prep for the final roadblock — the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Among other things.

“I’ll be in the dentist chair,” said Red Wings forward Kris Draper, who used his chin to score Detroit’s opening goal in Monday’s Game 6 at American Airlines Center.

But getting his teeth fixed isn’t the only thing Draper will be busy with before the Wings return to practice Thursday.

“We’re going to have our third child over the next couple of days,” said Draper, who doesn’t know whether it will be a boy or girl. “Perfect time.”

Draper, along with linemates Mikael Samuelsson and Dallas Drake, led the offensive attack in Game 6. Drake added a goal and an assist, while Samuelsson also picked up an assist.

The line provided the secondary scoring that had been missing in the series, especially with Johan Franzen (headaches) out. The line, formed in Game 6, combines youth (Samuelsson), Cup experience (Draper) and hunger (Drake).

Drake has played 16 seasons. But he’s never played in the finals. There are only seven Red Wings left from the Cup-winning team in 2002. Five players (Draper, Nicklas Lidstrom, Kirk Maltby, Darren McCarty and Tomas Holmstrom) will be looking to win their fourth title in Detroit.

So is Draper’s new line indicative of the team as a whole?

“We’ve got a great mix here,” Draper said. “We’ve got some young guys, like I said, there first time going into the Stanley Cup finals. And then we’ve got some players that have been here before.”

The Penguins also have a great mix, though. There’s the marquee talent —Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, whose pitched three shutouts. But they’re young and inexperienced, right?

The Penguins also have Gary Roberts, Petr Sykora and Darryl Sydor, who all know a few things about winning in June.

“They have some great young players, and we do as well,” Lidstrom said. “I’m sure they’re happy and eager to get going again, but we are too. I’m looking forward to this series.”

The two teams did not meet during the regular-season, and this will be their first meeting ever between the two franchises in the playoffs. Game 1 is scheduled for Saturday at Joe Louis Arena, and the series will follow a Monday-Wednesday-Saturday schedule after that. All games will start at 8 p.m. EDT.

“It’s gonna be difficult, but it’s gonna be fun,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

FINALLY IN THE FINALS: Babcock coached his previous team, the Anaheim Ducks, to the finals in 2003. And while he’s enjoyed outstanding regular seasons here in Detroit — including a Presidents’ Trophy this season — this is first taste of the finals with the Red Wings.

“We’ve had a real good team here since the lockout,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of excellent things and won a lot of games. But this is the first time we’ve been a situation where we have a chance.”

Babcock’s Ducks came oh-so-close to winning it all — they lost in seven games to the New Jersey Devils.

“In the end, you really don’t have a chance to win it until you’ve won three games in the finals,” Babcock said. “And we’re a long ways away from that.”

WINGS NOTES: When asked if Chris Chelios -- who missed Game 6 against Dallas with a leg injury -- would be ready for Game 1 against the Pens, Babcock gave no details. “I don’t know,” Babcock said. “We’ll talk about that.” … With Monday’s win, goalie Chris Osgood set the franchise record for playoff wins (55), surpassing hall of famer Terry Sawchuk. Osgood is 10-2 this postseason.
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