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Wings are first defenders to move on since '02

by Staff Writer / Detroit Red Wings

DETROIT - The Red Wings became the first defending Stanley Cup champion to advance in the playoffs in seven years.

"We're not going to have a parade, but we feel good about it," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said Friday night in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. "Make no mistake, the reason no one has done it in such a long time is because it's difficult. After you win the Cup, you play with a target on your back.

"We were fortunate enough to get engaged at the right time and to come out of it fairly healthy for the next series. It's a fun time of the year to still be playing."

The Red Wings finished off a sweep against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night, winning a series on the road for the eighth straight time.

The second-seeded team in the Western Conference might have an entire week off before hosting a second-round game.

Detroit will play the Vancouver Canucks if the top-seeded San Jose Sharks rally to eliminate Anaheim. If the eighth-seeded Ducks hold off San Jose, they will face the Red Wings.

Anaheim leads the Sharks 3-1, heading into Saturday night's game in San Jose. Third-seeded Vancouver has been idle since sweeping the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday.

"Suddenly, you've only got eight teams," Babcock said Thursday night after eliminating Columbus with a 6-5 win in Game 4. "Our fans in Detroit, they expect a lot more. But to me you've already taken a significant step."

The Red Wings allowed their players to rest Friday, but Babcock, general manager Ken Holland and assistant GM Jim Nill didn't take the day off.

Nill drove Babcock and Holland to Grand Rapids, Mich., to watch their minor leaguers play the Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL playoffs.

"We're going to get at least a few days at home, so this gives us a chance to watch our guys play," Babcock said.

Detroit planned to practice Saturday without knowing who it will play next.

The Colorado Avalanche were the most recent NHL team to win at least one playoff round after hoisting the Stanley Cup, losing to the Red Wings in the 2002 Western Conference finals.

Detroit was knocked out in the first round of the 2003 playoffs and the following four champions - New Jersey, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Anaheim - all failed to put up much of a fight after winning the Cup.

The Devils, Lightning and Ducks all had first-round exits as defending champions and the Hurricanes didn't make it to the playoffs.
 

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