|Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit's dynamic duo, celebrate Datsyuk's goal that gave the Red Wings a 2-0 lead. (Matt Slocum/Associated Press)|
DALLAS - So much for the demise of the Detroit Red Wings. Not only are they headed back to the Stanley Cup finals, they're again looking like the club that dominated the regular season and most of the playoffs.
After consecutive losses hinted at vulnerability, the Red Wings took charge in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, getting first-period goals from Kris Draper, Pavel Datsyuk, and Dallas Drake on their way to knocking out the Dallas Stars, 4-1, last night.
"We were relentless," Draper said. "It was just a solid first period and obviously the difference in the hockey game . . . We're back in the Stanley Cup and it sounds great for us."
Detroit led this series, 3-0, before running into trouble. Now that the fear of a collapse is gone, the focus turns to winning its fourth championship in 11 seasons. The Red Wings will face the Pittsburgh Penguins starting Saturday at Joe Louis Arena, with the schedule following a Saturday-Monday-Wednesday pattern.
This will be Detroit's 23d Cup finals, but first since 2002 despite having at least 100 points and winning the Central Division every season since. The Red Wings lost to Anaheim in the conference finals last season.
"We were close last year and as disappointing as last year was, it was a great learning experience for everyone young and old on this team," forward Kirk Maltby said. "I think it's a big reason why we're going back this year."
Detroit had the most points in the league this season, then played even better much of the last six weeks. They won nine straight playoff games, the longest run by any team in 15 years, and it put them a win away from eliminating Dallas.
The Stars clawed back by limiting Detroit to a single goal in Games 4 and 5. The Red Wings exceeded that output in the first period last night, with all three goals coming on uncontested shots right in front of the net. Henrik Zetterberg added a shorthanded goal early in the second period.
"I thought it was a combination of us hoping to win and Detroit pushing the issue to win," Dallas coach Dave Tippett said.
Drake and Zetterberg each had a goal and an assist. It was Zetterberg's 11th goal of the playoffs and Drake's first. Drake, a 16-year veteran, is headed to his first finals.
Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood didn't have to do much the first two periods, then got busy in the third. He passed all but one test, getting beat by Stephane Robidas during a power play.
Osgood improved to 10-2 this postseason. It was his 100th career playoff game and his 55th victory - his 48th for Detroit, passing Hall of Famer Terry Sawchuk for the franchise record.