At the risk of jinxing things (which I totally don’t believe in), I would like to recognize what the Wings have been doing in the playoffs. Although, I forgive if you forgot the playoffs were still going on. The NHL—in its infinite wisdom—has sucked all of the momentum out of what has been an otherwise exciting Stanley Cup Playoffs by inserting a four-day break between rounds. Said break isn’t fair to the Wings who easily dispatched of the Avs in four games. Dallas played a grueling six-game series (including a 4-OT game six) against San Jose and instead of having to come back two days later to play game one of the Western Conference Finals, Dallas gets four days of rest. Meanwhile, the Wings were forced to wait seven games in between games. Nonetheless, the Wings have looked fantastic. Games three and four in the Nashville-series brought back bad memories of recent playoff-failures but, even then, the Wings regrouped and took care of business in six games. They proceeded to destroy Colorado and have a ton of momentum going into the Conference Finals.
As good as the Wings have looked, it’s important to note that they have been a huge benefactor of the re-seeding rule. As the #1 seed in the conference, the Wings earned the right to play the lowest remaining seed in every round (which essentially means the second round). That meant a second-round tilt with Colorado (the 6-seed) instead of Dallas. Colorado was without the services of Peter Forsberg for most of the series and proved to be a much easier opponent. Plus, the Wings would have had to play Dallas and San Jose in back-to-back series which would’ve been brutal. Dallas and San Jose were forced to duke it out in a grueling second-round series. Dallas ended up knocking off Detroit’s biggest threat in the conference which probably doubled their chances of winning the Cup.
Mike Babcock took a lot of heat for his first two playoffs in Detroit. The Wings were the #1-seed each year and failed to make it to the Finals both times. However, he inherited a fairly young team and I think he finally has his guys playing the style that he prefers. Babcock’s Anaheim–team that crushed the Wings 4-0 in the First Round in ’03 is exactly what Ken Holland envisioned when he brought Babcock to Detroit; and I think Holland finally has what he was looking for. This team is hard-nosed and efficient. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are playing as well as any Red Wings-duo that I have seen. They are seemingly in on every Wings-goal having both notched 13 points in just 10 games. Zetterberg leads the playoffs with a +10. Datsyuk is fourth at +7. It wasn’t that long ago when local columnists branded Datsyuk a playoff-choker. He has 29 points in his last 28 playoff-games so I think that overreaction can be put to rest. Then there’s Johan Franzen who has inexplicably turned into the best player in the playoffs. Franzen has been a huge boost for the Wings who desperately needed someone to step up as a third bona fide-scoring option in the playoffs. I’m not buying Franzen’s seemingly overnight transformation into a hockey superstar for the long term. This is a guy who has scored just 84 points in 221 regular season games. None of that matters though. The Wings don’t need this to last forever. He just needs to keep breaking franchise-records long enough to get the Wings their fourth cup in 11 seasons. The Wings have a perfect mix of talent and grit which is the combination that produced the first two Cups.
Then there’s Nicklas Lidstrom who is quietly staking his claim as the second greatest defenseman of all-time. Passing Bobby Orr as the greatest is pretty much out of the question but a run at Doug Harvey for the mythical second-spot is certainly in play. A Norris-win this season would put Lidstrom within one of Harvey’s total. He is a finalist, and an overwhelming favorite to win the award this year over Zdeno Chara and Dion Phaneuf. He’s also a lock for a ninth First Team NHL All-Star selection which would also be within one of Harvey’s total. It’s tough to imagine Lidstrom slowing down anytime soon since he is playing the best hockey of his career. There are some who believe he should’ve been a finalist for the Hart Trophy this season. A fourth Stanley Cup would put his resume among the greatest of All-Time at any position. If Lidstrom plays another five seasons at an All-Star level, he’ll end up as one of the top ten players of all-time if he isn’t already. As much as I love Stevie Y, Lidstrom has to be considered the second greatest Red Wing at the very least. Where Lidstrom stands in a comparison with Gordie Howe depends entirely on how you view the respective worth of a defenseman and a forward.
While Dallas won’t be a pushover, the Wings couldn’t have hoped for a better opponent in the WCF. There are a number of reasons why the Wings have to be elated to be playing Dallas. 1). Dallas struggled to a 4-10 finish to the regular season. 2). The Wings won the season-series 3-1 outscoring the Stars 12-5. 3). Marty Turco has two wins in 18 starts against the Wings. 4). Dallas is the 5-seed and—more importantly—not San Jose or Anaheim. 5). Dallas doesn’t have a line that can touch Zetterberg/Datsyuk/Holmstrom. I’m going to forgo putting “Detroit has home-ice advantage” as the 6th reason because, if that meant anything, these Wings would have like 10 Cups by now. However, it’s worth noting that the Wings had the best home-record in the NHL this year and are 5-0 at home in the playoffs. Last season’s loss to Anaheim in the WCF was an enormous disappointment because the Wings were so close to winning that series. A similar result this year would be even more disappointing because the Wings have clearly been the better team in the regular season and in the playoffs. I think last year’s Anaheim-series will pay dividends this time around.