Inquirer Daily News
Wings revival shouldn't come as a surprise

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Just when everybody thought they had the Red Wings figured out, they go ahead and change on us.

Detroit came into this postseason as the top seed in the Western Conference, but without the high expectations that usually come with that No. 1 spot. The absence of pressure can be attributed to the Red Wings' lack of success in recent postseasons, but the team from Motown is trying to erase those previous failures.

This is actually the third straight season that the Red Wings are the West's top seed, and the club was in the No. 2 slot during the 2003 playoffs. However, Detroit, which won the Stanley Cup in 2002, had failed to advance to the conference finals in each of the previous three postseasons and had been an opening-round victim twice during that span.

However, this year the Red Wings have not only made it to the conference finals, but are ahead two games-to-one over Anaheim and have plenty of momentum after a 5-0 victory in Game 3 of the best-of-seven set.

Nicklas Lidstrom
Nicklas Lidstrom has been one of the reasons for Detroit's revival.

The reason everybody had lost faith in the Red Wings is simple. They relied on too many aging players to produce and those veterans could no longer handle the grind of the NHL's strenuous playoff format.

Or so we thought.

Whatever the reason for Detroit's postseason collapses in previous years, it's hard to make the case anymore that they had anything to with age. After all, players like Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom and Chris Chelios have all been part of those early exits and are now keys to this year's deep playoff run.

Lidstrom has been the best of the veteran players for Detroit, but 42-year-old Dominik Hasek has been the biggest surprise. In fact, it was a shock that the legendary Czech goaltender came back for this season at all, considering the injury problems he went through in 2003-04 with Detroit and again last season with Ottawa.

A nagging groin injury limited Hasek to just 57 starts over those two seasons for the Senators and Red Wings, but he came back to put together a strong regular season with Detroit this year and has continued that success well into the playoffs. The two-time Hart and six-time Vezina Trophy winner is 10-5 with a 1.52 goals against average, .935 save percentage and three shutouts.

Meanwhile, the 37-year-old Lidstrom has notched two points in each of the three contests against Anaheim and has a team-leading 17 points (4g, 13a) in this postseason.

The Swedish blueliner already has more points in this year's playoffs than he did when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy for Detroit's 2002 Stanley Cup champion team. Lidstrom also holds the team record for points in a postseason by a defenseman, as he notched 19 to help the Red Wings win a Stanley Cup title in 1998.

Holmstrom, 34, has eight points (5 goals, 3 assists) in 12 postseason games this year, while the 45-year-old Chelios has one goal, four assists and is second on the team with a plus-seven rating.

It wouldn't be fair to give all the credit to the older Red Wings, because Detroit has received excellent postseasons from a pair of players still in their 20's. The older of those players is 28-year-old center Pavel Datsyuk, who is leading all Detroit forwards in points this postseason with 14 (6g, 8a). Winger Henrik Zetterberg, 26, is not far behind with five goals and seven assists.

Now that the Red Wings have proven that age is just a number, they have a good as shot as anybody to win it all. But if they do happen to fall short, don't let anybody tell you it's because they were too old. This year's club has at least earned the right to put that theory to rest.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.
Dan Di Sciullo