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Franzen-led Detroit Red Wings roll into Western Conference finals

DETROIT - The Detroit Red Wings lack the household names they had the last time they hoisted the Stanley Cup.

The way they're playing, though, anybody remotely interested in hockey knows - or will find out soon - who's on the team. Johan Franzen already has 11 goals through two rounds, surpassing the post-season total Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull or any player on the 2002 team that looked like a future wing of the Hall of Fame.

In fact, the player known as Mule has more goals than any Red Wing - even Gordie Howe - in a series (nine) and in a single post-season.

"I don't expect to score that much the rest of the playoffs," Franzen said after his second hat trick against Colorado helped eliminate the Avalanche in an 8-2 victory Thursday night. "I only hope I can contribute something offensively."

Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, with 13 points apiece, have dominated play at both ends of the ice with obvious talent and subtle grit.

"Pavel (29) and Hank (27) are superstars in the league at the perfect age - in their prime," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.

Detroit's smothering defence is led by five-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom.

Chris Osgood is 6-0 as a starter since replacing Dominik Hasek in the first round against Nashville, showing even Babcock is making the right moves behind the bench for the NHL's top-seeded team.

"Things couldn't be better for us," Babcock said.

The Red Wings, who beat the Nashville Predators in six games and swept the Avs, are in the Western Conference finals for the second straight year.

Detroit led the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 last year before losing to the eventual champion.

"We might be better," said Babcock, when asked to compare this team with the last one. "We're going to find out going ahead."

The Red Wings will play the winner of the Dallas-San Jose series. The Stars lead the series 3-2 after the Sharks rallied for a 3-2 victory in Game 5 on Friday night.Game 6 is Sunday in Dallas and Game 7, if necessary, is Tuesday in San Jose.

The Eastern Conference finals might not be set until Wednesday.

Babcock said he wasn't concerned about a possible break before the next series.

"I'm worried about winning," Babcock said. "That's enough."

The Stars or Sharks will have plenty to worry about when they prepare to play Detroit.

First, there's Franzen.

Since March 2, he has scored 26 goals to lead the NHL. Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin scored 20 times during the same stretch in three fewer games.

"He's been great," Babcock said. "He's a big, big man with lots of skill. We're lucky to have him."

The six-foot-three, 220-pound Swede leads Detroit's No. 2 line that includes Mikael Samuelsson and Valtteri Filppula, both of whom are good enough to take advantage of being left alone if teams focus too much on Franzen.

Zetterberg and Datsyuk are playing off each other as well as they have, creating problems for opponents trying to cope with two of the three finalists for the Selke Trophy that honours forwards for defensive work.

Defensively, Lidstrom has looked like the player worthy of breaking a tie with Ray Bourque for Norris Trophies by winning his sixth award this summer to trail only Bobby Orr and Doug Harvey for being recognized as the NHL's best on the blue line.

Hard-hitting defencemen Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall have given opponents something else to worry about, too.

Osgood is giving up just 1 1/2 goals a game, hoping to help the Red Wings win a Stanley Cup as he did a decade ago.

"I have room on my right hand for another ring," Osgood said.



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