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Red Wings end questions about post-season flops after eliminating Sharks

Detroit advanced to the Western Conference finals with a 2-0 win at San Jose on Monday night in Game 6, eliminating the Sharks with three straight wins.

"We've come into this post-season wanting to erase the past failures," Red Wings forward Kris Draper acknowledged after the team arrived home Tuesday. "But the one thing we said from Day 1 was that this is a different hockey team and I think up until now, we've proved it.

"But realistically, we're only half way to our goal. We love how we played against Calgary and San Jose, but we're looking at the bigger prize right now and we know it's only going to get tougher."

In a matchup of the Western Conference's first-and second-seeded teams, Detroit will play the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night in Game 1.

The Red Wings are thankful to get a break after playing two physical teams and spending a lot of time on the private plane they share with the Tigers.

"It helps a lot, getting your energy back today and to start focusing for Anaheim instead of playing a Game 7," Nicklas Lidstrom said.

Chris Chelios is happy, too.

"For the guys that have been logging really big minutes, it will give us some time to regroup," he said.

The 45-year-old Chelios, playing in an NHL-record 22nd post-season minutes, has been one of those players getting a lot of ice time because of injuries to Niklas Kronwall, Mathieu Schneider and Brett Lebda.

Detroit also had to deal with playing without forward Tomas Holmstrom and from two-goal deficits in games against the Sharks.

Heading into a matchup with his former team, Mike Babcock is a proud coach.

"Any time you're in a final four in any league, you've accomplished something," he said. "We've had a good year up to this point, but obviously, we have aspirations to play for a long time.

"We've played hard and we've been able to overcome adversity with injuries and stuff like that and still find a way to keep playing."

Babcock led Anaheim to the 2003 Stanley Cup finals in his first year as an NHL head coach. The Ducks didn't make the playoffs the next year and the following season was cancelled because of the NHL lockout.

The Ducks offered him a one-year extension to stay behind the bench for the 2005-06 season and he rejected it, choosing to accept Detroit's offer to replace Dave Lewis.

"He is facing his former team," Lidstrom said, "but I think he's more excited about being in the conference finals again."

The Red Wings are, too, because it's been a long time, relatively speaking.

Detroit hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2002 for the third time in six years, then followed up successful regular seasons with post-season flops.

The Red Wings lost in the first round last year and advanced in the playoffs only once after winning the 10th title in franchise history.

"It's not that we're just happy to be here," Lidstrom said. "One of our goals is to get real deep in the playoffs because we've had some disappointments in the past."

The NHL's collective bargaining agreement forced Detroit to slash its payroll in half two years ago, then the team lost captain Steve Yzerman to retirement and Brendan Shanahan to free agency last summer.

The Red Wings remained competitive with savvy moves by the front office, which signed goalie Dominik Hasek with a US$750,000 base salary, and with players buying into Babcock's get-tougher edict.

For a change, the Red Wings like the questions they're hearing at this time of year.

"That's true, but we don't want to stop now," Henrik Zetterberg said. "We want to keep going. It's been a battle all the way here and it's going to be a battle to keep going."


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