Advantage: Detroit

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:43 PM ET



 Use your mind's eye -- make that ear -- you can hear it now: It's gonna be a Wing-A-Ding Dong Dandy.

 No doubt the Wings are going to be heavily favoured to defeat the Flames in their Western Conference semifinal series, which starts tomorrow in Detroit.

 They're loaded with veteran talent and young stars, have a seemingly limitless payroll and plenty of recent playoff success.

 However, don't expect the Flames to simply hand over the ticket to the Western Conference final. Even though they're under-manned due to a plethora of injuries, the Flames will give Detroit plenty to handle.

 Here's how the clubs stack up:

 GOAL:

 Flames starting goalie Miikka Kiprusoff has proven to be the real deal, giving the Flames one of their few advantages.

 Sure, his goals-against average and save percentages aren't at the levels he posted in the regular season but Kiprusoff showed in the seven-game series victory over Vancouver he's capable of stealing playoff wins.

 Detroit will counter with Curtis Joseph, at least to start. Joseph, injured through much of the season, took over the No. 1 role from Manny Legace during the Nashville series but still has to deal with plenty of question marks. Long considered a top-notch goalie, Joseph has yet to live up to the expectations and the pressure will continue to mount until he wins a Cup.

 Should he fail, the Wings will turn to Legace, who has long been considered a great backup but hasn't proven himself a No. 1 yet.

 DEFENCE:

 Talk about depth. How good are the Wings when they have the reigning three-time Norris Trophy winner in Nicklas Lidstrom -- and he's not even considered the top defenceman on his own team? This season, Mathieu Schneider has overshadowed Lidstrom.

 If that's not enough, Detroit's blueline also includes veterans Chris Chelios, Derian Hatcher and Jason Woolley, along with Jiri Fischer.

 Calgary will counter with a depleted blueline brigade that's already without Toni Lydman and Denis Gauthier. Youngsters Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold are the cornerstones for the future and performed extremely well against the Canucks in their first ever playoff series. Rhett Warrener will be paired with Andrew Ference as the other main duo.

 Mike Commodore and Steve Montador are willing to give their all every shift as the third unit but the Flames don't have the horses to match their opposition.

 FORWARDS:

 We'll just say it right away -- Detroit has the edge. A big edge.

 Not many teams have the depth to match the Red Wings forward group that includes Robert Lang, Pavel Datsyuk, Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan, Steve Yzerman, Henrik Zetterberg and Ray

 Whitney.

 Plus, the Wings' attack doesn't just feature skill. Pick your poison. If those big guns don't beat you, players such as Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty will do their damage.

 Even at full strength, the Flames don't match up. If there's a saving grace, Jarome Iginla is proving he's arguably the most complete player in the game and others such as Craig Conroy, Martin Gelinas, Stephane Yelle, Marcus Nilson, Ville Nieminen and Matthew Lombardi are game for any challenge.

 Calgary's heart will never be questioned but this is certainly a test of the fight in the dog compared to the dog in the fight.

 SPECIAL TEAMS:

 How's this for a shocker? Detroit's powerplay in the six-game Nashville series was a stunningly low 6.9% (two goals in

 29 chances and none on 13 road opportunities). It's a far cry from the 20.5% success rate the Canucks boasted against the Flames. In the four regular-season meetings between the Wings and Flames, Detroit's powerplay went two-for-14 (14.3%).

 At the other end, though, are Detroit's penalty killers, who had an amazing 96.5% success rate while holding Nashville to one goal on 29 chances. They were even better this season against Calgary, killing all 13 Flames chances in their four-game set.

 At a glance, it would be easy to say the Flames penalty-killing units struggled against the Canucks, having allowed eight goals in 39 chances. However, in the final four games, Calgary surrendered only two powerplay goals on 24 chances.

 Calgary's powerplay in the playoffs so far is a mediocre 15% (six-for-40), although the success rate was much higher on the road, with five goals on 23 chances.

 Hard to give an edge but considering Detroit's powerplay scored at a 20% rate in the regular season, it's hard to imagine the Wings won't find their powerplay groove. As well, they were the best PK squad, with a 86.7% kill rate.

 INTANGIBLES:

 First inclination is to say the Wings are too old and too tired to win another Stanley Cup.

 It tempting to think that when when you see the birthdates of Chelios, Yzerman, Hull, Shanahan and Joseph.

 However, with age comes experience, wisdom and respect from referees who tend to allow the older Wings a lot more freedom when bending the obstruction rules.

 As well, the Wings have

 17 players with a combined

 35 Stanley Cup rings.

 Eight of them have been part of all three recent titles.

 An upset special is possible, and you know the Flames will pull out all the stops, but will take a Herculean effort.

 - - -

 HOW THEY STACK UP

 DETROIT FORWARDS

 Ray Whitney - Robert Lang - Brendan Shanahan

 Henrik Zetterberg - Pavel Datsyuk - Brett Hull

 Tomas Holmstrom - Steve Yzerman - Steve Thomas

 Kirk Maltby - Kris Draper - Darren McCarty

 DEFENCE

 Nicklas Lidstrom - Mathieu Schneider

 Derian Hatcher - Chris Chelios

 Jiri Fischer - Mathieu Dandenault

 GOAL

 Curtis Joseph and Manny Legace

 INJURED -- D Niklas Kronwall (leg) day to day; D Jason Woolley (back) day-to-day; RW Mark Mowers (foot) day to day; G Dominik Hasek (groin) out indefinitely.

 - - -

 CALGARY FORWARDS

 Martin Gelinas - Craig Conroy - Jarome Iginla

 Ville Nieminen - Marcus Nilson - Shean Donovan

 Oleg Saprykin - Matthew Lombardi - Chris Clark

 Krzysztof Oliwa - Stephane Yelle - Chuck Kobasew

 DEFENCE

 Robyn Regehr - Jordan Leopold

 Andrew Ference - Rhett Warrener

 Steve Montador - Mike Commodore

 GOAL

 Miikka Kiprusoff and Roman Turek

 INJURED -- D Denis Gauthier (knee), LW Chris Simon (knee) and D Toni Lydman (upper body) are day-to-day. LW Dave Lowry and C Dean McAmmond are out.


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