Motor City crew wary of stalling

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 4:48 PM ET


 Hockeytown was hit hard last spring.

 Just one year after celebrating a third Stanley Cup victory in six NHL seasons, the city watched its beloved Detroit Red Wings get swept in the first round of the 2003 playoffs by the surprising Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

 A second straight post-season demise would certainly seem unforgivable.

 "We have one goal in mind," said Red Wings veteran winger Kirk Maltby of righting the injustice of last April with the push for the franchise's 11th championship win in 77 years.

 "I don't know if we are championship worthy. But we definitely have the opportunity to and we have the personnel in here to do it. For the amount of injuries we had earlier in the year and we've gone through lately, to be able to stay on top of our conference, that's a tribute to lots of guys in this dressing room."

 Most are already Stanley Cup winners with the Wings or future NHL Hall of Famers. And a handful, such as Brett Hull, Steve Yzerman, Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom, fit both categories.

 But there is also a new wing of players trying to lend a hand to this spring's flight and the integration hasn't been exactly smooth. Injuries kept both Derian Hatcher (torn knee ligaments) and Robert Lang (cracked ribs) from fitting in quickly with the Wings.

 Furthermore, injuries to Kris Draper (torn rotator cuff), Pavel Datsyuk (sprained ankle), Jason Woolley (back spasms), Henrik Zetterberg (broken leg) and Mathieu Dandenault (broken foot) made for numerous alterations of the regular-season roster.

 "We definitely would have liked to have the last dozen games or so to have everyone in the lineup and getting acquainted with each other," Maltby said.

 It's hard to determine just who has been the key to keeping it all together enough to claim the President's Trophy as the league's top team during the regular season.

 "It's got to be the front office," said veteran winger Ray Whitney.

 "Management goes out and gets enough players that our depth is so great.

 "And not to be oversighted, our goaltending with Manny Legace and Curtis Joseph has played well."

 Ah, yes, the soap opera between the pipes.

 Dominik Hasek's return to Detroit was anything but triumphant as he missed most of the season with a groin pull. Last spring's playoff scapegoat, Joseph, sustained cartilage damage in his ankle, hampering him the entire second half of the season. That left undervalued Legace to man the Wings net.

 "He's played well the whole time he's been in Detroit," Whitney said of Legace.

 "He's had to play a lot of games in a row because of injuries to Dom and Cujo ... He took that ball and ran with it. So going into the playoffs, we're confident in our goaltending."

 And confident in themselves. After all, no matter what the Ducks did to them last spring, the Red Wings are No. 1 headed into this post-season, making them the odds-on favourite to score another Stanley Cup.

 "I don't know if I'd say we're worthy," Maltby said. "But we deserve to be where we are."


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