Ducks cooked in Detroit

Morris Dallacosta, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

DETROIT -- If this was the appetizer, the main course is going to be something spectacular.

The Detroit Red Wings set up a mouthwatering NHL Western Conference final against the Chicago Blackhawks by finally putting away the Anaheim Ducks with a 4-3 last night win in Game 7 of their semifinal.

The final will be a classic confrontation of young Blackhawks, with plenty of speed, skill and confidence, against the experienced defending Stanley Cup champions.

A showcase of new versus not-so-new.

But it is a series that almost didn't happen.

Nothing came easy in the semifnal for the Ducks or Wings.

"I thought we outplayed them in every game in this series," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "But their goalie stood on his head and they found a way to survive."

Survive to the point that a Ducks team that had knocked off the No. 1-seed San Jose Sharks in their first series was close to knocking off the No. 2 Wings.

"It's the best series I've been involved with since I've been coaching in this league," Babcock said after Dan Cleary's goal three minutes from the end gave the Wings the series.

"We just wanted to get it to overtime," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle aid. "Get it there and the pressure is on everyone."

The Wings refused to let the Ducks get it there.

The winner came on the kind of play and from the kind of player that won the series for the Wings. It wasn't their slick, high-profile players who did the damage. It was their grinders and role players who made the difference.

Henrik Zetterberg orchestrated the winner by flipping a pass in front of the net, but it was Cleary who fought off a Duck defenceman and kept whacking at the puck before putting it under Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller.

The Wings' other goals went to Jiri Hudler, Darren Helm and Mikael Samuelsson. Teemu Selanne, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan scored for the Ducks.

"Ever since I've come to Detroit a lot of good things have happened, winning a championship, signing a new contract," Cleary said. "It's certainly been a home for me. They certainly showed faith in me.

"That's the biggest goal I ever scored. Everybody who plays hockey does the Game 7, game-winning thing so it's pretty neat."

The Red Wings had a pair of two-goal leads and a 3-2 lead going into the third period. But a Ducks' team that looked cooked in two games away refused to go away.

When Ryan tied the game at 7:37 of the third period, it looked as if the teams were going to go to a roll of the dice in overtime.

"I think a lot of guys had been planning on overtime," Ducks' Ryan Whitney said. "We knew it would be kind of a flukey goal."

No one on the Wings was surprised by how resilient the Ducks were throughout the series.

"We knew this team doesn't go away, you have to really put a dagger in them and I thought with three minutes left, that was the dagger," Cleary said. "They scored a nice goal to tie it but we kept calm, we didn't sit back, didn't get frustrated, didn't lose focus."

This was the first Game 7 the Wings have been involved in since 2002, when they defeated the Colorado Avalanche 7-0 to advance to the Stanley Cup final.

"It's been a long, tough series," Red Wings captain Niklas Lidstrom said. "You have to stay focused the entire game. Even when they tied it up, I thought we continued to play our system, grind it out. When you have role players who can chip in and score goals, it makes it much more difficult to play against us."

Now it's on to the Blackhawks.

"I think that's a series everyone wanted to see. It's going to be interesting," Zetterberg said. "We can enjoy this for a few minutes and then get to work tomorrow."

"Young, fast and relentless," Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood said. "We'll be ready for them, though."


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