Commentary

Conference finals breakdown: Red Wings vs. Stars

Updated: May 5, 2008, 7:28 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

Guess the Dallas Stars have gotten over their first-round postseason phobia, haven't they? After failing to advance beyond the opening series since 2004, the Stars this spring have upended the defending Stanley Cup champs in six games and disposed the hottest team heading into the playoffs, the San Jose Sharks.

The Stars went to a fourth overtime in Game 6 but advanced to their first conference finals since 2000, when they also went to the Stanley Cup finals.

The Detroit Red Wings, meanwhile, struggled midway through their opening-round series against Nashville but took advantage of woeful netminding by Jose Theodore and cruised to a four-game sweep of the Colorado Avalanche in the West semis. The Stars, who have terrific depth down the middle, now have an identity they lacked the past three or four postseasons. Marty Turco, fresh off a 61-save effort, will represent a much sterner test than the Avs, or he should.

Still, the Red Wings seem to be firing on all cylinders and will be very difficult to knock out.

1. Not stubborn, just smokin'. Here's the thing about Johan Franzen, goal-scoring machine -- he didn't just start his torrid tear when the playoffs began. Down the stretch, the Red Wings forward scored 15 goals in the last 16 games of the regular season. When you factor in his 11 postseason markers, Franzen has scored 26 times in his past 26 games. More impressive, however, has been the crucial nature of Franzen's contributions. He scored eight game-winning goals during the regular season and has added four more winners in the playoffs. Forget about Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom. Whether the Stars can stop the big Swede they call "The Mule" may be the most important question of this series.

2. Captain Morrow. The decision to make Brenden Morrow a captain at the start of the 2006-07 season created quite a kerfuffle in Dallas, given the iconic status of former captain Mike Modano. Morrow missed half of last season with wrist and groin injuries, but played in all 82 regular-season games this campaign and has helped solidify the Stars' hard-working and skilled identity. Morrow finished second in team scoring to Mike Ribeiro with 74 points and was a team-best plus-23. In the playoffs, he has taken another step forward as he leads the team with two overtime winners, including the series-clincher versus San Jose. Morrow, who played 51 minutes in the deciding game and was credited with 19 hits, also had two goals disallowed in Game 5, but he didn't let that slow him down. In the way that Steve Yzerman used to be "the guy" in Detroit and Modano used to be "the guy" in Dallas, Morrow is now that player for the Stars.

3. The big men on the blue line. This series features two of the finest veteran defensemen in the game in Lidstrom and Dallas' Sergei Zubov. Lidstrom is unparalleled -- the cool, calm catalyst that drives a precise Detroit engine. Lidstrom is expected to win his sixth Norris Trophy and third in a row as the game's best defenseman. This spring, he's added seven points, is a plus-7 and has one game-winning goal for the 8-2 Red Wings. Zubov, meanwhile, has been a surprise contributor to the Stars' playoff success. The often underappreciated Russian missed the start of the playoffs, not to mention 26 regular-season games, trying to work through a sports hernia injury. The 37-year-old went to Germany on the eve of the playoffs to have the injury treated, returned in the second round and made an immediate impact with four points in five games. He played an astounding 53:50 in Game 6 against San Jose. Both Lidstrom and Zubov are key to their teams' respective power plays and have the ability to turn the course of a game on their own.

4. The snarl factor. The expected knock 'em down, drag 'em out battle against the Avalanche never materialized for the Red Wings. Detroit so often was ahead early in games that Colorado was forced to open things up as opposed to grind them out. The Wings may yet get that type of series against a Stars team that is comfortable playing close to the vest. Last season, the Wings displayed a surprising amount of grit in advancing to the Western Conference finals against Anaheim, and they have the tools to play that type of game with veterans like Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Dallas Drake and the reclaimed Darren McCarty. The Stars, meanwhile, don't mind the dirty work in the corners, either, with Steve Ott and Morrow. Neither team has a heavyweight in the Georges Laraque/Donald Brashear mold, but don't think this series won't get a bit ugly.

5. Ozzie redux, again. All Chris Osgood has done since coming off the bench for an inconsistent Dominik Hasek after Game 4 of the first round is win six straight games. The 35-year-old veteran won a Stanley Cup as the starter here in 1998 but has never really been given credit for being an elite netminder. The perception is no different now, and many will suggest the Stars hold a significant advantage in goal with Turco. Still, Turco is the one who historically has struggled in the playoffs. Both have played exceptionally well this postseason. Osgood leads the league with a 1.52 goals-against average and a third-best .937 save percentage. Turco has a 1.73 GAA and .929 save percentage. Watch for Detroit coach Mike Babcock to go back to Hasek if Osgood can't match Turco save for save. Not that he may have to worry about that.

• Mike Ribeiro vs. Niklas Kronwall: Mike Ribeiro remains the Stars' most dangerous forward and leads the team with 14 points in 12 games. He can expect to spend a lot of time making sure he's not getting his head handed to him by Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who is making the most of his first playoff run with the Wings. The injury-prone Swede has good offensive tools, is strong in his own zone and has the added bonus of being able to deliver the big open-ice hit. The Stars need Ribeiro's continued offensive production, while the Wings need Kronwall to shut him down.

• Red Wings: Zetterberg is second in team scoring with 13 points and is a league-best plus-10 through the second round. Daniel Cleary has one goal and one assist through 10 games.

• Stars: Stephane Robidas is tied with Kronwall for the lead among NHL defensemen with eight postseason points. Niklas Hagman has just two points in these playoffs, and both came in one game against San Jose.

We didn't have enough courage to pick the Stars in the second round after picking them to beat Anaheim. And as much as we love how far the Stars have come this season, we once again lack courage to pick them against a Red Wings team that is healthy, rested and just a little too deep for the Stars to handle. Wings in seven.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.