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DETROIT -- The Red Wings just about lapped the competition in the regular-season and have rolled to six straight wins in the playoffs, heading into the Western Conference finals.
If they don't get past the Dallas Stars and go on to win the Stanley Cup, though, the year will be regarded as a bust in their dressing room and outside it in the Motor City.
"That's the expectations that are in this town," Henrik Zetterberg acknowledged Wednesday as the Red Wings prepared for Thursday's series opener. "As a player, you know that and you like it.
"You rather have that than the fans are happy just to make the playoffs."
Meanwhile, anything else the fifth-seeded Stars accomplish this postseason would appear be a bonus.
Dallas knocked off the defending champion Anaheim Ducks in the first round and upset the second-seeded San Jose Sharks in the second to earn a matchup with the NHL's top-seeded team.
"Bring it on," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "If we're going to go up the food chain, might as well eat the best."
Few people, if any, are predicting the Stars will stun Detroit and that's OK with them.
"Nobody picked us in the two previous series either," Mike Modano said. "That's just the way it's been. We weren't even favored the year after we won the Stanley Cup."
The Stars haven't played in the conference finals since 2000 - the year following their title - and avoided a first-round defeat for the first time since 2003.
Detroit led the Ducks 2-1 in the Western Conference finals last year, then lost three straight.
While Zetterberg is well aware of the Stanley Cup-or-bust demands in Detroit, they surprised coach Mike Babcock in his first season.
The Red Wings won the Presidents' Trophy two years ago, then flopped in the first round for their third straight early exit after the franchise won its 10th title in 2002.
"I didn't know the expectations of the past were going to haunt us, and I couldn't believe how we were paralyzed," Babcock said. "I had no idea. I didn't understand that."
Both the Red Wings and Stars understand they'll need to keep getting what they've had thus far - great goaltending, balanced scoring and hard hits - to play Pittsburgh or Philadelphia in the Stanley Cup finals.
Detroit's Chris Osgood and Dallas' Marty Turco rank first and second, respectively, in goals-against average and their save percentages are the third- and fourth-best in the playoffs.
Red Wings center Johan Franzen and Stars center Mike Ribeiro are tied for the league lead in scoring among active players with 14 points and have plenty of help. Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk each have 13 points for Detroit while Dallas' Brenden Morrow and Brad Richards each have 11.
Detroit has shed the perception for being skilled and soft with players such as Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart delivering glass-rattling checks. Morrow is one of many players maintaining the Stars' reputation for skating hard and hitting harder.
Both teams are relatively healthy, with Dallas' Philippe Boucher (hip) and Stu Barnes (concussion) doubtful and Detroit's Chris Chelios (lower body) and Valtteri Filppula (leg) probable for Game 1.
The Stars started the previous two series winning twice on the road because Morrow said they simply executed their strategy perfectly.
"Stayed disciplined, forechecked, turned pucks over and capitalized on our opportunities," he said. "We've had success with that."
Since the Red Wings allowed Nashville to even the first-round at 2-2 after winning the first two games and replaced Dominik Hasek with Osgood, they've been dominant home and away against the Predators and Colorado Avalanche.
Detroit is fueled by getting so close to the Stanley Cup finals a year ago that they almost see the NHL's towering symbol of excellence.
"We were here last year and didn't get to continue," Babcock said. "We'd like to continue this year."
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