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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom spent nearly all of Game 6 alternating turns on the ice, desperately grinding on their aging legs to keep the Detroit Red Wings ahead.
When the two brilliant defensemen finally got out of the Shark Tank with their whooping, hollering teammates, those old rearguards had new life - and the Detroit Red Wings had shed their title as the Western Conference's biggest playoff underachievers of recent years.
They might have even found a team in teal to take their place.
Mikael Samuelsson scored two first-period goals, Dominik Hasek posted his 13th career playoff shutout and the Red Wings rolled into the conference finals with three straight victories in their second-round series, beating the deflated San Jose Sharks 2-0 Monday night.
"I thought (San Jose) just played the most physical game of the entire series," Lidstrom said after playing 29 minutes to Chelios' 26-plus. "You could tell that they were a desperate team. They were getting the puck in on us and putting a good forecheck on us the entire night."
But it didn't matter - not with the defense in front of Hasek, who made 28 saves in his first shutout of the spring. The top-seeded Red Wings are headed to the conference finals for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup in 2002.
The Red Wings open the next round Friday at home against the Anaheim Ducks.
Detroit had won just one playoff series in the previous three seasons despite winning at least 48 games in each, earning two Presidents' Trophies as the NHL's best regular-season team. But the Red Wings, who finished second overall this season, finally parlayed their veteran experience into playoff success against a young opponent that took another postseason of lumps.
Coach Mike Babcock recounted the list of disrespectful perceptions that fueled Detroit's rise this spring.
"You don't get picked to be very good, and then you're pretty good through the regular season, and then someone says you're not a playoff team," Babcock said. "We played two big, strong teams and have done well. And now we're going to get another one."
Evgeni Nabokov stopped 20 shots for the Sharks, but the best regular season in franchise history ended in another mystifying collapse after San Jose controlled most of the series' first three games.
The Sharks were up 2-1 in the series and held a one-goal lead in the final minute of Game 4. But they yielded a tying goal in the final minute of regulation, followed by a heartbreaking overtime score - and the next two games weren't close, with Joe Thornton and captain Patrick Marleau failing to spark their club.
"We're going to look back at this series, and we're going to kick ourselves probably until training camp next season," said Thornton, held scoreless in the last two games after scoring 11 points in the Sharks' first nine postseason contests.
Chelios and his 45-year-old legs had assists on both of Detroit's goals, and fellow defenseman Brett Lebda returned to the Red Wings' lineup after a six-game absence with an ankle injury - just in time to replace Mathieu Schneider, who's out for the postseason with a broken left wrist.
"We feel pretty good about ourselves," Chelios said. "I just hope we can keep our momentum going and our success going. We know we're playing another great team."
Such momentum shifts are no surprise to San Jose's fans, who have watched their club blow the 2004 Western Conference finals against Calgary and last season's second-round series against Edmonton in similar fashion.
The Sharks blew a lead in each of their first three losses to Detroit, but the Red Wings made certain of the clincher early - and a litany of mistakes and missed chances kept San Jose from coming back.
"Our start was unbelievable," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "We were physical. We had them hemmed in. We made two mistakes, and they scored two goals, and that was pretty much it. They sat back, and Hasek didn't make a mistake."
The Red Wings scored first on a breakaway set up by a beautiful lead pass by Johan Franzen. He positioned the puck perfectly for Samuelsson, who rolled past stumbling defenseman Matt Carle and dangled until Nabokov went down for an easy score.
A few moments later during a Detroit power play, Hasek misplayed a puck straight to Mike Grier in an error reminiscent of Nabokov's turnover to Pavel Datsyuk in Game 4. But Grier circled the empty Red Wings net and then completely missed it, with his off-target shot hitting a diving Lidstrom.
Samuelsson got his second goal 8 seconds before the first-period buzzer, thanks to another defensive blunder. Samuelsson kept the puck on a 2-on-1 break and beat Nabokov cleanly on the glove side.
Notes: Grier's clunker echoed Teemu Selanne's famed mistake in Game 7 of the Sharks' 2002 second-round series with Colorado, when he missed an open net in a 1-0 loss. ... If the conference finals go seven games, Chelios (240) could tie Patrick Roy (247) for the most postseason appearances in NHL history.
|Mikael Samuelsson Backhand shot - ASST: Johan Franzen , Chris Chelios|
1 - 0 DET
|Mikael Samuelsson Snap shot - ASST: Pavel Datsyuk , Chris Chelios|
2 - 0 DET
|Danny Cleary Roughing against Milan Michalek|
|Milan Michalek Roughing against Danny Cleary|
|Kyle Calder Hooking against Mark Bell|
|Joe Thornton Hi-sticking against Danny Markov|
|Joe Thornton Hi-sticking against Danny Markov|
|Jonathan Cheechoo Interference|
|Kyle Calder Hooking against Mark Smith|
|Chris Chelios Hooking|
|Scott Hannan Roughing against Kyle Quincey|
|Kyle Quincey Slashing against Steve Bernier|