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Monday, May 13, 2002
Updated: May 14, 1:15 PM ET
Wings' talent winning with hard work

By Barry Melrose
Special to

The architects of the Detroit Red Wings must be pleased with the way the team is playing heading into the Western Conference finals. They are getting great goaltending, scoring tons of goals and playing solid defense. Put everything together, and the money has been well spent.

The Stanley Cup is the Red Wings' to lose. On paper, they are the best, deepest and most skilled team. As we have seen many times in the past, the most talented team doesn't always win the Cup. But the Red Wings should be in the finals. If they get that far, no team left in the Eastern Conference should beat them.

I am looking forward to a Detroit-Colorado matchup in the West finals. It will be an unbelievable dream series between the two most talented teams in hockey and the two greatest goaltenders in the world -- Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek.

The Wings are in a great situation because they finished off St. Louis in five games Saturday and now have to wait for either the Sharks or the Avs to advance. Every game a team plays is a chance for someone to get hurt. And every day a team rests is a chance for a player like Steve Yzerman to heal.

Teams that typically win the Stanley Cup get out of the early rounds quickly. They don't play four straight seven-game series. While the Red Wings played Vancouver longer than they wanted in the first round, they made the Blues series shorter than anyone thought they would.

The Red Wings started off the playoffs losing two at home to Vancouver, but they were trying to win without working. NHL teams can't get by without working; they have to match the other team's work ethic. Once the Wings began working as hard as Vancouver, their talent took over.

The same thing applied to the St. Louis series. While the Blues are a highly talented team, the Red Wings are even better and worked just as hard. Detroit should win every series in which it works as hard as the other team.

Detroit coach Scotty Bowman said Game 5 of the Blues series was the best his team had played throughout the playoffs. At the same time, the Blues were not the same team without their captain, Chris Pronger, who suffered a knee injury in Game 4. But injuries are a part of hockey. Pronger was hurt because Detroit played a physical style. That's why teams play a seven-game series. It's a test of toughness and strength, and Detroit proved to be better in both categories.

Yzerman has been playing hurt for the first two rounds. It's a tribute to him that he has endured and is tied with Brendan Shanahan for the team lead in playoff points. Without a doubt, Yzerman is the best leader in the NHL and in all of sports. No one else comes close. He has shown what it takes to win four playoff series in two months.

Barry Melrose, a former NHL defenseman and coach, is a hockey analyst for ESPN.