DALLAS - Dominant in the regular season, superb again in the postseason, the Detroit Red Wings are headed back to the Stanley Cup Finals.
With gusto, too.
Just when the Red Wings lost consecutive games and were starting to look vulnerable, they bounced back strong in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, getting first-period goals from Kris Draper, Pavel Datsyuk and Dallas Drake on their way to knocking out the Dallas Stars, 4-1, last night.
Now Detroit goes from worrying about becoming the third team to blow a three-games-to-none series lead to trying to win its fourth championship in 11 seasons.
The Red Wings will face the Pittsburgh Penguins, with the first two games at Joe Louis Arena.
The series will open Saturday, with the schedule following a Saturday-Monday-Wednesday pattern.
Detroit will be the home team because it had more regular-season points - most in the league, in fact. The Red Wings are the first recipient of the Presidents' Trophy to play for the Cup since they did so in 2002. That also was the last time they were in the finals.
As good as the Red Wigns were the first 82 games, they were even better for much of the last six weeks.
They went nearly a month between losses, winning a franchise-record nine straight playoff games.
It was the longest run by any team in 15 years, and it put them a win away from eliminating the fifth-seeded Stars.
Dallas won Games 4 and 5 by limiting Detroit to a goal each game.
The Red Wings exceeded that output in the first period last night, with all three goals coming on uncontested shots right in front of the net.
Henrik Zetterberg added a shorthanded goal early in the second period, and the series was all but over then.
Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood didn't have to do much the first two periods, then got busy in the third. He passed all but one test, getting beat by Stephane Robidas during a power play.
Osgood improved to 10-2 this postseason. It was his 100th career playoff game and his 55th victory - his 48th for Detroit, passing Hall of Famer Terry Sawchuk for the franchise record.
Detroit's walloping knockout punch shouldn't have been a surprise. The Red Wings beat Nashville, 3-0, to end the opening round, then crushed Colorado, 8-2, to end the second round.
While the end was ugly, the Stars got a standing, towel-twirling ovation from fans at game's end in recognition of their best postseason since 2000, when they were defending Cup champions and made it back to the conference finals.
The Stars dethroned reigning champion Anaheim, then ousted San Jose in the second round, finishing it off with a four-overtime thriller.
Maybe that marathon sapped them at the start of this series. And maybe their two-game rally sapped them for Game 6.