Even with blood caked on his red beard and his lower lip badly swollen, Kris Draper was still smiling.
Taking a puck to the face to get back into the Stanley Cup finals? No problem.
"It went off my chin. It went in. Who cares?" Draper said. "It's all worth it right now at this time of year."
Draper and Detroit will again play for hockey's biggest prize after eliminating the history-chasing Dallas Stars 4-1 in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals Monday night. The Red Wings will be making their 23rd Stanley Cup finals appearance, and first since winning it in 2002.
With Dallas trying to become only the third team to come back from losing the first three games to win a series, the Red Wings had an emphatic response following consecutive losses that made them suddenly seem vulnerable. The goal off Draper's face, 3:45 into the game, was the first of three Detroit scored in the opening period.
"We were relentless," Draper said. "It was just a solid first period and obviously the difference in the hockey game. ... We're back in the Stanley Cup and it sounds great for us."
Hockeytown hosts Game — of the Stanley Cup finals Saturday night. The Red Wings face the youthful Pittsburgh Penguins in a matchup of teams that didn't play in the regular season.
"I've watched them on TV," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "For two to be remaining, they must be very good. Their transition is fantastic. They have a bunch of kids that can really skate."
So can those grizzled Red Wings.
After being limited to single goals in Games 4 and 5, they built a three-goal lead by the first intermission before adding to the advantage while short-handed. The Stars were on a power play — minutes into the second period when Henrik Zetterberg stole a puck and turned it into an unassisted goal by slapping the shot past Marty Turco for his 11th of the playoffs.
"It was a combination of us hoping to win and Detroit pushing the issue to win. I think they had a real hard focus around our net early," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "The first three goals, right at the crease and in. That's where we were, chasing the game."
Never to catch up and force a Game 7.
Dallas Drake, a 16-season veteran who is finally going to his first Stanley Cup finals, passed the puck that went off Draper's chin. Then after Pavel Datsyuk's power-play goal, when he flicked the puck over a sprawled out Turco, Drake scored his first goal of the playoffs to make it 3-0.
"I've never even gotten close to having an opportunity," Drake said. "I couldn't be more thankful right now than I am."
Drake was drafted by the Red Wings in 1989 and played his first two seasons in Detroit (1992-94). He returned as a free agent last summer and finally has the chance to play for the ultimate prize.
While the end was ugly, the Stars got a standing, towel-twirling ovation from the fans in recognition of their best postseason since 2000, when they were defending Cup champions and made it back to the conference finals. Dallas dethroned reigning champion Anaheim, then ousted San Jose in the second round, finishing it with a four-overtime thriller.
"We came a long way this year, but this wasn't our ultimate goal," said captain Brenden Morrow, who was doubled over on the ice at game's end. "We did make some progress. We put a lot of work into this and want to do it again. This will make us hungrier."
Maybe the four-OT marathon sapped the Stars at the start of this series. And maybe their two-game rally sapped them for Game 6.
Dallas didn't even have a shot when the Red Wings got their first goal and the Stars wasted their first six power plays. On one of them, they had a chance for a 5-on-3 advantage until Brad Winchester got called for boarding seconds after officials signaled for a delayed penalty.
Stephane Robidas finally scored a power-play goal 2:27 into the third period, but Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood made 15 of his 28 saves in the final period.
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.
But Osgood wasn't ready to talk about past accomplishments &
such as his last Cup championship with the Red Wings 10 years ago (he missed the last championship during a four-season hiatus away from Detroit) &
or what he's done so far this postseason.
"We got our team back to the Stanley Cup finals, that's the most important thing," Osgood said. "I don't really think about the past, whether it's a week ago, two days ago, years ago. I'll have time for that when I'm retired, sitting around, not doing much. ... I just play in the now. I try to keep my head clear when I'm playing, not think about anything else, just try to stop the puck."
Detroit's 23 Stanley Cup finals are second-most in NHL history, behind Montreal's 34. But the Red Wings have won three titles since Montreal won in 1993 in its last finals appearances. ... Detroit and Pittsburgh played the two previous seasons. Detroit won both games. ... The team that scored first won every game this series.
Red Wings headed back to Stanley Cup finals