The Wings sent the message they needed to send tonight in beating the Predators 4-1 and putting them in a very tough position going back to Nashville for Game 6. It was by far their best game of the series and is something they will need to build on for the game on Saturday. For Wings fans, the game lived up to the hype and did not disappoint, except maybe that there weren’t more goals.
Curtis Joseph started in net tonight and wasn’t the savior everyone wanted but that was because his teammates won on their own. He was solid when needed, however, and looked good in his first start since March.
The Wings started out well, with the Zetterberg/Datsyuk/Hull line playing a shift just over a minute long right out of the gates. Henrik Zetterberg looked especially good, battling down low and generating pressure. The Grind Line came on after that and had another high-pressure shift in the Predators zone. Throughout all this, neither goalie was really tested since the puck was mostly kept along the boards.
Then, at 3:19, Henrik Zetterberg opened up the scoring. Pavel Datsyuk was tripped up when going behind the net but he got up, got the puck and sent a perfect, no-look pass through his own legs right to Zetterberg who took the puck on a string and backhanded it over a prone Tomas Vokoun. Three Predators defensemen were caught behind the net on the play and left Hank wide open to score. For the Wings, it was their first goal in the opening twenty minutes of any game this series and it woke up the crowd. It was also their first shot of the game.
After generating some more good chances, the Wings scored again at 6:22 to make it 2-0. Again, it was the Zetterberg/Datsyuk/Hull line’s solid pressure that lead to the goal. They cycled the puck well in the time leading up to it and their hard work paid off once more. Henrik Zetterberg, battling along the boards, sent the puck to Pavel Datsyuk in the circle who sent another no-look pass to an open Brett Hull. He tipped the puck in past Vokoun who was once again left helpless by his defense when they left Hull uncovered.
The Predators were credited with their first shot eight minutes in, though I don’t think it actually got through the crowd in front of the net. The Wings continued to pass the puck well and to control the puck. They did not give up many chances to the Preds at all and played very tight defense. The puck was hardly ever in the Wings’ zone and when it was, it was usually being carried out by a Wings player. Dave Lewis was really mixing the lines up a lot in the period and did so throughout the game. For once, it actually worked.
Brett Hull took a dumb penalty at 13:18 when he got beat and stuck his knee out in an attempt to stop Vladimir Orszagh from getting out of the zone. Curtis Joseph got his first test on the ensuing penalty kill and passed it with no problem. The Wings then took the puck down the ice and scored on a harmless looking play. Brendan Shanahan took the puck behind the net and sent it out front where it bounced off Dan Hamhuis’ skate. It went under Vokoun and barely crossed the line but still counted. It was Shanny’s 22nd shot this series and just his first goal.
The Wings had to kill off a delay-of-game penalty on Joseph near the end of the period but got some help from Hamhuis when he cheapshoted Kirk Maltby and got a penalty. On the ensuing 4-on-4 play, David Legwand had a near breakaway but Mathieu Dandenault got back in time and Joseph made the stop to keep the score 3-0. The Wings then went on the power play but got nothing done. It carried over into the second period.
The first twenty minutes of this game were by far the Wings best of the series. They did everything right and finally came out on top. Shots were 15-8 Wings.
The Wings started out on the carryover power play from the first and got one good shot off (from Mathieu Schneider) before time ran out.
They did not exhibit as much jump to start off the period and gave the Predators more room to work with, which they took advantage of. The Wings were still controlling the puck fairly well, however, and the Predators chances weren’t all that threatening. For about the first five minutes, the play was back and forth, with neither team getting much sustained pressure.
The Wings had to kill off another penalty at 6:54 but again got help from the Preds when Jeremy Stevenson slashed the heck out of Chris Chelios in front of the net to make it 4-on-4. When the Wings came on the power play, they set up in the Preds’ zone and got a goal out of it, this time from Nick Lidstrom. The puck came to him bouncing off the boards and he one-timed it past Vokoun to make it 4-0. It was the first time the Wings had scored four goals in a playoff game since the 2002 Western Conference Finals Game 7 against Colorado.
Curtis Joseph had a huge save with nine minutes left in the period which sprung Brendan Shanahan on a near-breakaway. He was hooked on the play by Mark Eaton, who got a penalty for it which was good but they’re should have been a penalty shot. The Wings had some really good pressure on the ensuing power play, with chances by Datsyuk, Lang and Yzerman but they could not convert. Lang could have shot the puck on his chance but opted instead to hold on to it. That’s the only problem I have with Lang, he doesn’t shoot enough.
The Wings had the Preds on the heels, forcing them to ice the puck by generating pressure and then coming back with solid defense. Then Jiri Fischer took another dumb penalty at 17:37 and the Predators scored on the ensuing power play. It was just a good shot by Sergei Zholtok which beat Joseph cleanly. I don’t think he ever saw it since he was screened, though. The Wings had a good kill going before that goal and it kind of came out of nowhere.
It wasn’t quite as good a period as #1 but it was still better than just about anything they had done so far in the series. Shots were 6-5 Preds.
The Predators came out with a whole lot of jump and held the Wings down for the first three minutes or so. Pavel Datsyuk got a good chance about three minutes in but that only led to a Brendan Shanahan penalty when he ran Vokoun trying to get the puck. The Predators set up well in the power play and got some good pressure on the Wings but could not score.
The Wings continued to get some good chances but started to pass too much again and couldn’t finish on them. At about 7:50, they went on a 3-on-2 and Whitney got off a great shot from the Lang feed but Vokoun made a quick toe save to keep the score 4-1.
The Predators spent the rest of the period generating fairly sustained pressure in an attempt at a come back but eventually seemed to get frustrated. Jordin Tootoo high sticked Pavel Datsyuk at 16:09 and got a double minor out of it but fortunately for him, the Wings did not score. Steve Sullivan high sticked Maltby at 19:55 but the game was basically already over at that point.
The Wings de-generated a fair amount in this period but the Preds were making it harder for them to dominate anyway. Shots in the third were 11-6 Wings for a total of 31-20 Wings.
Steve Thomas replaced Boyd Devereaux and didn’t look too bad in his return from his first career playoff scratch … Hull’s goal in the first was his 102nd playoff goal and his 24th playoff game winner (tied for first all-time with Wayne Gretzky) … The Two Kids and an Old Goat line had five points tonight … Former Wings defenseman Steve Duchesne attended the game tonight. He won a Cup with the Wings in 2002 and was left unsigned … Derian Hatcher had probably his best game as a Wing tonight …
Here is the box score.
4 on 4-