The Wings won the first round of their three game series with Minnesota last night, 3-1 at the Joe. It wasn’t the team’s best performance, but Dominik Hasek was stellar, making 34 saves and keeping the Wild out of it. It was definitely a case of goaltending winning the game for the Wings. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, seeing Hasek in net is a good feeling.
Dan Cleary, who’s been playing center lately, started the game for the Wings with Robert Lang and Jason Williams on his wings. Chris Chelios and Brett Lebda held the blueline. Next out were Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Tomas Holmstrom. Neither line did a whole heck of a lot and as play was uneventful for the first two minutes or so, though it was continuous. The Wild were already in a 1-2-2, clogging the neutral zone and making it difficult for the Wings to get through.
Around the 3:00 mark, things heated up a bit as the Grand Rapids Line of Jiri Hudler, Valtteri Filppula, and Matt Ellis – with Brett Lebda on the blueline to round it out – put on a show in the Wild zone for about a whole shift. Ellis kicked things off with a chance out in front of the net and his linemates then began what looked like a power play. They cycled the puck along the boards and generated some serious pressure, which culminated in a near-spectacular play by Hudler.
With Manny Fernandez on his stomach following a flurry around the net, the puck came loose as Hudler fell to his knees with his back to the net. He somehow turned and got a shot off at the open net only to see a Wild defenseman deflect it wide. It still nearly went in as another Wild player deflected it again at the far goalpost. In the end, the kids forced a faceoff which would lead directly to a goal. Great shift by the young guns.
After Fernandez froze the puck, Zetterberg’s line came over the boards to take the faceoff in the right circle. Hank won it to Holmstrom, who got it back to Niklas Kronwall on the blueline while Zetterberg headed to the net. Kronwall’s shot went wide off the backboards but the puck was picked up by Zetterberg, who took it around behind the net and scored a back-hand wrap-around goal through Fernandez’s 5-hole at 4:00. 1-0 Wings.
Around the 6:00 mark, the game lost all flow as there were a number of play stoppages and faceoffs. The Wild put the screws to the Wings for about a minute beginning at 7:00, but they were held off, though the Wings had to ice the puck.
Pavel Datsyuk and Company had a good shift around 9:00, with Pavel getting off a shot on a nice scoring chance only to be stopped. Minnesota reciprocated with a good minute of offensive zone possession, getting off a couple shots, but the Wings cleared the zone. The Wild brought it back in right away, but were offsides so play was stopped as the game became choppy again.
At 11:53, Brian Rolston was sent to the box for holding and the Wings got their first power play. They shot the puck into the zone only to have it cleared pretty much right away. The Wild took it the other way and Pascal DuPuis had a great shorthanded chance as he split the Wings defense just before he got to the net. Hasek made a great play with his stick, however, poke-checking the puck away before DuPuis could capitalize on his chance.
The rest of the power play went like this: The Wings set up, with Schneider passing it to Lidstrom, who took a shot that resulted in a flurry out front with Hudler swiping at it. That led to a faceoff and a subsequent set up by the Wings. Jason Williams, on the blueline again, blew it for the Wings, however, with a bad pass that led to the puck being cleared. Henrik Zetterberg took it back in right away and had the Wild defense at his mercy as he skated around them like pylons only to continue on behind the net without shooting. He threw it out front and Williams got off a weak shot that went wide.
At 14:50, the Wild evened the score off a strange goal by Stephane Veilleux. Veilleux took the shot from 54 feet out but it immediately went off Chelios’ skate and started bouncing. Hasek apparently had expected it to go wide or something and wasn’t quite set as it reached him. It went over his right pad and into the net. My immediate reaction was that it was a weak goal, but the replays vindicated Dom somewhat. Still, it wasn’t a hard shot and he probably should have been able to stop it. He made up for it later, however, so no worries.
The Wings went back on the power play 15:59 but it was pretty uneventful.
At this stage of the game, the Wings were controlling play, but the Wild were patiently playing their game.
Towards the end of the period, the Wild began to assert themselves, however, with a little help from the Wings. Around 18:50, the Wings lost a defensive zone faceoff and it resulted in a quick shot by Mark Parrish that forced Hasek to be sharp. 30 seconds or so later, Andreas Lilja made a crap-tastic backhand pass at his own blueline, virtually handing Mikko Koivu the puck on a silver platter. Seriously, Andreas, don’t they teach you at Defenseman School that outlet passes are supposed to go up ice, not across it?
Anyway, Koivu broke in and Mathieu Schneider had to bail his defense partner out. He took a penalty in the process (don’t be too hard on him, he may have prevented a goal), and the Wild got their first power play at 19:24. They didn’t do anything with it, though, until the second period.
FSN interviewed Zetterberg during the first intermission and they asked him the predictable question: how do the Wings regain the lead in this game and keep the Wild out of it? (paraphrase) He said something about attacking and then said, “we need to be a little more safe on the blueline.” If he was referring to Lilja’s turnover, he must have said much the same thing in the lockerroom a couple minutes later because Andreas came out in the second and third periods and played some great hockey.
The Wild started the second period on the power play and made pretty good use of it, keeping the Wings on their toes and forcing Hasek to make some good saves. Schneider’s penalty was killed off, however, in spite of their efforts.
I didn’t get the time, but Pavel Datsyuk made a nice play at the Wild blueline in a rush for the puck. Knowing he was slightly of position and wasn’t going to be able to beat the Wild player to the puck, he took his stick and held up his opponent’s for just a second until he could wheel around and get the puck. Just a smart play by a smart player, though in today’s NHL, it could have easily been called interference. I personally think the League should let stick-on-stick play go, so I’m glad Pavel wasn’t called.
Anyway, the Wild came close to taking the lead at 3:35, when Brian Rolston sent the puck off the goalpost. After that, play went up and down the ice, with neither team really having a clear advantage for a few minutes as there were no whistles.
Around the 6:00 mark, Matt Ellis was promoted to Robert Lang’s line with Dan Cleary, replacing Jason Williams. Ellis became much more noticeable after that.
The Wild had somewhat taken control of the game and were pressuring the Wings when Kris Draper took a holding penalty at 7:53. Minnesota set up and cycled the puck, getting off a shot or two before Detroit was able to clear it. They sent the puck the length of the ice, and Johan Franzen and Dan Cleary followed it. Fernandez misplayed it at the side of the net and set it up for Franzen to take behind the goalline. Johan centered it to Cleary, who went down on one knee to blast the puck from 18 feet out, beating Fernandez for his 14th goal of the season. The goal came at 9:10 and put the Wings ahead 2-1.
The Wild weren’t able to do much with the power play after that and the penalty was killed off.
Pavel Datsyuk and Company, with support from the defense, pressured the Wild into taking a penalty at 10:42. The Wings’ power play was soon halted briefly by an odd sequence of events that led to off-setting penalties. With Lidstrom handling the puck at center in front of his own bench, Veilleux decided to take a run at the Wings captain. Nick easily side-stepped the hit and left the boards open to take the brunt of the hit. Veilleux went half-over into the Wings’ bench, losing his stick in the process as Andreas Lilja, Niklas Kronwall and Chris Chelios looked on, bemused.
He tried to get back his stick, which must have fallen to the floor at the Wings’ feet, but had some trouble and decided to throw a fit. He lashed out at Kronwall, provoking an angry response from Lilja. The official immediately slapped them both with penalties, roughing for Veilleux and interference for Lilja. Not sure why Lilja got called, but whatever.
The Wings’ power play continued until Hudler took a weak hooking call at 11:49. I thought refs usually didn’t like it when players sell a penalty to them, but whoever made that call ate it up. With the teams skating four a side for 53 seconds, there was a momentary scare as Pavel Datsyuk spontaneously lost his balance and went nearly head first into the boards. Soon after that, Pavol Demitra nearly had a breakaway, but Hasek came way out of his net to knock the puck away before it developed.
Once the Wild penalty expired, they went on the power play, which was soon augmented by Lidstrom’s holding the stick penalty that handed them a 20-second 5-on-3 advantage. Babcock put Henrik Zetterberg, Chris Chelios, and Andreas Lilja out there for this sequence, but Lilja stole the show with some great defensive plays, even after he lost his stick. That’s the thing about Lilja. He plays pretty average (at times even mediocre) for games at a time and then he’ll suddenly play like an All Star.
Anyway, the Wild set up again after the puck was cleared, but by that time, Hudler was out of the box and it was just a regular power play. Minnesota did the Wings’ work for them when they cleared the puck on a blueline miscue. The Wild brought it back in, though, and their pressure continued after Lidstrom penalty expired. The Wings were pretty well covered in their zone, however, as they had three defensemen (Kronwall, Schneider, Lidstrom) and two defensive forwards (Draper, Franzen) holding off them off.
Brett Lebda made a rare major mistake at 16:05, giving away the puck right in front of the Wings’ net. Hasek was on top of things, however, and made a great save on Joel Ward.
The Wings took a two-goal lead at 18:13. Kris Draper took the puck over the blueline and, after waiting a second, released shot. It went off a Wild skate and deflected right to Lidstrom, who had the entire left side of the zone to himself. His blast blew through Fernandez to make the score 3-1.
The period wound down after that, with little to report.
During the second intermission, FSN had a nice segment on the NHL’s Video Room. I didn’t come away with all kinds of confidence in the system, however. The night FSN was there to tape the guys in the Room, it was slow and there wasn’t a ton going on. They did have to review a goal, however, and the impression I got was that they looked at it on this screen the size of the average computer monitor. Then, one guy said, “No goal. You guys comfortable with ‘no goal’?” The other guys muttered some kind of assent and that was the ruling that came down from the vaunted Toronto office. Um, if that’s all you have to do, I want that job.
The third period was extremely boring, as the Wild really clamped down on defense and the Wings apparently forgot how to pass the puck accurately. Much of the period was spent at center with the puck pin-balling around and no one having real possession. Fortunately, though, play was continuous for long stretches. Otherwise, the Wild’s poor excuse for a style of hockey would have had me falling out of my chair with boredom. I’m not even going to try to recap it, except to say that both teams had some chances, though they were fairly few and far between. Hasek was great when the Wild made pushes, though they came close late in the period when a shot rang off both posts. An empty net in the last minute or so was not enough and the Wings won 3-1.
Definitely not the team’s best game but that’s why they have Dominik Hasek. Hopefully, we won’t be subjected to more of the same tonight in Minnesota. The Wings need to find a way to open up the game a bit and not let the Wild dictate the pace. Chris Osgood will need to be on his toes, as the Wild are good at exploiting mistakes and seem to play better at home. The game is at 8:00 PM ET tonight.