DETROIT – The memory of their demise in the NHL’s Western Conference final a year ago continues to spur the Detroit Red Wings on to greater things this spring.
“We’ve got a group that wants to win bad and we’re determined,” says coach Mike Babcock. “We’ve been here before and never got the job done.
“We’d like to take the next step.”
The Red Wings are determined they won’t let the Dallas Stars do to them what the Anaheim Ducks did in the 2007 conference final, and they trounced the Stars 4-1 in the opener to drive the point home Thursday night.
It was their seventh straight win.
As if they didn’t already have enough offensive weapons, the Wings turned what had been an ordinary post-season power play into a flamethrower by connecting three times in their first five extra-man chances.
Power-play goals by Brian Rafalski and Johan Franzen put them up 2-0 in the first period, and a power-play goal by Tomas Holmstrom plus an even-strength goal by Valtteri Filpulla made it 4-0 before Brenden Morrow replied late in the second period.
The Red Wings hadn’t played in a week but showed no signs of rust in the teams’ first post-season meeting in 10 years.
“We got rested up and, if anything, you get eager to play again,” said winning goalie Chris Osgood. “We missed playing. We wanted to start playing again.”
Detroit outshot Dallas 31-21. Osgood improved to 7-0 since replacing Dominik Hasek in the first round. Marty Turco, winless in 10 career regular-season starts in Joe Louis Arena, was a loser again.
“We did a good job of getting pucks on Marty, making things difficult for him,” said Osgood. “It’s hard to play goal against our team because we shoot pucks from everywhere and we get guys in front of the goalie.
“We do have flashy players but tonight we scored by going to the net and getting guys in front of the goalie.”
Babcock suggested the Stars had an emotional letdown after going four overtimes in eliminating San Jose on Sunday, and disappointed coach Dave Tippett seemed to agree.
“That’s a game that wasn’t even close to the games we played in the playoffs,” he said. “There’s some fatigue from the last game.
“Whatever the reason, we didn’t play close to our capability. We just didn’t skate, didn’t get to the level we needed to be at. Give the Red Wings all the credit in the world. They did what they had to do to win. We’re going to have to be much better.”
Babcock is sure they will be better in Game 2 on Saturday (7 p.m.)
“Their legs will be back and the series will be on,” said Babcock. “They’ve got a real good team.
“There’s no question that the next game they’ll be back and rolling.”
The Red Wings had a two-man advantage when captain Nick Lidstrom smashed a shot off a post. The carom went all the way out to near the blue-line, and Rafalski slapped a long shot that sailed over Turco at 4:28. Mattias Norstrom was serving a hooking penalty and Mark Fistric joined him in the penalty box for roughing up Holmstrom after a whistle.
“It was surprising it came all the way back that far from the post,” said Rafalski. “Guys were scrambling around and I saw Turco was down so I was trying to go high and it got in.”
Franzen deflected down a high Niklas Kronvall shot and sent the puck skittering past Turco’s feet at 15:34 after Toby Petersen had been nabbed for holding.
Franzen’s 12th goal of the post-season, in his team’s 11th game, tied the club playoff record of five consecutive games with a goal. The six-foot-three Swede shares it with Gordie Howe, who went five in a row in 1949 and 1964, and with Ted Lindsay, who had a similar streak in 1952.
Shots were 4-4 early on but the Red Wings were up 12-4 after 20 minutes.
“We talked about it before the game – that we wanted to get engaged right away,” Lidstrom said of his team’s great start. “We wanted to get our feet going, get skating right away. We wanted to come out with a strong effort right away.”
Osgood made a fantastic leg save when Niklas Hagman got free for a shot from on Osgood’s doorstep six minutes into the second period.
“Ozzie, Ozzie,” cheered the near-capacity crowd of 20,066.
Holmstrom made it 3-0 when, parked in front of Turco, he deflected in a high Lidstrom shot at 6:40. Mike Ribeiro cringed in the penalty box, where he’d been exiled for hooking. The scoring sequence began when Henrik Zetterberg beat Steve Ott on a faceoff in the Dallas end.
A few minutes later, Kronvall slammed Antti Miettinen to the ice with a punishing and clean body check.
“He sees when a guy is vulnerable and he’s got that ability to hunt you down,” Babcock said of Kronvall, who missed the 2007 playoffs after a leg injury suffered after a hit from Dallas forward Joel Lundqvist. “He’s looking for you all the time.
“It’s important for us with him and (Brad) Stuart that they’re alway son the hunt because it makes (opponents) nervous. You’ve got to be aware of where they’re at.”
Vilpulla finished off a nifty passing play at 15:37 of the second period. Kronvall fed Mikael Samuelsson who relayed the puck to Filpulla, who scooted between Fistric and Norstrom for a clear shot at the net. Turco didn’t have a chance on the leftie’s quick wrist shot.
Morrow flicked a rebound past Osgood at 18:53.
Detroit was up 25-15 on the shots counter after 40 minutes.
Babcock gave his muckers more ice time in the third period and veterans such as Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby, appearing in his first playoff game this spring after recovering from a hamstring injury, frustrated the Stars with their checking.
Franzen continues to be as hot as a firecracker.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I don’t have a good answer for it.
“I’ve been lucky.”
He’d already broken a Howe record by getting nine goals in four games in the previous round, and now he can break another Howe mark if he gets a goal Saturday.
“It’s really something,” he said. “But I don’t want to think about that right now.
“My only concern now is to win seven more games this year.”
What the Red Wings are doing is much more than The Johan Franzen Show.
“We’re playing well as a team,” said Lidstrom. “It’s not that we’re relying on one or two players.
“We have a lot of players chipping in and helping out.
“That’s one of the keys to our success so far – that we’re not relying on one line to carry the team. It’s been balanced scoring, strong team defence, and I think this is very comparable to some of the teams we had back in the ’90s.”
History shows that teams winning the first game of a best-of-seven go on to win the series 68.9 per cent of the time.
Notes: The Red Wings won 35 of 56 faceoffs (63 per cent). Zetterberg won 12 of the 17 he took (71 per cent) . . . Power plays saw Detroit go 3-for-7 and Dallas go 0-for-4 . . . Detroit D Chris Chelios returned to the lineup after missing the fourth and final game of the previous series with what his team described as a lower body injury . . . The last time these teams met in the playoffs, in 1998, the Red Wings prevailed in a six-game conference final that catapulted them to a second straight championship. No team has won two in a row since . . . Hard to believe that 209 players were selected ahead of Zetterberg in his draft year (1999) . . . Dallas C Mike Modano was held off the scoresheet – just as he was during the regular season when he had no points and was a minus-5 in four games against Detroit . . . Two Michigan-born players are involved in this series: Modano is from Livonia and Rafalski is from Dearborn . . . Average age is 30.2 for the Red Wings and 29.0 for the Stars.