COLUMBUS, Ohio – Forget all that talk about a playoff series being a long haul. It’s been a sprint so far for the Detroit Red Wings, and they’re drawing close to the finish line of their first-round series with Columbus.
Henrik Zetterberg scored two goals and the reigning Stanley Cup champions dominated from beginning to end Tuesday night to beat the Blue Jackets 4-1 and grab a 3-0 lead. “Everyone talks about a best-of-seven. Really, it’s a race to four” coach Mike Babcock said. “You want to get to four as fast as you can.”
The first NHL playoff game at Nationwide Arena – in the Blue Jackets’ 659th game – was a mammoth letdown for a franchise-record crowd of 19,219.
“It was an exciting game for the first playoff game in this building,” said Zetterberg, whose empty-netter gave him 30 goals and 25 assists in his 64 playoff appearances.
“The fans were excited. We tried to defeat that, too.”
Dan Cleary had a goal and two assists, Tomas Holmstrom scored 1:07 in for an early lift and Johan Franzen added two assists. The Red Wings can advance to the conference semifinals with a win Thursday night.
Almost no-one is surprised.
The Red Wings are an experienced, confident bunch who have barely allowed a younger team stocked with playoff rookies to breathe.
“There’s something about experience,” Babcock said. “In life, when you don’t have it, you think it’s overrated. When you have it, it’s obviously very, very important.”
Chris Osgood’s shutout streak of 144 minutes, 27 seconds ended with 3:53 left when R.J. Umberger scored on a backhander off a rebound of Rick Nash’s drive.
The goal was almost identical to the only other score the Blue Jackets have in the series, when Umberger scored late in the second period of Game 1.
“We’ve been there, we know how difficult it is. Each game is a separate moment,” Osgood said of the playoffs. “We played real well the first 10 minutes. We pressed them and got the early goal, which helped us a ton.”
Osgood, who finished with 31 saves, stopped Kristian Huselius on two prime scoring chances within a minute in the first period, each of which would have tied it.
Since an embarrassing 8-2 home loss – with Osgood in goal – on March 7, the Red Wings have won the last four meetings with the Blue Jackets by a combined score of 16-2.
Rookie goaltender Steve Mason had 22 saves for Columbus.
“With the amount of skill (the Red Wings) have, they’re going to put the puck in the net,” he said.
The last four times the Red Wings hit the road leading a first-round series 2-0, they lost. Not this time.
Not even close.
A standing-room-only crowd roared at the start but the Red Wings got on the board quickly. Holmstrom skated down the left wing and fired a 50-foot shot that Mason deflected.
The puck went to Marian Hossa at the right dot, who gained control of it before backhanding a high shot that skipped past Mason off the crossbar and along the goal line. Holmstrom was there to jam in the rebound.
After Detroit took eight of the first 11 shots with Columbus looking hesitant and jittery, the Blue Jackets had the next eight shots on Osgood.
But with less than a minute left in the first period, Franzen’s shot from the right wing smacked into defenseman Mike Commodore and Cleary in the crease. Cleary collected the puck, spun and whipped a shot past Mason.
“We’ve played three games, we’ve had three great starts. And had nothing to show for it,” Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We’ve gotten discouraged because of that and it’s affected our game.”
A weird sequence led to the Red Wings’ third goal. Commodore tried to check Cleary but missed, flipping over the short boards and onto the Detroit bench. Moments later, he made contact with Franzen, decking him behind the Columbus goal. But then he added another shot and was whistled for a delayed penalty. The Wings didn’t stop skating, however, and Cleary tossed a centring pass to Zetterberg between the circles and his hard shot made it 3-0.
Now the Blue Jackets have their backs to the wall.