DENVER – On a night set up to honour Peter Forsberg, his Swedish countrymen stole the show.
Johan Franzen broke a tie in the second period and Henrik Zetterberg added another to help the Detroit Red Wings beat Colorado 3-0 on Saturday to spoil a celebration in which the Avalanche retired the jersey of Forsberg.
All’s fair in heated rivalries—a point that Forsberg even addressed in his pre-game speech.
So, Zetterberg doesn’t feel all that bad trampling on Forsberg’s moment.
“It was a great ceremony, really happy to be apart of that, to be able to sit on the bench and enjoy that,” Zetterberg said. “After that, it was game on.”
And no one came up bigger than Ty Conklin. He was sensational in net as he filled in for Jimmy Howard, who played the night before in Detroit’s win over Ottawa. Conklin stopped 29 shots for his first shutout since last February.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t nice to get shutouts,” Conklin said.
Semyon Varlamov made 36 saves in his Avalanche debut, two short of his career high. Varlamov was acquired from Washington over the summer to shore up the team’s deficiencies in net and is quickly earning the respect of his teammates.
“He played unbelievable,” Paul Stastny said. “He controlled his rebounds great. If there was a rebound, he pushed it away. He handled everything well. Those two goals, one’s 4-on-3 the other’s 3-on-2—he’s got no chance.”
Before the game, the Avs raised a banner with Forsberg’s name and number to the Pepsi Center rafters, where it will hang alongside those of Joe Sakic (19), Patrick Roy (33) and Ray Bourque (77).
Colorado sure could have used Forsberg’s scoring touch Saturday.
The Red Wings neutralized an Avalanche squad that has historically been exceptional on opening night, boasting the best winning percentage of any team in the league. They’re now 18-7-7 all time to start the season.
Zetterberg scored a nifty goal in the third period on a well-executed give-and-go with Pavel Datsyuk. After dropping a pass back to Datsyuk, Zetterberg got it right back and caught Varlamov out of position.
Later, with Varlamov pulled for an extra skater, Datsyuk added the clincher as the Red Wings showed no signs of fatigue playing in the second game of a back-to-back to begin the season.
“I think the first period, they were a little faster than us,” Zetterberg said. “Conklin really saved us a few times. In the second period, we got into the game a little better.”
Franzen put the Wings on the scoreboard first in the second period with a hard shot over the left shoulder of Varlamov. The goal was set up by a drop pass from Jiri Hudler, who froze the defenders and opened up a lane for Franzen.
The goal came after Varlamov made a slew of saves, including one in which he stopped a wrist shot from Drew Miller on a breakaway.
“He was good,” Datsyuk said. “We had a lot of chances, but didn’t score.”
It was a memorable night for 18-year-old rookie Gabriel Landeskog, who made his NHL debut in front of his boyhood idol Forsberg. Landeskog, the second overall pick in the draft last June, was bottled up most of the night, but did put five shots on net.
The fans showed up at the rink more than an hour before the puck dropped to watch the ceremony for Forsberg, who remains a fan favourite.
The Swedish star entered the arena by walking through the stands, shaking hands as he made his way onto the ice. He stepped onto a burgundy carpet that had been placed along the surface and did a lap around the rink, greeting teammates along the way and giving Zetterberg an embrace as he sat on the Detroit bench.
“Unbelievable,” the usually stoic Forsberg said of the ceremony. “I will forever remember this.”
In his prime, Forsberg was one of the best two-way players in the NHL. He helped Colorado to Stanley Cup titles in 1996 and 2001 along with winning the league MVP award in 2003.
He attempted a comeback with the Avs last season, but called it a career after two games because of a chronic foot ailment.
Notes: Before the game, Colorado held a tribute for former players Ruslan Salei and Karlis Skrastins. They were among those who died in the Russian plane crash that decimated the Locomotiv Yaroslavl team in early September. The organization also honoured Wade Belak, who hanged himself in Toronto on Aug. 31. Belak played in Colorado for parts of three seasons. … In the middle of the game, the Avs announced a trade that sent D Kyle Cumiskey to the Anaheim Ducks for D Jake Newton and a conditional draft pick. Newton will report to Lake Erie of the AHL. Cumiskey cleared waivers earlier in the day and was set to be reassigned. … Red Wings F Danny Cleary had two assists.