Our first Red Wings playoff hockey in almost two years had a little bit of everything we've come to expect from them in the postseason: an early lead followed by a blown lead, brilliant play followed by average play, a one-goal deficit accompanied by a seemingly unbeatable goalie, a junk goal to tie it in the third, a strong overtime period after surviving the first minutes, a second overtime with a sudden game winning goal off a harmless looking play, scored by an unlikely hero. And stress for Wings fans throughout.
I'm going to say right up front that I think the Wings got lucky last night. You're going to point to their 57 shots and say, "What are you talking about?! They dominated." No, they had a lot of shots. Most of them were not challenging for Dwayne Roloson, who had a great game, I'll not deny him that but his defense deserves more credit, and most were not followed up. Edmonton forced the Wings to play on their terms last night and very nearly won the game. They capitalized on two Detroit defensive lapses and were well on their way to a victory, despite having allowed all those shots, before Kirk Maltby scored at 13:43 of the third period.
Manny Legace played very well last night, I think we can all agree. He had zero chance on either of Edmonton's two goals, which were purely the result of defensive lapses by veteran Red Wing defenseman, as I've already said. He made a few very timely saves at various points in the game and though he didn't see the puck as often as Roloson did, I think he had to stop better scoring chances. Way to start the postseason off on the right foot, Manny.
The Wings began the first period strong, with a good first shift controlling the puck for 35 seconds or so. The Oilers took it the other way, though, and Radek Dvorak forced Manny to make a great save right off the bat, at about :50.
Just 2:28 into the game, things got a little ugly. Maltby ended up bumping Roloson in the crease after being pushed and Roloson responded with a vicious slash to the groin that earned him a slashing penalty. Maltby got goaltender interference, though, which would have evened things out had Marc-Andre Bergeron not been called for roughing at the same time.
So. The Wings' all-powerful power play took the ice for the first time. They set up, got a shot off which was blocked and the puck was cleared. They brought it back in and then knocked it down with a high stick, causing a faceoff way down at the other end. Just as I finished writing, "not a great PP," they scored.
Either Schneider or Lidstrom (I didn't write down which it was, the replays online
are utterly unhelpful and at the moment I can't remember which of them plays the right point on the power play. After a whole season, that's sad, I know.) took a shot from the point that went wide of the net. Brendan Shanahan picked it up behind the goalline and skated to his right, sending the puck out front to Steve Yzerman. The Captain was in the slot and instead of taking the pass, he used his skate to deflect it to Robert Lang to Roloson's left. Roloson, who was apparently keyed up for a shot from Yzerman, had no chance on the goal, which was a slam dunk for Lang. 1-0 Wings at 4:05.
Just over a minute later, Michael Peca clotheslined Mikael Samuelsson in the Wings' end, thus earning a trip to the box. The Wings set up only to give it away to the Oilers who tried to clear it but couldn't get it past Lidstrom at the blueline. Lang took the pass from Nick along the left boards but coughed it up and again the Oilers tried to clear it. Yzerman picked the Edmonton player's pocket and kept it in again. Some solid pressure followed but the Oilers finally got it cleared and the rest of the power play was pretty fractured. KO.
Halfway through the period, Yzerman worked some magic with Lang, who had a glorious scoring chance out front, but the result was a tipped puck that ended up in the netting. Not long after that, Edmonton iced the puck and lost the ensuing faceoff. Mikael Samuelsson had a great chance but didn't score.
At 11:16, Mathieu Schneider was called for hooking and the Wings went on the penalty kill for the first time. It didn't go well. Ales Hemsky took the puck in hard down the right wing with Maltby doing a good job of closing off his lane to the net. Draper, however, didn't do such a good job of covering Sergei Samsonov, who was the beneficiary of a good centering pass from Hemsky, as he skated straight to the net. Samsonov one-timed the pass and the puck went in
off Chelios' skate at 11:44 to make it a 1-1 game.
The fourth line had a great shift starting at about 14:30, showing good energy in the Edmonton zone and causing some havoc. Cleary, Franzen and Maltby were among the best players on the ice last night, for sure.
At 16:30, Steve Yzerman was called for interference just as his line was starting to put the screws to the Oilers. It happened next to the net and looked like more of a case of the Oilers player trying to go through The Captain to get to the puck than anything else. Yzerman bitterly contested the call and I can't say I disagree with him. Fortunately, the Wings penalty kill did a good job of defending and the penalty was killed off.
The Captain came out of the box fired up and got the Wings going strong to finish the period. Henrik Zetterberg had a nice chance late but it resulted in nothing. After the period ended, Yzerman went up to the officials to discuss that call again but after that, he dropped it.
I've been reading a lot of complaints about OLN's signal but Fox's signal wasn't so hot either, it turns out. The first minute and a half of the second period was obscured by blurry and frozen shots so I have no idea what happened in that time span. Pretty lame.
The Wings looked alright for the first few minutes of the second period but they had a hard time getting their shots through the crowd of Oilers who were sacrificing their bodies to block shots. They went on the power play at 4:14 and got some good pressure but their shots were mostly blocked and the pressure was really only due to puck control, not scoring chances. Still, they were swarming. The fourth line had another great shift but a lot of time was spent making Roloson look good by giving him easy shots.
At 7:46, Chris Chelios hit Ryan Smyth behind the net and Smyth went down like a ton of bricks, face first into the boards. I don't know if he lost his balance or what but Chelios didn't hit him that hard. Regardless of what I think, though, Cheli was called for cross-checking and the Wings went back on the penalty kill.
Edmonton looked good on this power play. They set up in the zone and cycled the puck well. Somewhere in there, Symth knocked Legace's head off without getting called for goaltender interference. Manny got up, a little shaken, and had to deal with Smyth standing right in his face. Chris Pronger, with the puck at the point, took a shot and it found its way into the net
, past Legace who never saw it because of #94, who was left untouched by Nicklas Lidstrom and Andreas Lilja. 2-1 Oilers at 8:43.
The Wings still looked okay after that but their play soon slipped and the Oilers began to take over as they set up their 1-4 box at center ice.
With 2:45 left, Michael Peca went literally neck-first into the goalpost and got up without blinking an eye. Weird.
At 17:39, Georges Laraque nearly took Chelios' head off with his elbow, thankfully drawing a roughing penalty on the play. The Oilers had a glorious shorthanded chance by Shawn Horcoff from 7 feet out but Manny made the save. The Wings' power play was awful, with sloppy passes and much slacking off by the likes of Robert Lang. Learn to go to the net on the rush, Robert. You don't have to drop the puck off every single time you cross the blueline. Two-foot passes are utterly useless in such cases. Give me a break.
By the end of the period, the Wings had outshot Edmonton 31-11 but were down 2-1. They were playing to the Oilers' level and earning boos from their home fans. Not a great period.
The Wings kicked off the third with the Swedish line, which had a good shift that was followed up by another good shift by Yzerman, Lang, and Williams. The Oilers were very tight defensively, though, and were making this difficult.
Lilja got his penalty, a phantom call, at 3:31. The Wings killed it off pretty well, however. Just after the penalty expired, Horcoff had a great scoring chance all alone out front. Legace made a great save and kept it 2-1. Not long after that, Schneider took a penalty and the Wings went back on the PK. It was a good power play for Edmonton and at this point, they seemed to be fully in control of the game.
Kris Draper sparked the Wings on a bit at 9:29 when he got tired of getting bumped around and took it out on Bergeron, who had just given him a face-wash. Draper drove him to the ice, getting a roughing penalty in the process but because he was bleeding when he got up, the refs gave Bergeron a four-minute high sticking penalty. Unfortunately, the ensuing power play was pretty lame. The Wings were putting effort in but the Oilers had shut the game down pretty well using their trap.
The Wings finally got the goal they needed at 13:43. Johan Franzen took a shot from the left wing and Maltby, crashing the net, got his stick on it and redirected it in
. The officials decided the goal needed review and took their sweet time about it, even though every single replay I saw pretty clearly indicated it was a good goal. Thankfully, they eventually agreed and let the goal stand.
The game opened up after that, with the Wings playing well and the Oilers doing a pretty good job of matching them. They traded chances up and down the ice and it was clear the next goal was going to win it.
Shanahan took a dumb penalty at 18:10 but his buddy Chris Chelios was a beast on the PK, as was Manny Legace. Cleary had a good chance shorthanded but Roloson made the save. Soon, the period ended and we went to overtime.
I was too absorbed in watching OT to actually write much down so I don't have a lot of detail here.
The Wings looked a little sloppy to begin with but soon stepped up and began to control play. This is when Roloson really started to come up big, as the Wings were getting good chances to win it. The Oilers, though, had a couple flurries around the net in which they should have scored but didn't due to some fortunate blocked and fanned shots.
Late in the first OT, the Wings had a flurry that ended with Holmstrom falling on Roloson, who was "hurt" on the play. He seemed to be okay after laying there for a few minutes, however, and it could have just been that he wanted to give his teammates a rest with a little acting.
The Captain was nailed by someone pretty early on in the second OT. Don't like to see that.
The Wings still looked good and had some good shifts early. Then, they scored.
Kirk Maltby, along the right boards, took a harmless shot at the net that somehow beat Roloson 5-hole and snuck in just inside the far post
. The goal came as a bit of a surprise, after watching the guy stop easy shots all night. It came at 2:39 and gave the Wings a 1-0 lead in the series. (Update - 12:37 AM, 22. Apr): The puck deflected in off Rem Murray's stick, so it didn't beat Roloson cleanly.
It wasn't that the Wings played badly last night. They didn't. They actually played pretty well. It's just that they let the Oilers dictate the terms of the game far too much. I would like to see them pass better in Game 2 and defeat the trap with some real creativity, not the overly cute stuff they tried at times last night. Their power play is going to have to be better and so is their penalty kill.
Henrik Zetterberg is going to need to play better too. He was virtually a non-factor last night and was really a disappointment. Come on, Hank. You need to do better.
I'm looking forward to Pavel Datsyuk's return, which had better be Sunday (suck it up, Pavel). I kept missing his stickhandling ability last night, which I know would have given the Oilers fits. Just the stickhandling of Steve Yzerman and Robert Lang was enough to frustrate Edmonton. Imagine what Datsyuk, if he doesn't completely choke, will do to the likes of Chris Pronger?
Sunday should be an interesting game. The Oilers relied on the trap a lot and nearly won because of it but their speed lends itself to a more open game. Will they try that? If they do, it'll help the Wings, who'll take advantage of the open ice with their superior puck handling skills (theoretically, at least). If they stick with the trap, expect the Wings to have trouble. Luck is a part of any playoff run and the Wings are going to need it if they want to go far. Luck just has a way of benefiting the team that is working the hardest and the Wings need to be that team.
An important win for the Wings. They needed to win, no matter how, but the bad thing is that the Oilers have hope now. They know they were outplayed but they also see that they nearly won. They blocked 30+ shots last night which is very impressive, and many of the 57 shots they allowed were perimeter shots. That should be worrisome. Roloson was solid but his defense was what nearly won the game.
This isn't going to be an easy series.
Abel to Yzerman game summary
Update (4:55 PM):
I meant to mention this but forgot: The Oilers looked dead in overtime while the Wings were busy skating circles around them. So much for youth, eh? Says a lot about the Wings' depth, I think.