Whether or not the Detroit Red Wings will win the Stanley Cup remains to be seen, but on Monday night, they made history.
Pavel Datsyuk scored three times for his first career hat trick, and Chris Osgood made 16 saves as the Red Wings extended their postseason wining streak to a franchise-best nine games with a 5-2 victory over the Dallas Stars in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals at the American Airlines Center.
The victory puts the Wings within a win of the Stanley Cup Final, and five away from what would be their fourth championship in 11 seasons.
“Pavel was awesome tonight,” said Osgood, who improved to 9-0 in the playoffs. “We don’t like to rely on him every game, we like to give him a break sometimes. But he was outstanding and he was our best player. He’s great at both ends of the rink.”
Datsyuk broke a scoreless tie with his first goal of the night 9:27 into the contest. After the Red Wings were able to weather an early storm by the Stars, Datsyuk took a pass from Henrik Zetterberg and ripped a backhand shot past Marty Turco for his sixth goal of the playoffs.
His performance came at a key time for the Wings, who once again were forced to play without Johan Franzen due to concussion-like symptoms. Franzen – who leads the club with 12 goals this postseason – also missed Game 2 in Detroit.
''His lowest level is really high,'' Zetterberg said of Datsyuk. ''He plays real good for us night-in and night-out. You know you can really trust him because he will play good offense and good defense for us every time he is out there.''
Nicklas Grossman got things going for the Stars less than six minutes later as he tied the game with his first career NHL goal. With the teams at even strength, Grossman took a gorgeous cross-ice feed from Mike Modano and one-timed it past Osgood to make it 1-1.
"I didn't think we were as quick early," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "I thought when we scored the third goal, the game was over. We knew they were going to have a big push, and it was one of those games where we found a way to win."
The momentum was short-lived, however, as Datsyuk regained Detroit’s lead just 37 seconds later. With the AAC crowd still buzzing from Grossman’s game-tying tally, Datsyuk fired a wrist shot from the left circle that found its way past Turco as Detroit held a 2-1 edge.
“You feel like you’ve got a lot of momentum going your way, and then the next shift we go out and give it right back,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “Those are demoralizing things. When you start chasing a game, you’re using a lot more energy to do that. Things can get ragged and very individual.”
Dallas was able even the score at 2-2 when Brad Richards found the back of the net 3:47 into the second period. Richards – the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner – enjoyed a bit of luck as his wrist shot off the left boards ricocheted in front and past Osgood. It was Richards’ third goal of the playoffs.
“I’ve never been in this position and it’s tough … I’m not going to lie,” said Richards, who won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning. “Right now, it’s tough to swallow. But tomorrow morning, we’re still in this series. We’re going to have all the clichés and we’re going to believe that we’re not done. We’ll regroup and try to win a game.”
Jiri Hudler scored what proved to be the game-winner with 8:06 remaining in the second period. With the teams at even strength, Niklas Kronwall made a perfect pass up ice to Hudler, who skated in alone on Turco before beating the Stars’ netminder with a backhand shot to make it 3-2. It was Hudler’s third goal of the postseason.
''I don't feel I've given our guys enough of a chance to win,'' said Turco, who stopped 16 of 21 shots and fell to 2-13-5 lifetime against the Red Wings. ''But it's a seven-game series, so we'll see what happens.''
Zetterberg broke the Stars’ backs when he gave Detroit a two-goal lead with a shorthanded tally just 98 seconds into the third period. With Tomas Holmstrom in the box for goalie interference, Zetterberg made a nifty move around Richards before firing a wrist shot past Turco for his ninth goal of the playoffs. Datsyuk completed the hat trick when he beat Turco at 17:19.
“I think they took over momentum in the second, and we just wanted to go out and play a good third,” Zetterberg said. We got the goal and it got a little easier for us.”
Only two teams have ever come back to win a series after losing the first three games. The New York Islanders were the latest franchise to accomplish the feat – way back in 1975 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
First things first, though – the Stars are still searching for their first lead against the high-powered Wings.
''We tried to clean up the execution but it wasn't there,'' Modano said. ''Breakdowns here and there, you can't afford against those guys. You pretty much need to play a mistake-free game.''
1 - 0 DET
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 DET
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 DET
4 - 2 DET
5 - 2 DET
Interference - Goalkeeper