In the chess match that is an NHL playoff series, Detroit coach Mike Babcock's first moves produced the desired result.
Looking for more effort and desperation from his bottom two lines after a loss in Game 1 to the Phoenix Coyotes, Babcock, scratched, juggled and massaged his forwards Friday and they responded. Henrik Zetterberg and Valtteri Filppula combined for five goals in the 7-4 win, but the unsung heroes were in new places.
Center Justin Abdelkader, a scratch in Game 1 and a minor-leaguer much of the season, was inserted into the game for his physical play and defense, But the former Michigan State star also gave the Red Wings their first lead of the game 2:32 into the third period, stripping the puck from Wojtek Wolski in the Phoenix zone and beating goalie Ilya Bryzgalov up high to put the Wings ahead 4-3.
It was a stunner. Abdelkader hadn't played in an NHL game since Jan. 27, spending much of the last two months in the minors. He hadn't scored since getting a pair back on Nov. 11 at Columbus and had only three goals in 50 games with Detroit.
"I came off the bench late, the third guy, they passed up to Wolski," Abdelkader said. "I just came behind him and took the puck away and saw I had a lot of open ice, was able to make a move and get a shot."
Babcock went with Abdelkader after the Coyotes outhit the Red Wings 40-24 in Game 1 -- and he recorded five hits and won six of his 11 faceoffs in his eight minutes on the ice time as the Red Wings won the battle of hits 38-31 In Game 2.
"He's going to be a real good player in this League," Babcock said. "He's going to be a guy who can wear out other people and abuse defensemen, stand up for his teammates. But he's in the growth process. To chip in as a fourth-line center, it was positive."
Detroit winger Dan Cleary, moved to the third line after Game 1, also made a huge play in the first period. With a rebound sitting in the crease and goalie Jimmy Howard hopelessly out of position. Clearly lunged and got a stick on Wolski's sure scoring attempt to keep the game scoreless.
"It was a big win for us," Cleary said. "Everyone played desperate."
Now the Red Wings come back to Detroit with home-ice advantage and the kind of postseason mentality Babcock thought was missing in Game 1.
"It looked like we've now engaged in the playoffs," he said. "Until you do that, you have a hard time winning."
The Red Wings fell behind 1-0 and didn't have a shot in the second period until Zetterberg took a power-play pass from Filppula and scored at 6:27. Just over three minutes later, the Wings had two more goals – capped by Filppula's pretty goal off a feed from linemate Todd Bertuzzi.
"We skated a little better in the second period and we were able to get some turnovers and spend a little more time in their zone," said Filppula, who iced the game by scoring a power-play goal with 2:06 left. "Both teams were running around a little too much and creating a lot of chances and there were a lot of goals. I don't think the rest of the games are going to go like that.
"This was an important win. Now we go home, we have home ice and we have confidence. We want to keep going and have a good run."