Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer
COLUMBUS - A record crowd of 19,219 witnessed the first Stanley Cup Playoffs game ever at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday with the hope their hometown Blue Jackets would keep the benchmarks going with the franchise's first postseason victory.
But defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings shut down the anticipation with another night of stifling defense. You get the distinct impression Detroit is putting on a clinic of sorts for its Central Division rival: How to Advance in the Playoffs 101.
For the third straight time in this series, the Red Wings struck first to break the ice in the opening period and then shut the door the remainder of the game en route to a 4-1 victory in Game 3 of this best-of-seven Western Conference Quarterfinal. Chris Osgood continued his mastery in goal with 31 saves. Detroit looks to close out the Blue Jackets on Thursday at Nationwide Arena (7 p.m. ET).
Osgood, as he did so often during Detroit's Stanley Cup run last season, came up huge at critical points in the game. Most notably in the opening period, when it appeared the Blue Jackets had much of the territorial advantage and an 11-9 shots on goal advantage, Osgood still found a way to keep the puck out of his net.
"We've played three games and had three great starts and had nothing to show for it," said Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock.
With his team holding a 1-0 edge with seven minutes left in the first period, the 36-year-old Osgood caught a left-circle whistler off the stick of winger Kristian Huselius. With 1:32 remaining, he stopped Jason Chimera off a perfectly-timed tip in the crease."They have some big forwards with some big shots but the key for us is the third guy [back] and our back-checking," Osgood said. "I don't care who you are, if you leave your goalie and your defense alone back there, you'll get beat sooner or later. So you have to rely on good team defense. We block shots and are clearing guys in front of the net and that's the difference for us in the playoffs."
Osgood, who went 14-4 with a 1.55 goals-against average and .930 save percentage during the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs, has allowed just two goals in three games in this series.
"I've felt good since the start of the playoffs," said Osgood. "I love this time of the year. It was a treat for us to come here to Columbus to play in the first playoff game in this building. For us to come here was fun and it was a great atmosphere. I thought Columbus played really well. It was end-to-end really."
The Red Wings opened a 1-0 lead just 1:07 into the game on a rebound by Tomas Holmstrom -- on his first shot of this series. The veteran club would further complicate matters for the host team with 46 seconds showing in the first when Dan Cleary dazzled the boisterous home crowd with a 360 spin-o-rama in front of Columbus rookie goalie Steve Mason (22 saves).
"We talked about how the atmosphere here was going to be unbelievable right before the game and we talked about the opening 10 minutes," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "If we could be patient, we'd be able to take advantage of that and that's what happened on the first goal – a neutral zone turnover and (Holmstrom) was taking it in the other direction."
Hitchcock realizes the daunting task his team now faces, particularly against one of the League's stronger defensive units. The Wings have outscored the Blue Jackets, 12-2, in this series. The Jackets are a dismal 1-for-11 on the power-play.
"Detroit makes you pay for mistakes and they were opportunistic," Hitchcock said. "Yes, we had a lot of scoring chances, we hit goal posts, we hit cross bars, but they end up with the 2-0 lead (in the first) and that's the momentum they wanted."
Hitchcock said earlier in the day that Detroit's defense traditionally dials it up in the postseason. While Columbus held a 38-30 advantage in hits, there was none more impressive than the one Wings defenseman Brad Stuart put on R.J. Umberger with 6:52 left in the second period. Stuart lined up Umberger at the Columbus blue-line along the wall, cruising in at an angle, before leveling Umberger with a hip to the sternum.
"I saw him kind of turn and look at me and I just wanted to make sure guys were covering up and then I went in as he turned," Stuart said. "I was a little surprised he didn't pick his head up sooner. I kind of got him with my rear and that's what I was trying to do."
Big hits have become trademarks of the Red Wings in the postseason, along with consistency on defense and in goal.
"Any time you get a solid hit like that it kind of makes you feel good," said Stuart. "They were running around a bit out of position after that so I guess it worked to our advantage."
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A great example of teamwork was exhibited on Detroit's third goal of the game with 6:05 remaining in the second when, following a delayed penalty call on Columbus defenseman Mike Commodore, Detroit wing Dan Cleary found Henrik Zetterberg in front for a 3-0 cushion. Zetterberg, who would also hit into an empty net with 31 seconds left in the third, is tops on the team with 3 goals this postseason.
Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart was a one-man wrecking ball. Stuart, who is in his ninth season and second with Detroit, finished the game with four hits. None, however, was more devastating than the one he laid on R.J. Umberger just inside the Columbus blue line along the wall. Stuart lined up Umberger, who was just lifting his head when Stuart cruised in at an angle before leveling Umberger with a hip to the sternum with 6:52 remaining in the second.
The Wings were able to take a 2-0 lead in the first period thanks in large part to the goaltending of Chris Osgood, who is looking more and more like the goalie that led the Wings to the Stanley Cup one season ago. The 36-year-old Osgood went 14-4 with a 1.55 goals-against average and .930 save percentage during the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He turned aside 11 shots in the first period, including a dazzling glove save off a left-circle whistler by winger Kristian Huselius with less than seven minutes remaining. On top of that, he rarely relinquished a rebound all night. Ozzie finished with a game-high 31 saves for the game.
Prior to scoring his first goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs just 1:07 into the game, Detroit wing Tomas Holmstrom hadn't registered a shot in six previous periods of this best-of-7 series. The goal was Holmstrom's only shot of the opening 20 minutes.
The Blue Jackets finally connected on the power play but it was too little, too late. The Columbus power play is 1-for-11 in the series, including three failed opportunities on four chances on Tuesday in Game 3.