Brian Compton | NHL.com Staff Writer
DETROIT -- The best defenseman in the world provided the offense his team needed when it mattered most.
Nicklas Lidstrom –- a six-time Norris Trophy winner –- broke a 2-2 tie with 49.1 seconds remaining in regulation on Friday night to give the Detroit Red Wings a 3-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 of their Western Conference Semifinal at Joe Louis Arena.
It looked like the game was destined to go to overtime until Dan Cleary fed Lidstrom in the slot and Lidstrom got off a shot that was stopped by Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller. But Lidstrom followed the shot and fired his own rebound between Hiller's legs home for his second goal of the night.
The victory -- the fourth in this year's playoffs in which the winning goal was scored in the final minute of regulation -- gave Detroit a 1-0 series lead, with Game 2 to be played here on Sunday afternoon.
"I was hoping for a win … that’s pretty much it," Lidstrom said. "Cleary had the puck and I jumped right into the slot. I’ll take it any way I can."
It truly was vintage Lidstrom. On a night when he was forced to play without defense partner Brian Rafalski -– who was replaced by 47-year-old Chris Chelios due to an upper-body injury -– Lidstrom stepped up his game at both ends of the ice. Not only did he help contain Anaheim’s dangerous top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan, but he factored into all three of the Red Wings’ goals to lead his team to victory.
That’s why he’s the captain.
"He’s a talented player and we’re lucky to have him," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said of No. 5. "I think his greatest skill is that he doesn’t make things complicated. He just does simple things well over and over again. If you’re a bigger, more physical guy, you might get noticed more. But he just plays the game simple."
In Game 1, there was nothing simple about Detroit’s victory. The teams exchanged goals in each of the first two periods. Perry opened the scoring 7:28 into the game when he took a pass from Getzlaf and rifled a slap shot from just beyond the left circle past Chris Osgood. It was Perry’s fourth goal of the playoffs and gave the Ducks a 1-0 lead.
But after Mike Brown was handed a five-minute major for interference and a game misconduct for his open-ice hit on Jiri Hudler, Johan Franzen tied the game when he muscled his way past Francois Beauchemin and wristed one a shot past at 12:33 to make it 1-1.
Lidstrom said it took the Wings a little while to get going after sitting for more than a week after sweeping Columbus in the first round.
"I didn’t think we had our legs early in the game," Lidstrom said. "We got some momentum going as the game went along. We know we have to come with a better effort in the next game."
Lidstrom gave the Wings a 2-1 lead with a power-play goal at 14:24 of the second period. After Beauchemin went off for tripping, Lidstrom took a pass from Brad Stuart and ripped a slap shot from inside the left circle past Hiller, who was screened by Tomas Holmstrom. It was the first indication that Lidstrom was more than willing to fill the offensive void left by Rafalski, whose status for Game 2 is unknown.
"I wasn’t really feeling any pressure like that," Lidstrom said of making up for the loss of Rafalski. "I thought (Jonathan) Ericsson played a real solid game as my partner against that top line. He’s a big kid and he’s tough to knock off the puck and he skates real well. I think he did a great job of defending against them."
Teemu Selanne tied the game at 2-2 when the Ducks capitalized on a 4-on-3 man advantage with 16.1 seconds left in the period. With Holmstrom and Franzen in the box for Detroit and George Parros serving a delay of game penalty for Anaheim, Selanne one-timed Getzlaf’s feed from the left circle past Osgood for his second goal of the playoffs. Anaheim had gone 0-for-2 on its first two power plays with just two shots on goal.
But Anaheim’s offensive night was over, thanks to the defensive efforts of Lidstrom & Co. Detroit dominated the third period, as it outshot the Ducks 18-7. And with time winding down, Lidstrom followed the rush into Anaheim’s zone and collected the puck from Cleary en route to finishing off yet another great moment in the future Hall of Famer’s career.
"He’s a special player," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said of Lidstrom. "He had a lot of net to shoot at. I thought we missed an opportunity tonight. We didn’t do some things late in the hockey game to continue to give ourselves a chance. We stood still and made poor judgments as far as getting the puck in deep."
And, in the end, the wrong guy had the puck in the game’s final moments. It’s a moment that any great player would make the most of, and Lidstrom did just that.
"All alone in front there," said Ducks defenseman Scott Niedermayer, who will join Lidstrom in the Hall of Fame someday. "He slid it in. It’s going to happen. We were right there. One goal our way at that point, it’s a different game. We’ve just got to come back and correct a few mistakes and stay out of the box one or two more times on Sunday and see what happens."
Contact Brian Compton at: email@example.com.
Doing their best to avoid overtime, the trio of Dan Cleary, Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg did a tremendous job of setting up Nicklas Lidstrom’s game-winner with just 49.1 seconds to go. Franzen crashed the net, allowing Lidstrom to collect his own rebound on the play.
Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios. He may have only received 6:57 of ice time, but the fact that the 47-year-old competed in a Stanley Cup playoff game is nothing short of remarkable.
With Brian Rafalski out of the lineup, Jonathan Ericsson received an increase in playing time and made the most of it. The big blueliner used his size (6-foot-4, 206 pounds) to his advantage late in the first period, when he bullied the puck out of Detroit’s zone to help kill an elbowing penalty on Jiri Hudler.
Johan Franzen’s power-play goal midway through the first period was his 20th postseason tally in just 45 games.
It will be interesting to see if Anaheim’s Mike Brown receives a suspension for his hit on Hudler with 8:31 remaining in the opening period. The hit caused a gash over Hudler’s left eye and led to a rare five-minute major for interference. Hudler was able to return.