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Conklin, Wings spoil Avs' opener

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER – Playing back-to-back games to open the 2011-12 season wasn't exactly a problem for the Detroit Red Wings.

The Red Wings were at their best as Saturday night's game with the Colorado Avalanche wore on and they skated to a 3-0 win at the Pepsi Center 24 hours after posting a 5-3 home victory against Ottawa.

The outcome spoiled the Avalanche's season opener when the team also retired former star Peter Forsberg's No. 21 jersey in a pregame ceremony.

"Once we got our legs and started doing things that this team usually does, we had a lot of success," Red Wings goalie Ty Conklin said after making 29 saves for his 17th career shutout. "Certainly the first 10 minutes of the game they had the jump on us. They carried the play for the first 10 minutes, but as the game wore on we got our legs and we spent a lot of quality time in their end.

"Playing back to back, it's a wash. Everybody has to do it. Everybody has to travel."

Johan Franzen broke a scoreless tie at 17:41 of the second period, and Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk finished off the Avalanche with third-period goals, the latter's coming into an empty net with 2:20 to play.

The Red Wings finally solved goalie Semyon Varlamov, who stopped 36 of 38 shots in his Avalanche debut, when Franzen took a drop pass from Jiri Hudler high in the left faceoff circle and found the top right corner of the net with a perfect shot.

Datsyuk fed Zetterberg in the right circle during a 3-on-2 rush for a 2-0 lead at 11:58 of the third period before sealing the win with his empty-net goal.

"Varlamov was steady," Avalanche center Paul Stastny said. "He played unbelievable. He controlled his rebounds great. If there was a rebound he pushed it away. He handled everything well. Their goals, he's got no chance."

Using its patented puck possession game, the Red Wings rattled off the first eight shots of the third period and enjoyed a 13-3 advantage in the opening 10 minutes. They outshot the Avalanche 39-29 overall.

"In the first period they were a little faster than us," said Zetterberg, who had a game-high seven shots. "Conklin really saved us a few times. In the second, I think we got into the game a little better. In the third, I thought we took over."

The Red Wings got a scare with 4:41 remaining when Conklin was temporarily shaken up when he was struck by an errant stick.

"A stick came through my mask and hit me in the eye," he said. "I feel like I'm getting a black eye. It hurt. I felt like I got punched in the face."

The Avalanche fed off the energy in the early going that Forsberg's presence helped create and forced Conklin to make a number of quality stops.

"I thought we played them pretty well," said Stastny, whose five shots tied him with rookie Gabriel Landeskog for team-high honors. "We made a couple of turnovers overskating the puck. You make mistakes against guys like that and it ends up in the back of the net."

Varlamov, acquired July 1 from Washington for first- and second-round draft picks, was superb for the Avalanche.

"I was pretty nervous before the game because it was a huge game for us,” he said. "It's opening night. I feel pretty good in the first and second period. I'm just not happy because of the two goals. After the first period they tried to shoot everywhere. Good position, bad position, they tried to shoot more."

Landeskog, chosen second overall in the NHL Entry Draft in June, logged 16:03 in ice time in his professional debut while skating at left wing on a line with Ryan O'Reilly and Daniel Winnik. Aside from his five shots, the 18-year-old posted three hits and helped kill off all four Detroit power plays.

"I had some chances," Landeskog said. "I think our line was playing well. I thought O'Reilly and Winnik both fed me the puck a couple of times and I just wasn't able to get it in. As long as we are creating chances, I think we will be fine. I'm going to stay patient here and keep moving forward."

The Avalanche honored the memories of former Colorado players Wade Belak, Ruslan Salei and Karlis Skrastins, who died this summer. A moment of silence was held before the national anthem, and the players photos were displayed on the video boards.

The Avalanche will wear decals of the players' initials on their helmets throughout the season.
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