It would have been hard to blame Detroit fans for being nervous as their team entered overtime in Game 5 of its first round against Nashville.
In 2006, the Red Wings were the best team in hockey, only to lose in the first round of the playoffs, becoming the first of three victims the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers would claim that spring in a magical run to the Stanley Cup Final. Two years later, the Wings were tied with Nashville at two wins each — and Game 5 was tied 1-1 after regulation, even though Detroit outshot the Predators 53-20.
Would history repeat itself? Not this time.
Johan Franzen quickly quieted nerves at Joe Louis Arena by scoring 1:48 of overtime to give the Wings a 2-1 victory and a 3-2 series lead. Two days later at the Sommet Center in Nashville, Nicklas Lidstrom was killing a penalty when he slapped a shot from 100 feet that took a weird bounce and found the net to open the scoring in Game 6. Buoyed by the fluke goal, Detroit cruised into the second round with a 3-0 victory.
Lucky bounces are the product of hard work, and there’s no question the Red Wings earned everything they got during their six-game elimination of the feisty Predators.
Behind a balanced scoring attack, solid play along the blue line and Chris Osgood between the pipes, the Red Wings eliminated rookie goalie Dan Ellis and the pesky Preds in the Western Conference quarterfinals.
As expected, the top line of Pavel Datsyuk (3-2-5), Henrik Zetterberg (2-2-4) and Tomas Holmstrom (1-1-2) were key offensive cogs against the Predators. Those players will again be depended upon in the conference semifinal round.
Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Holmstrom combined for 229 points, including 94 goals, in 216 regular-season appearances. As their European connection goes, so go the Wings.
The Red Wings exhibited great patience and composure in the opening round, enabling them to win despite the brilliance of Ellis, who finished with a 2.52 goals-against average and .938 save percentage while the Wings were firing 242 shots on goal in the six-game series. In the end, Detroit proved to be the deeper team and will have to utilize that rich talent base in ensuing rounds of the playoffs.
Forwards Jiri Hudler, Johan Franzen and Kris Draper also contributed offensively.
Hudler had an excellent series against Nashville and scored the first two postseason goals of his career. Following an inconsistent regular season, which saw him produce 13 goals in 81 games, Hudler is tied for the team lead in scoring with Datsyuk and defenseman Niklas Kronwall with five points.
In Sunday’s series-clinching game, Hudler was on a line with Darren McCarty and 21-year-old rookie Darren Helm.
Helm, Detroit’s fifth-round draft choice in 2005, played in only seven regular-season games but didn’t disappoint after being inserted into the starting lineup for Game 5 to provide some speed and energy.
Dallas Drake, 39, was also a mainstay in the lineup, making life miserable for opposing defensemen with his antagonistic and physical approach to the game.
Dan Cleary, Mikael Samuelsson and Valtteri Filppula, each returning from late-season injuries, hope to pick up the pace in the next round.
The possible return of right wing Kirk Maltby, who missed the opening-round series with an injured hamstring, could create an even deeper and well-rounded team in Round 2. In 11 playoffs seasons, Maltby has 16 goals and 13 assists.
The other big story in the first round revolved around Detroit’s goaltending.
Veteran goalie Dominik Hasek started the series against Nashville, but struggled and was replaced by two-time All-Star Chris Osgood after allowing three goals on 14 shots in Game 4.
Osgood, who will start in the upcoming round, led Detroit to consecutive triumphs while yielding just one goal in nearly eight periods of play.
Osgood, who led the NHL with a 2.09 goals-against in 43 starts during the regular season, made the most of his opportunity. In three appearances this postseason, Ozzie had an 0.39 goals-against average and a .981 save percentage.
The veteran goalie helped Detroit win a Stanley Cup in 1998, when he posted a 16-6 record with a 2.12 GAA in the playoffs.
Hasek played during Detroit’s championship run in 2002.
“Ozzie’s obviously got the net right now, and it’s his job to make sure Dom doesn’t get it back,’’ Detroit coach Mike Babcock said Sunday night following Game 6. “But Dom’s going to do everything he can to be ready.’’
Lidstrom, who turns 38 during the second-round series, is glad the team has two veteran goalies capable of stepping in at any point in the postseason.
“It gives the whole team confidence, knowing we can either put Dom or Ozzie in that they both have experience and have both been there before,’’ Lidstrom said. “They both played well in the regular season, and it gives the whole team confidence and comfort that we can throw either one of them in there and they can calm the team down when it’s needed and really play well and win games for us.’’