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Lively boards give Wings a home-ice advantage

by Shawn P. Roarke /
DETROIT -- In an age of newer, cookie-cutter arenas, home-ice advantage is often a fallacy -- particularly in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night, venerable Joe Louis Arena once again showed its ability to be a house of horrors for the opposition.

Detroit beat Pittsburgh 3-1, and its first two goals came directly from strange bounces off unusually lively end boards. The outcome left Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury shaking his head.

"They're quick," he said of the boards. "They bounce a lot. I didn’t think it would happen twice tonight. I'll try to forget about it. I'll watch the tapes and try to do something else."

His counterpart, Chris Osgood, knows Fleury's pain. Osgood has played in this ancient (by today's standards) but special, barn for a dozen years now. He still lives in fear of the cruel bounces that can become commonplace.

"It can be frustrating, but you just have to work through it as best you can," Osgood said. "I just try to get back to my post as soon as I can. Sometimes, it just does have to do with getting a good bounce and it doesn't come back out in front on somebody's stick. I had a few in the third (period) that went right back out in front, but on our sticks instead of theirs.

Fleury had no such luck Saturday night.

He's now 1-3 in his four playoff games at Joe Louis and has allowed a dozen goals. And Detroit has another Game 1 win at home. The Red Wings have won nine consecutive series-opening games at "The Joe."

The first goal of Saturday's game came when Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart missed the net -- likely on purpose -- and an unexpected bounce sent the puck skittering back at Fleury instead of into the corner. Before Fleury could react, the puck had hit his outstretched leg and trickled across the goal line.

"Those things happen in this rink because the back boards are very lively," Stuart said. "You get those breaks every now and then."

The boards are so lively, in fact, that Stuart says the Detroit defensemen take their springiness into account as they run through their options with the puck at the point.

"If you can't get a clean shoot at the net," he said, "you can throw it wide and it's going to bounce somewhere out front if you play it right. We play enough in here to know that."

Wings defensemen Brian Rafalski seemed to have some Joe Louis magic working on the winning goal, at 19:02 of the second period.

His first shot was blocked -- one of 14 blocked shots by a Pittsburgh team committed to taking away the shooting lanes whenever possible -- so he rifled his second shot wide, creating a bounce that sent the puck right onto the stick of Johan Franzen, who lifted a backhander that caromed off the bent leg of a sprawling Fleury and ricocheted into the net.

And just like that, the hockey ghosts that roam this 30-year-old building -- the fifth-oldest in the League -- had turned what should have been a 1-1 game heading into the third into a 2-1 Detroit lead, a lead that Pittsburgh could not erase in the final 20 minutes.

Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma tried to downplay the talk of a huge home-ice advantage for the Red Wings because his team needs to come back to this building Sunday night -- with the memories of bad bounces still in their heads -- and find a way to win Game 2 to avoid a two-games-to-none hole in the Final for the second-straight year.

"We're aware of it and we practiced it," Bylsma said. His team spent a healthy portion of the morning skate banging pucks of the end boards, in fact. "They just got some fortunate breaks off it tonight."

Bylsma says his team can change its fortunes by stealing a page out of the Detroit playbook. He believes his team needs to start using the end boards in a constructive manner when the shooting lanes are blocked. Bang it off the boards and let the forwards make some plays at the puck, he says. 
"We're aware of it and we practiced it.  They just got some fortunate breaks off it tonight." -- Dan Bylsma on the lively boards at Joe Louis Arena

That's the line of thinking Sidney Crosby was already taking as he walked out of the arena to begin preparations for Game 2, which loomed just 21 hours away.

"They got a couple of bounces tonight," said Crosby, who argued that the live end boards speed up the game even more than normal. "Hopefully, we'll get ours in the next one."

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