Samuelsson powers Red Wings to Game 1 win
Phil Coffey | NHL.com Editorial Director
An unassisted goal is an anathema to a team built on collective success like the Detroit Red Wings
. But two unassisted goals off the stick of Mikael Samuelsson lifted the Wings to a 4-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins
in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena.
Samuelsson netted the game-winning goal at 13:01 of the second period and added some insurance at 2:16 of the third period to get the Wings off to a strong start.
“The feeling, it was great, for sure,” Samuelsson said of being the offensive hero. “I love to score goals, obviously. But, yeah, they turned over the puck at the red line, and I saw (on) the first one, they were out there, like 30, 40 seconds. I just took a shot at it. They went to the net. I couldn't really cut in in front of the net, so I had to go behind. And I guess (goalie Marc-Andre) Fleury committed to me a little bit. So I took a chance to throw it at the net, and it went in.
“The second one, I don't really know what happened. I went through the forecheck and the puck kind of stayed at me. There were a couple guys there, but they didn't really catch or took the puck there, so I just took it and shot it to the net.”
To say Samuelsson was the sole reason for the Red Wings’ win would be a disservice to his teammates, who dominated play after an even first period. Detroit did a masterful job, limiting the Penguins to just 19 shots, 12 of which came in the first period.
Goalie Chris Osgood wasn’t the beneficiary of an easy night in goal, despite gaining the shutout. Despite his team’s dominance over the final 40 minutes, Osgood needed to be strong in the first period. He made a dozen saves, including several real testers from the Penguins’ strong array of offensive talent.
“They came out real hard in the first, threw a lot of pucks, had some good chances,” Osgood said. “We did a good job killing off the penalties. That was huge for us. Kept us in the game. We regrouped after the first. We expected what we got tonight. They've got a quick team, and talented. Their ‘D’ moves the puck good.
“They're everything we expected. I mean, they made some beautiful plays, some nice plays, coming out not only in front of me, but coming out of their zone. So we've got to be on top of our game. We had to play very, very well in the last two periods and give it everything we've got tonight just to win that game.”
Penguins star Sidney Crosby came away from his first Stanley Cup Final game impressed with the caliber of the opposition.
“Yeah, they're a good hockey team,” he said. “They play tight. I don't think we came here expecting an easy series. For sure they played a tight checking game, but that's playoff hockey. You still have to find ways around that.
“And for us, we all have more success when we moved our feet. In the second period we didn't do that a whole lot. So make sure we do a better job getting the puck forward and moving our feet a little more.”
Despite the presence of players like Crosby, Marian Hossa and Evgeni Malkin, the Pens were lucky to escape the second period with just the 1-0 deficit as the Red Wings seemed to tip the ice toward the Pittsburgh end, finishing the middle 20 minutes with a 16-4 shot advantage and the lead thanks to Samuelsson’s first unassisted goal – a goal that was anything but unassisted.
Let’s explain. Samuelsson picked off a clearing pass by Jarkko Ruutu at center ice, gained the Pittsburgh zone, drove to the net and then cruised behind it. He came out on the other side and beat Fleury with a backhand shot as the Penguins goalie was just a split second late getting across.
“I was on the red line and they were going on the offense, so I stepped up on the blue line, so I had a little room,” Samuelsson said. “I couldn’t get it in front of the net, so I just tried the back.”
So it was an unassisted goal to be sure, but the Red Wings had put on so much sustained pressure prior to the goal that the Penguins players were exhausted trying to keep the Wings off the scoreboard. It’s ironic that Samuelsson’s goal came as a direct result of the Penguins finally being able to clear the zone.
“Before we scored the first goal, we had about four shifts in a row where we finally got the tempo up,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I thought we were nervous early. I didn't think we executed early. I thought once we got the tempo up and got skating that things went our way better.
“We had hemmed them in, we were out-changing them, keeping them in. Sami came off the bench flying and their ‘D’ was dead tired. The other one he finished the check. I thought Dallas (Drake) was right there. Maybe I guess he didn't touch it. I thought he got an assist.”
Samuelsson came within the width of the goal post – two goal posts, actually – of opening the scoring just 1:33 into the second period when he rang a shot off the left and then right post before it caromed away.
The Penguins’ best chance came with 13:46 left in the period when Pascal Dupuis grabbed a loose puck and had a partial break down the left side. The speedy winger cut to the Red Wings net, but Osgood stood his ground, didn’t go for a deke and got the tip of his right pad on the shot, forcing the puck and Dupuis into the corner.
Samuelsson struck again at 2:16 of the third period, and while the goal again was clearly called correctly as unassisted, Samuelsson had some help. He created a turnover in the Pittsburgh end and in the ensuing scramble Malkin gained control of the puck, but lost it when he collided with Kris Draper. Samuelsson was left alone in front of Fleury and he pounded the puck home.
Penguins coach Michel Therrien looked upon Game 1 as a hard lesson learned.
“You have to really execute,” he said. “That's the main thing. Tight games like this, had a few chances, and they go in. But that's the difference between executing and not executing, it's the difference in a hockey game. You have to make sure we're right here on the net. And a few pucks are bouncing around the crease, they don't quite bounce to guys. And that's what happens sometimes.
“I don't know if it was the nerves, but definitely that was the worst performance of the playoffs. We didn't compete like we were supposed to compete. And it's a good lesson. A bad decision with the puck … a bad change, those are mental mistakes against a team like the Red Wings. You can't do those types of mistakes.”
Samuelsson entered the Final with two goals and seven assists in 16 playoff games, numbers well behind Red Wings leading scorers Henrik Zetterberg (21 entering the Final) and Pavel Datsyuk (19 coming into the game), but his offensive numbers weren’t concerning Babcock.
“Sami's kind of a streak guy,” Babcock said. “When he scores he feels good about himself. I thought he played big and strong. He made a real good finish check on the second goal.”
The Wings made it 3-0 at 17:18 when Daniel Cleary scored a shorthanded goal, and Zetterberg netted the fourth goal, a power-play score, at 19:47 off a strong shot from the slot.
“We’re gonna get it done,” Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik insisted. “We’re gonna work on some things and we’re gonna straighten it out.”
The Wings’ dominance over the second and third periods was in marked contrast to the opening 20 minutes. There, the scoreless tie certainly lived up to the hype that preceded the series as both teams went up and down the ice, producing numerous scoring chances that were denied by the goaltenders.
Penalties helped set up a number of prime scoring chances, especially for the Penguins. Ironically, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was whistled for the first penalty of the game, interference at 3:51. But he was followed to the box by Detroit’s Tomas Holmstrom just 11 seconds later to negate the Red Wings’ power play. Holmstrom was called for high sticking Orpik.
Holmstrom’s second penalty of the period, at 15:50, especially was costly, resulting in a goal by Nicklas Lidstrom being waved off because Holmstrom got his stick between Fleury’s pads, resulting in a goaltender interference call.
Fleury, who tripped jumping on the ice to start the game, got all the jitters out of the way with that embarrassing moment as he was sharp in the first, stopping all 11 Detroit shots. He made a nice save on Datsyuk early and another seconds later on Kirk Maltby. In the dying moments of the period, Fleury stopped Brian Rafalski’s power-play drive from the right circle.
Osgood certainly was no slouch in his end. He stopped a dozen shots, including a several testing drives from Hossa, Crosby and Petr Sykora.
“We were in there (the penalty box) way too much in the first period,” Osgood said. “After that, I thought we didn't turn pucks over as much as we did in the first. That's why we got the penalties. We got pucks deep, then we grind their ‘D.’ Sometimes things don't happen right away. You don't reap the rewards until later. That's what happened.
“I thought we were tough on their ‘D’ in the last two periods of the game, made them skate back for a lot of pucks. And defense is difficult when guys are hitting you non-stop for 40 straight minutes and that's what we accomplished. That's why we ended up getting the goals that we did.”