DETROIT - The Detroit Red Wings were expected to get knocked down a few pegs when the NHL created a salary cap four years ago.
Detroit didn't get the memo. The defending Stanley Cup champions got off to a good start in their quest to repeat, beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1.
Detroit won its playoff-opening game in large part because of its knack for drafting and developing players to complement stars.
Columbus contained Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, but allowed the Red Wings' third line of Jiri Hudler, Valtteri Filppula and Mikael Samuelsson to combine for a goal and four assists.
"If you walked into Game 1 and said, 'Datsyuk's line and Zetterberg's line didn't get a point,' you'd be pretty happy," Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said Friday, a day before Game 2 in Detroit. "But good teams find ways to beat you with other people."
The Red Wings have been great for a long time - winning three titles in 11 seasons - because the Ken Holland-led front office has unearthed players from around the globe such as Datsyuk and Zetterberg and wisely spent owner Mike Ilitch's money.
When Holland had to slash about half his payroll in 2005, following the lockout, he barely blinked and the franchise didn't miss a beat.
It helps that stars such as Marian Hossa were willing to play in Detroit on a one-year contract, hoping to hoist a Cup, and others like Zetterberg accepted long-term, salary-cap friendly contracts.
After signing Zetterberg to a 12-year deal and Johan Franzen to an 11-year contract this season, Holland acknowledges he might not be able to assemble a team as good as this one again.
"This is probably the best collection of talent you'll see on one team in this era," Holland said. "We can keep any player we want this season, but we're going to lose some players. I've shut down negotiations with our players on new contracts right now because our focus is on the playoffs.
"But we're going to have some hard decisions to make this summer."
Hossa, Hudler and Filppula will, too, because they're eligible for free agency this off-season.
"I'm not really thinking about it now," Hudler said. "It's kind of a distraction.
"Obviously, this is my home right now and I want to stay."
The Blue Jackets want to stick around in the playoffs and hope getting jitters out of the way will help them get back to their hard-hitting ways.
"It was the franchise's first playoff game, a lot of guys were nervous," forward Rick Nash said. "It's nice that it's over and done with."
Even though the seventh-seeded Blue Jackets seem overmatched by second-seeded Detroit, making its 18th straight post-season appearance, their players and coach sound confident.
"The series doesn't change until somebody loses a home game because it forces a team into uncomfortable territory," Hitchcock said.
Blue Jackets defenceman Jan Hejda said the key to earning a split before the series shifts to Columbus for Games 3 and 4 will be style of play.
"Really, it's not about what we can do against Datsyuk, Zetterberg or their third line," Hejda said. "We just need to focus on ourselves, checking deep in the zone and causing turnovers like they did to us in Game 1."