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Role-player Samuelsson steals spotlight in Game 1

by Brian Compton

Mikael Samuelsson's newfound nose for the net resulted in two tallies during Saturday's 4-0 win over Pittsburgh to give Detroit a 1-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final.
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Gear up for the Red Wings Cup run!
Shoot the puck.

That’s the message the Detroit Red Wings have been conveying to forward Mikael Samuelsson in recent weeks, and the Swede responded Saturday night with his best game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Samuelsson scored twice on tremendous individual efforts to help the Wings grab a 1-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final following a 4-0 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Joe Louis Arena. He had just two goals in 16 playoff games before matching his postseason output Saturday night.

His first two goals of the playoffs came in Detroit’s 8-2 victory against the Colorado Avalanche in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals – 23 nights earlier.

But considering the team that wins Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final has gone on to win the title in 53 of the past 68 seasons, Samuelsson’s contribution Saturday night can’t be underestimated.

“He hadn’t scored in a while, but he got an assist in his last game,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said of Samuelsson, who ended a seven-game goal drought. “Sami’s kind of a streaky guy. When he scores, he feels good about himself. I thought he played big and strong.”

He also stole the show.

RED WINGS lead 1-0

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Oh shoot! Samuelsson’s the Game 1 star
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In a series that has been hyped because of stars such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, it was Samuelsson who broke a scoreless tie with 6:59 remaining in the second period. After drilling a rebound earlier in the period off both goal posts, Samuelsson muscled his way around the Pittsburgh net and stuffed a wraparound off Marc-Andre Fleury’s left skate as the Red Wings took a 1-0 lead.

In the end, Samuelsson took advantage of a fatigued Penguins defense that spent the majority of the period trying to gain control of the puck. It never really happened.

“I love to score goals, obviously,” Samuelsson said. “They turned over the puck at the red line, and I saw – 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 front of the net, so I had to go behind. I guess Fleury committed to me a little bit, so I took a chance to throw it at the net, and it went in.”

Samuelsson was far from done.

While his team was dominating the Pens – Detroit outshot Pittsburgh 16-4 in the second period – it didn’t take a 2-0 lead until Samuelsson stripped Malkin of the puck right in front of the Penguins’ net and fired a quick turnaround shot past Fleury 2:16 into the third period.

“I don’t really know what happened,” Samuelsson said of his second tally. “I went through the forecheck and the puck kind of stayed with me. There were a couple guys there, but they didn’t really take the puck there, so I just took it and shot it to the net.”

In a series that boasts such tremendous talent on both sides, it’s goals like the ones Samuelsson scored Saturday night that could be the difference between parading the streets with Lord Stanley or going home empty-handed.

“It’s two good teams out there,” said Samuelsson, who appeared in 22 games for the Penguins during the 2002-03 season. “It’s going to be small mistakes that probably win the game, (but) that’s the way it is in every game.”

And when Samuelsson works to create turnovers like he did Saturday night, his teammates will be hoping his first instinct will be to fire away at the net.

“We keep telling him in here that he has to shoot the puck more because he has a good shot,” Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “Just keep shooting it. Tonight, even though one of them was a wraparound, he’s going to the net and that is what we need him to do.”

The message was received loud and clear in time for Game 1. Because of that, Samuelsson has a story he can share with family members 20 years from now.

But how will he tell the story?

“Call me in 20 years,” Samuelsson said. “I don't know. Just live in the moment. I think we played good as a team tonight. I’m lucky to be the one who scored a couple of goals.”


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