The Detroit Red Wings are halfway to the Stanley Cup Final.
Detroit got first-period goals from Darren Helm and Henrik Zetterberg, then shut down the Dallas Stars on the way to a 2-1 victory Saturday night in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals at Joe Louis Arena. The Wings won the first two games of the best-of-seven series at home; Game 3 is Monday night at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Not that Wings coach Mike Babcock is ready to declare victory.
“I don’t look at it like that,” he said when asked about being two wins away from the Cup Final. “Five minutes after I get home, I’ll start worrying about Game 3.
“We were here last year and it didn’t work out. You spend your whole life, if you’re in hockey, trying to win that thing, so you just want to do everything you can to get the opportunity.”
This win wasn’t as easy as the Wings’ 4-1 triumph in Game 1 — and not only because Detroit was without leading scorer Johan Franzen, who’s out with concussion-like symptoms. The Stars had a lot of the jump, grit and discipline they didn’t show in the opener.
“We battled harder in front of the net and gave up less easy chances,” Dallas coach Dave Tippett said in the one question he answered before leaving his post-game news conference.
But a little more finish would have helped. The Stars hurt themselves by missing the net on a number of good opportunities, and though he faced just 18 shots, Wings goalie Chris Osgood was sharp when he had to be. He allowed only Stephane Robidas’ first-period power-play goal and made 17 saves to improve to 8-0 in this year’s playoffs.
“It’s tough for him,” Zetterberg said of Osgood. “He gets a shot once in a while — most of the time on the power play, and it’s a real good chance. He kept us in the game today.”
Dallas’ Marty Turco was outstanding in the loss, making 32 saves and giving his team a chance to win. But he fell to 0-9-2 against the Wings at Joe Louis Arena — where the Stars have lost their last 10 visits in the playoffs.
''We've got to win a game here to win this series,'' Turco said.
The Wings are hitting on all cylinders. They dominated the puck almost all night long — helped by winning 39 of 55 faceoffs — and had Dallas chasing the play. Their eight consecutive wins tied a franchise record set in 1952 and matched in 1995.
Not that there isn’t room for improvement.
“We had some good stretches during the year and we’ve been playing good in the playoffs, but we can still play a little better,” Zetterberg said. “As long as we win the games, we’re happy.”
The Wings announced before the pre-game skate that Franzen, the top goal-scorer in the playoffs, would sit due to concussion-like symptoms. Franzen has been having recurring headaches since the conference semifinals against Colorado and will be examined on Monday. He won’t make the trip to Dallas for Game 3.
“We feel for him,” team captain Nicklas Lidstrom said, “but we have a lot of depth on our team.”
Dallas lost forward Jere Lehtinen with a first-period leg injury.
The Stars looked much livelier in the opening minutes than they did at the start of Game 1, but couldn’t get the puck on the net. Brad Richards had a pair of good opportunities, but misfired on both. Dallas had a great chance just over 5½ minutes into the game when a turnover gave the Stars a 4-on-1 break. But they wound up not even getting a shot on goal when checker Steve Ott missed the net from 15 feet.
Seconds later, the Wings grabbed the lead when Jiri Hudler picked off a pass at the red line and fed Helm, a rookie center who got his first NHL goal by beating Turco from the left faceoff dot at 5:56. Helm had no points in seven regular-season games and just one assist in seven playoff games.
“I’ve been playing all right, getting some chances in the last games," Helm said. "Huds just made a great play and I was able to put it in. It’s an exciting moment for me and I’m glad to contribute and score for the team tonight.”
The Stars had just one shot on Osgood before Lidstrom was called for delay of game at 10:27 for shooting the puck over the glass. Dallas quickly capitalized when Mike Ribeiro fed the puck cross-ice to the top of the left circle, where Robidas blasted it past Osgood to tie the game at 10:41.
Detroit got its first chance on the power play at 14:49 after Sergei Zubov was penalized for hooking Valtteri Filppula — and, like the Stars, the Wings wasted little time converting. Detroit controlled the puck after the draw and worked it around before Pavel Datsyuk’s perfect pass set up Zetterberg for a one-timer from the right circle through traffic that beat Turco at 15:13. It was the Wings’ fourth power-play goal in eight tries in the series.
The Wings skated off with a 2-1 lead and a 12-4 margin in shots on goal, though the Stars hurt themselves by missing the net on five other tries. “They came out a lot harder,” Lidstrom said. “They put a lot more pressure on us and had the puck more often.”
Dallas got an early power play in the second period when Zetterberg tripped Dallas captain Brenden Morrow in the offensive zone. Mike Modano had a great chance with 20 seconds left when Zubov set him up for a one-timer in the right circle — but he also missed the net.
The Stars continued to force the action and got another power play at 6:44 when Chris Chelios was penalized for holding Brad Winchester in front of the Detroit net. They even got eight seconds of 5-on-3 time when Brad Stuart was called for tripping Toby Petersen. But the Stars got little offense going against the Wings’ penalty-killers, then gave up the advantage at 9:57 when Richards was penalized for holding Daniel Cleary.
Turco made a fine stop on Lidstrom’s right-point blast through traffic, but was called for slashing at 11:45 for chopping at Tomas Holmstrom, giving the Wings 12 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage. Zetterberg had a great chance with 10 seconds left in the one-man advantage when he slipped through the defense, but Turco stopped his backhander and Datsyuk missed the net with the rebound.
The parade of penalties continued when Chelios took down Niklas Hagman at 17:32, giving the Stars their fourth power play of the period and fifth of the game. Osgood came up big 13 seconds into the advantage when Ribeiro made a great move at the blue line to evade two defenders and got off a blast from inside the left circle that the goaltender took in the midsection. Turco then prevented a shorthanded goal by stopping Zetterberg’s 15-foot wrist shot and followed by poke-checking the rebound away from Filppula before the young center could get a shot off.
Both teams started cautiously in the third period, but Ribeiro had another good chance just over four minutes in when he stole the puck but was denied by Osgood. Modano had a great chance less than a minute later when he chipped the puck past Chelios, but Osgood got a toe on his whirling backhander from the low slot.
Turco kept the margin at one goal with less than three minutes to go when he prevented Datsyuk from jamming in a backhander at his right post. The Stars pulled Turco with 1:15 remaining but didn’t manage a shot on Osgood before Morrow was called for holding in the offensive zone with 17.5 seconds remaining.
“With the exception of the second period, where we took four minors, we were in good control,” Babcock said. “We had good kills, but the reality is you’re not using your bench and you’re not playing with as much tempo. When we played everybody and had good tempo, it was advantage us.”