A week off did nothing to slow down the Detroit Red Wings.
Johan Franzen continued to be the NHL’s hottest playoff scorer with his League-high 12th postseason goal and Detroit scored three times on the power play as it rolled over the Dallas Stars 4-1 on Thursday night in the opener of the Western Conference Finals.
The Wings hadn’t played since eliminating Colorado last Thursday, but they showed no ill effects from the long break, dominating the Stars while taking a 2-0 lead in the first period on power-play goals by Brian Rafalski and Franzen.
“It was very important that we were able to get skating early so we could draw some penalties and get some momentum,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We couldn’t wait — we had to engage them from the get-go. I thought we were able to jump on them early.”
Tomas Holmstrom added another power-play goal less than seven minutes into the second period before Valtteri Filppula got the Wings’ only even-strength goal late in the period.
Detroit’s Chris Osgood improved to 7-0 in this year’s playoffs by stopping 20 shots. Brenden Morrow ended Osgood’s shutout hopes with 1:07 left in the second period by banging in a rebound.
The Stars had been off since their four-overtime, series-clinching win over San Jose on Sunday night and looked a step slow for most of the game, allowing the Wings to play the up-tempo style they favor. Dallas was unable to deal with the Wings’ puck-possession game, especially when Detroit had the extra man. The three power-play goals allowed were one more than the Stars surrendered in their six-game series victory over San Jose in the Western semifinals.
"I'm not worried about how the Red Wings played. I'm worried about how we played," Dallas coach Dave Tippett said. "That's a game that wasn't even close to the games we played in the playoffs. We did a lot of standing around tonight. We weren’t at the level we needed to be.”
Turco, who went to college at the University of Michigan, remained winless at Joe Louis Arena as a pro. He’s now 0-8-2 in Detroit and 2-11-5 against the Wings since entering the NHL during the 2000-01 season.
“A lot of that had to do with the team that was in front of him tonight, not with Marty,” Tippett said.
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Saturday night in Detroit, where Detroit is 6-0 in this year’s playoffs.
Dallas got a power play 71 seconds into the game when Niklas Kronwall was called for hooking Loui Eriksson. But the Stars’ power play, which generated 15 goals in the first two rounds, had just two harmless shots on Osgood.
The Wings got their first chance with the man advantage when Mattias Norstrom was tagged for holding at 3:45, then received a 5-on-3 edge when Mark Fistric was called for roughing Holmstrom during a scrum at 4:19. They quickly capitalized when Brian Rafalski picked up the rebound of Nicklas Lidstrom’s shot off the right post and ripped it through a screen and past Turco from the high slot at 4:28.
"We had a good two or three shifts to start the game," Morrow said. "But then the ice got tilted the other way."
Holmstrom was called for interference at 7:52, but the Stars again mounted little offense against Osgood. However, the Wings cashed in on another power-play chance after Toby Petersen was sent off for holding at 13:56. Franzen continued his playoff heroics when he got a stick on Kronwall’s blast from the right point and deflected it past Turco at 15:34 for a 2-0 lead. It was his 27th goal in 27 games, dating back to the last few weeks of the regular season.
"He's a good hockey player, he's a big, big guy,” Babcock said of Franzen. “He's strong, he's got great hands. He was in front of Turco tonight, and I thought we did a good job of that early.”
Franzen now has 15 points, tied with Jaromir Jagr of the now-eliminated New York Rangers for the playoff lead. He scored in his fifth straight game, tying a franchise record accomplished by Gordie Howe in 1949 and 1964 and Ted Lindsay in 1952.
Lindstrom felt that the two early power-play goals gave his team momentum that it never lost.
"I thought we capitalized on our chances early on the power play,” he said. “I thought that was key to get our momentum going, get the team going, and I think that gave us a spark too, when we got those two quick goals in the first period."
Dallas had its best chance of the period with less than three minutes left when Antti Miettinen broke down the right side, froze Osgood and passed to his left, only to barely miss connections with Niklas Hagman, who had a half-empty net to shoot at.
The Wings went off the ice after one period to cheers after outscoring the Stars 2-0 and outshooting them 12-4. The Wings had 25 shots at goal to just eight for Dallas. "Our starts have been great, and we've played well after that," Osgood said of the Wings, who’ve outscored opponents 15-5 in 11 playoff games.
The two goaltenders exchanged sensational stops early in the second period. Turco got his stick down to stop Henrik Zetterberg’s wraparound at the left post. On the return rush, Osgood stopped Hagman after he broke through the defense and was in alone.
Detroit’s power play clicked again after Mike Ribeiro was called for hooking at 6:14. Holmstrom, one of the NHL’s most aggressive crease-crashers, was making life miserable for Turco when Lidstrom’s shot from the left circle hit his knee and deflected into the net at 6:40.
“We got two power-play goals on tip-ins and it's tough for him to stop those kind of shots when we have traffic in front of him,” Lidstrom said. “We want to take a lot of shots but create a lot of traffic, too — have him play a little deeper in his crease.”
Dallas got its third power-play chance when Lidstrom was banished for hooking at 10:22. Osgood made a good stop on Richards’ long slapper through traffic, but the Stars again failed to get any good, close-in opportunities.
Filppula made it 4-0 at 15:37 with the Wings’ first even-strength goal. Mikael Samuelsson’s pass from the red line allowed Filppula to split the defense, and he beat Turco with a quick 10-foot wrist shot.
Morrow finally got one past Osgood when he nudged the rebound of Steve Ott’s shot into the net at 18:53.
The Stars tried to pick up their physical play in the third period, but despite getting more hits, they managed few good scoring opportunities as the Wings were able to clog their zone and keep the Dallas forwards to the outside. Ott had a last chance with just under a minute left when he went in alone but hit the post.
"I think after we got the fourth goal we backed down a little bit and let them set the play a little bit,” Lidstrom said. “But once we came out for the third period, I thought we started to play like we did in the first two periods, really hanging onto the puck and making plays down in their end."
The Stars know they have to make some changes quickly to avoid going back to Dallas down two games.
“We’ve got to forget about this game but learn from it,” Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas said. “We know we can play better. Tonight they outplayed us, but we weren’t really there.”
Babcock knows the Wings won’t have it as easy in Game 2.
“They're going to be better, obviously,” he said. “They had that four-overtime game, and now their legs will be back and the series will be on."