Just as the series appeared to be slipping away from the Detroit Red Wings
, a goaltending change provided the catalyst to advance to the second round.
stopped all 20 shots he faced and a fluke goal by Nicklas Lidstrom
opened the scoring in the second period as the Wings went on to a 3-0 victory over the Nashville Predators
at the Sommet Center on Sunday afternoon, ending their Western Conference quarterfinal in six games.
Detroit, which tied Toronto for second all-time in playoff series victories with 59, will face either Colorado or Calgary in the West semifinals.
“Now more than ever in the NHL, playoffs are tougher than they’ve ever been,” Osgood said when asked if the Wings had a preference. “It doesn’t matter. We’re just happy to move on after this one.”
A few days earlier, Detroit’s position in the postseason seemed rather tenuous. The Wings let a lead slip away in the waning minutes of Game 4, allowing the Predators to win their second straight and tie the series, and Dominik Hasek
was being outplayed in net by Nashville’s Dan Ellis
Detroit coach Mike Babcock made the switch to Osgood for Game 5, and the Wings’ other veteran goalie carried a shutout into the final minute before ultimately prevailing in a 2-1 overtime decision that put the team from Hockeytown back in the driver’s seat heading into Sunday.
“Babs always told me to be ready. He had confidence in me this year. I’m 100 percent confident if I’m needed. I don’t even worry about going in,” said Osgood, who started 43 games during the regular season and led the NHL with a 2.09 goals-against average. “It’s great to get back in there. We’ve got a long way to go. We’re going to need everybody, so everybody’s got to be ready.”
Jiri Hudler extended Detroit’s lead by scoring early in the third period and Brian Rafalski added an empty-net goal, sending Nashville to its fourth consecutive first-round defeat. The Predators have dropped a pair of six-game series to the Wings as well as two straight five-game losses against San Jose.
“We had a lot of good battles with Detroit. We have to learn from that and look forward to next year,” Predators forward J.P. Dumont said.
One player who couldn’t be faulted for the Predators’ latest first-round failure was Ellis, who put together one of the more amazing two-game displays of goaltending in recent playoff memory, only to come up empty each time. Ellis made 52 saves on Friday, a Nashville postseason record and the most saves through regulation of a playoff game since Pittsburgh’s Tom Barrasso had 56 in an Eastern Conference final loss to Florida.
Ellis followed that up with 40 saves on Sunday, half of them coming in the second. But he was victimized with 6:16 left in the period and the Predators on the power play. Lidstrom cleared the puck from beyond center ice and it skipped once in the Nashville zone before taking a hop over the shoulder of Ellis and into the net, giving the Wings a surprise 1-0 lead.
“It just took a wicked bounce to the top corner. It’s a situation you really can’t do much about it. I thought I was close enough to stop it from going anywhere,” Ellis said.
It was Lidstrom’s second goal of the series, the 41st of his playoff career and probably the weirdest of them all.
“It was kind of a lucky shot, but I tried to make it land in front of him, so it would bounce a little bit,” Lidstrom said. “I got lucky on that shot.”
Osgood had some sympathy and plenty of praise for his counterpart.
“Ellis was solid again. It was just a lucky bounce,” he said. “This is the playoffs. The kid played unbelievable. We just kept coming at them, but they wouldn’t step down.”
Hudler made sure the Predators never recovered by extending the Wings’ lead to 2-0 at 3:52 of the third. Hudler took a pass from Darren Helm and, with Darren McCarty screening Ellis, flipped a shot over the goalie’s glove. Rafalski added his first playoff goal for the Wings with 4.8 seconds remaining.
Detroit, which led the NHL with 115 points this season, can breathe easier knowing it won’t suffer the same result from when it last won the President’s Trophy – in 2006 the Wings were upset in the first round by Edmonton, which made it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final before falling to Carolina.
“I had no idea you had to carry the losses of a franchise around with you everywhere you went in the playoffs when you got to the playoffs,” said Babcock, who was in his first season in Detroit in 2006.
Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.