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Wings weather the storm

by Brian Hunter

Chris Osgood has improved on his strong regular season, posting nine straight wins with a league-leading 1.47 GAA in the playoffs, leading the Red Wings to a 3-0 Western Conference Finals lead over Dallas.
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When the puck dropped Monday night at American Airlines Center, the Detroit Red Wings encountered exactly what they expected from the Dallas Stars in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.

Desperate not to drop a third straight game in the best-of-seven series, the Stars skated hard, capitalized on a couple mistakes by the Wings and even got a few breaks, like when Brad Richards scored off the skate of Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart early in the second period to tie the score.

“They had good energy level early in the game and I didn’t think we were as quick early. I thought at times they controlled play,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “I thought in the second period, when we were up 2-1, we turned the puck over too much in the neutral zone.”

But the Wings weathered the storm, and from the time Jiri Hudler put them ahead to stay midway through the second until the final horn sounded, there was little question about who was the better team.

“I think they took over momentum in the second and we just wanted to go out and play a good third,” said Zetterberg, whose shorthanded goal at 1:38 was a key blow to the Stars’ comeback hopes. “And we did that, and when we got the goal it got a little easier for us.”

Babcock put matters even more succinctly.

“I thought after we scored the third goal, the game was over,” he said. “We had the puck in the third period and even when they were on the power play we still seemed to have the puck.

“I thought it was what we expected. We knew they were really going to come. There’s a great crowd in here. We knew they were going to have a big push and try to weather that initially and not shoot ourself in the foot by taking too many penalties … it was just one of those games that we found a way to win.”

The old reliable – When your team has a goalie with the resume of Dominik Hasek and you’re the “other guy” on the roster, it’s easy to get overlooked. Even when your name is Chris Osgood and you have a fairly successful ledger of your own.

Osgood actually owns two Stanley Cup rings to Hasek’s one – he earned the first as Mike Vernon’s backup in 1997, then backstopped the Wings in their title defense a year later. But Osgood fell off the radar a bit as his career took him to the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues, and he may have been a bit of an afterthought to some when he returned to Detroit a few years ago.

In splitting duties with Hasek through much of the regular season, Osgood went 27-9-4 with a League-leading 2.09 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. In the playoffs, Osgood is 9-0 with a 1.47 GAA and .935 save percentage, nothing short of sensational after taking over the starting job during the first round against Nashville.

“He’s been excellent,” Babcock said. “I think when you start talking about it sometimes, you think like he wasn’t playing all year … he was our best goalie all year. He won the most games, he played really, really well, and he played well last year.

“Ever since he worked on his butterfly, he’s been back to being a really good goalie and you got to give the guy a lot of credit for reinventing himself and now he’s back at the top of his game.”

Osgood only faced 18 shots in Game 3, but 14 of them came in the first two periods.

“It was a little anxious out there,” Osgood said. “We weathered some storms early.”

‘A rare breed’ – Try telling the Stars their job got easier after Johan Franzen was knocked out of the Wings’ lineup with concussion-like symptoms. Dave Tippett’s team is still trying to figure out how to contain the dynamic duo of Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.

It didn’t happen in Game 3, as Datsyuk completed his first career hat trick and Zetterberg finished with a back-breaking shorthanded goal and two assists.

“We didn’t have much answer for them tonight,” Tippett said. “I mean, those two are a rare breed because they’re a line that you look at that you should be checking, but in actual fact they’re a checking line. Those players are a rare couple players and like I say, the last goal we made a couple mistakes on, but they’re just making plays.

“Can we defend them better? Sure, you’d love to defend them better, but they’re making plays that are counting. That was the difference in the game tonight, for sure.”

Zetterberg, who now leads the playoffs in scoring with 18 points, made what he and Datsyuk accomplished Monday night sound like just another night at the office.

“Well, it’s been working out pretty good. We’ve been working hard and we got some bounces with us and some goals with us, so that makes it easier,” Zetterberg said.

His coach didn’t need much prodding to deliver the verbal bouquets during the postgame press conference.

“Our big guys, Datsyuk and Zetterberg were absolutely phenomenal,” Babcock said.

One more chance – The Stars have had three opportunities to solve the Wings and failed each time. With no more margin for error, the players talked about what must be done differently when Game 4 is played back in Dallas on Wednesday night.

“We tried to clean up the execution but it wasn’t there,” said Mike Modano, who set up Nicklas Grossman’s first NHL goal. “Breakdowns here and there you can’t afford against those guys. You pretty much need to play a mistake-free game.” Goaltender Marty Turco placed most of the blame on himself after stopping only 16 of 21 shots. Not only is Turco winless over his career in Detroit, going 0-9-2 at Joe Louis Arena, he hasn’t fared much better on home ice, posting a 2-4-3 mark.

“I don’t feel I’ve given our guys enough of a chance to win,” Turco said. “But it’s a seven-game series so we’ll see what happens.”

After disposing of defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim in the first round and surviving a tough, six-game battle with San Jose in the West semifinals, Dallas won’t change its approach going forward, according to Tippett.

“This team has battled and been resilient all year and we’re not changing a thing,” Tippett said. “We’ll go to practice tomorrow and we’ll practice and we’ll gear up for Game 4 and come and compete our hardest and see if we can win a game.”

Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.

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