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Notebook: Goalies steal Game 1 show

by Michael Caples / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was talking about the goalie match-up in this Western Conference quarterfinals series.

He said he’s not only impressed by the play of his own Jimmy Howard and the Coyote’s Ilya Bryzgalov, but each of the playoff goalies.

“Just in watching all the playoff games, I think the goaltending has been pretty exceptional,” Babcock said Thursday afternoon. “With the exception of one of the games I saw, I think the goaltending has been top-notch.”

That top-notch goaltending has led to four shutouts in the eight opening games of the conference quarterfinal round. While the Wings and Coyotes combined for six-goals on Wednesday, the rest of the opening-night games featured 13 goals – five of those coming from the Nashville-Anaheim series. On Thursday, the three NHL games featured only eight goals.

In total, the first eight playoff games averaged 3.375 goals per game, much closer to the average goals one team scores during a regular-season game.

Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said that he’s not surprised that goal-scoring dropped when the postseason began.

“Everyone wants to play better defense, everyone wants to tighten up defensively,” Lidstrom said. “Everyone wants to play well in front of their goalie. There are some great goaltenders in this league, too. So low-scoring games and shutouts, I’m not surprised to see that in the playoffs.”

Fellow defenseman Niklas Kronwall couldn’t decide if he was surprised or not, however.

“Yes and no,” he said. “There’s so many talented players out there, but at the same time, some teams, most teams have really good goaltending nowadays. It really is amazing how well they play. So I mean, it’s kind of two-sided, both surprised and not, I guess.”

Kronwall said that playoff teams don’t change much of their strategic approach to the game, just that put more of an emphasis on completing their assignments.

“I think with everything you just try to tighten things up,” Kronwall said. “Make sure it’s harder for them to come to a shot and always try to make Howie see the puck. We know we haven’t played our best in the regular-season but that’s history now, right now we have to look forward and make sure that we do what we do to be successful in our own zone.”

WALKING THE LINE: Tomas Holmstrom’s net-front role is paramount for the rest of this series, causing the Red Wings to adjust the forward’s positioning in front of the net.

“What we did with Homer was we had a lot of called-off goals during the year, we didn’t like it,” Babcock said. “So instead of having his heels in the paint, we got a six-inch imaginary line there - we use the same thing with (Danny) Cleary, making sure our guys are outside the paint. And yet, we want to be right there at the edge, making sure we’re not disrupting the goalie’s play, but being there and being available for rebounds and pushing the goalie back.”

BERT’S MOVING ON: In Game 1, Todd Bertuzzi earned a fighting major, much to the delight of the Joe Louis Arena crowd. On Friday, Bertuzzi said he doesn’t want to talk about what happened last game, rather his focus is now on Game 2.

“What happened the first game is over with,” Bertuzzi said, “and we have to prepare ourselves for this next game. It’s going to be a tough one, but it’s one that we really need.”

When asked about the crowd chanting his name on multiple occasions after the fight, Bertuzzi said he enjoyed the energy coming from the crowd.

“It’s just a good atmosphere,” he said. “I think people were excited. The regular-season just drags on and on and on. It gets tiresome for them and us, so it’s exciting when the playoffs are around, and I kind of expect the same thing for Game 2.”

OCTOPI SUPPLY: A story on reported Thursday that Detroit police wrote a $500 citation to a Red Wings’ fan for throwing an octopus onto the ice during Game 1.

Babcock said that he was unaware of the incident, and in terms of octopus landing on the JLA ice, he just doesn’t want there to be problems with the ice.

“I like calamari as much as the next guy,” he said. “I don’t like batter on it, but I like it spicy and cooked. That’s part of the tradition here. I just hope the guys who come on to scrape it off aren’t digging up the ice. I hate when they dig up the ice, I want it to be smooth, so other than that, I don’t have a bunch of concerns or a whole lot of thoughts on it.”

TWO MILLION AND COUNTING: 2,654,689 people have attended Wings playoff games during their 20 consecutive postseason appearances. That number will continue to grow Saturday, as the Wings will play in front of a 25th consecutive sell-out crowd at The Joe.

For fans still trying to get a Game 2 ticket, standing-room only and singles remain, and some tickets held by the Coyotes may be released. Keep checking HERE or stop by the JLA box office to try for the last tickets available, or tune to NBC to watch all the action. … Game 1 on Fox Sports Detroit earned a 9.5 rating, the highest in three years for Game 1 of an opening round series.

MEECH JOINS BLACK ACES: The Wings had a familiar face on the ice during Friday’s practice, as Derek Meech skated with the team. Meech, called up from the Grand Rapids Griffins, joined Doug Janik and Cory Emmerton as the Black Aces. Meech has played in parts of four seasons with the Wings, skating in 126 games and posting four goals and 12 assists.

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