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Notebook: Net-front shows importance

by Michael Caples / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT -- Fans may have been caught up in the star power brought forth for the Western Conference semifinal matchup between the Red Wings and Avalanche, but they were quickly reminded that playoff games are won in the scrums in front of the net.

The Red Wings’ workhorse trio of Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen and Dan Cleary faced off against another elite power forward in Ryan Smyth, and all four showcased their skills in Game 1. Smyth struck first, finding Paul Stastny with a backhand pass from behind the Detroit goal to give the Avalanche an early 1-0 lead.
Cleary teamed up with Franzen for the second goal, with Franzen taking a sandwich hit to find Cleary open.  Cleary’s shot bounced up in the air, and with nobody able to find it, the puck bounced in behind Jose Theodore.

"Franzen made a nice play to draw the guy in, I just got a quick shot off,” Cleary said.

Franzen worked his way to a three point night by scoring the next two goals for the Wings.  His first marker may have been the goal of the night. ‘Mule’ tipped a waist-high Niklas Kronwall slapshot, changing its direction just enough to bounce it past Theodore.

Smyth earned his second assist of the night on Colorado’s third goal of the night, feeding it to Stastny, who saucered the puck over to Hejduk to beat Chris Osgood.

However, the Red Wings trio won the crease battle of Game 1, tallying a total of three goals and one assist.  Franzen accounted for five shots, Cleary had five, and Holmstrom had four. 

Colorado coach Joel Quenneville was impressed with Franzen’s play in Game 1.

“He's been a key guy for them down the stretch," Quenneville said. "Their top line is dangerous, but he's the next guy you have to worry about. He's got skill and he's a big power forward."

AVS’ INJURY WOES: The night started bad, and ended bad for the Colorado training staff.  Moments before the opening face-off, it was announced that star center Peter Forsberg would miss the night’s game, due to a bad groin. Wojtek Wolski left with an undisclosed upper body injury in the first period, accumulating only 3:24 of ice time. 

"We assumed Forsberg was going to play, and then they lost Wolski,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said.  “That changed things."

Scott Hannan was next to go down, getting helped off the ice by a referee in the second period.  After getting replaced after the Red Wings’ fourth goal, Theodore left for the team hotel due to illness.

“We knew around 5 o'clock, he pulled his groin in the morning skate,” Quenneville said.  “We were hoping he would be able to go , but he wasn't able to go through pregame warmups. Obviously, you miss Peter's talent because he attracts a lot of attention from the opposition. But we're used to him being in and out."

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Jose Theodore was the first goaltender not named Patrick Roy to stand guard in the Avalanche crease against the Red Wings in a playoff series when the puck dropped Thursday night.  The 31-year-old struggled to live up to Roy’s playoff reputation, allowing four goals on 16 shots, and was pulled one minute into the second period.

REPLACEMENT BACKUP: The Avalanche had a new backup goaltender after Theodore left, dressing Tyler Weiman, who played in one game for Colorado this season.  Weiman replaced Peter Budaj on October 4, 2007, and stopped all 10 shots he faced.  In 31 games with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters, Weiman was 9-19-1 with a 3.32 goals against average and a .903 save percentage.

OCTOPI TOSS: Even though Al can’t swing the eight-legged creature around his head, Detroit still found a way to get it’s unofficial mascot into Game 1.  In between the first and second periods, the Wings had an ‘octopus toss’ in the zamboni entrance of Joe Louis Arena.  Three pairs had a water balloon-style tossing competition, only with smelly Octopi, to see who could play catch and throw from the farthest distance.
Hockeytown has been trying to find any way possible to keep its tradition alive after the NHL tried to put a clamp on it.  Before Game 5 of the quarterfinals, the league stated that the Red Wings would be fined $10,000 if building operations manager Al Sobotka spun a tossed octopus over his head while removing it from the ice.

MALTBY UPDATE: It’s been more than three weeks since Kirk Maltby has seen ice time. The Red Wings veteran left wing hasn’t played since April 2 in Chicago. And it’s driving him crazy.

“I’d love to skate tonight,” said Maltby, who is still nursing a sore hamstring. “But it’s coming along a lot better and I feel good. I feel that if I had to get in that I definitely could go in and play some minutes. But obviously the guys are taking care of business and it makes it a lot easier to keep rehabbing and keep skating and getting some practice in.

“I watched those games in Nashville and it’s tough to watch. I think it’s more mentally fatiguing. But the guys took care of business and now it’s Round 2 and we’re still playing.”

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