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Penalty-kill lifts Wings in Game 1 win

by Jeff Sanford / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – Boos rained down on the ice, threatening to shake the scoreboard off its support system. A few unkind hand gestures arose from the crowd, aimed squarely at the referees. It was 8:22 in the first period, and Nicklas Lidstrom had just been called for hooking. To top it off, the captain’s penalty had come just 30-seconds after Valtteri Filppula was whistled for tripping, meaning the Red Wings faced more than a minute and a half of 3-on-5 hockey. It was the first truly loud — playoff loud — moment at The Joe this season, and it wasn’t a happy one.

It was 1-0 Phoenix in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals, and the fans were understandably nervous. A two-goal deficit so early in the first might have spelled disaster for a Detroit team that hadn’t exactly started off well. But when the boos finally quieted down, the Wings’ penalty kill went to work, inspiring the hometown crowd and truly changing the game’s direction.

Twenty seconds into the 5-on-3, Pavel Datsyuk put a nice hit on Phoenix captain Shane Doan, lifting the spirits of both the crowd and their team. Seconds later, Detroit’s superstar scampered down the ice on a breakaway and fired a shot at Bryzgalov. The shot was stopped, but Datsyuk’s big-time play sent the crowd to its feet and the Wings’ momentum took off.

Moments later, Stuart stepped up to block Ray Whitney’s shot. Phoenix got the puck back, but Darren Helm, doing what he so often did during the regular-season, stole the puck and raced down the ice toward the opposing goalie. He never got a shot off, but the crowd’s energy and the Wings’ tenacity was enough to unnerve a Phoenix team that at the time had everything going for them.

A minute of extremely resilient play later, Detroit was at even-strength, and the score still read “Phoenix 1, Detroit 0”.  During its two-man advantage, Phoenix managed only one shot. To the spectator paying little attention, it might have seemed that Detroit was the team on the power play.

“I think that gave us the momentum swing we needed when we killed, especially, that 5-on-3 off,” Johan Franzen said. “And that gave us some confidence and we took it from there.”

The Wings’ penalty kill was remarkably strong all game. Despite being whistled for penalties seven times during the game — four alone coming in the first period — the Wings did not give up a single power play goal.

But it was killing off that 5-on-3 that really made the difference. Detroit didn’t notch a goal until Datsyuk’s wraparound at 7:38 in the second, but after that, the game opened up and Detroit took over.

If Detroit played how they did in the initial minutes of the first and concedes a goal during that 5-on-3, Phoenix is up two goals and still on the power play. It’s a completely different game. 

But the Wings stepped up right when they needed to, and it earned them a sorely needed home win in Game 1.

Apparently, some members of the Coyotes were talking about how the Wings were more than a little lucky, and that maybe they didn’t deserve to be where they are — seeded third, with home-ice advantage in the postseason. When a reporter asked after Wednesday night’s game if he had heard any unfriendly chatter coming from the Coyotes, a lighthearted Datsyuk found some time to have a little fun.

“Maybe some guys hear,” he joked, in broken English. “I’m not speak English, so I don’t hear anything. This is good for me, not too much pressure.”

SHOOT AWAY: Pavel Datsyuk’s season-high in shots on goal was seven, which came back in November against Columbus. But in Wednesday’s Game 1, Datsyuk cut loose, firing eight shots with one goal on Coyotes’ goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.

“He’s so strong on the puck and now he’s taking it to the net and his awareness on the ice is excellent,” Lidstrom said. “That’s how he scored his goal tonight, was by taking it hard to the net. Going around it and scoring.  Just the way he’s been taking it to the net makes it hard for the defense to defend him.”

BERT DROPS’EM: Todd Bertuzzi, who dropped the gloves against Coyotes defenseman Rostislav Klesla in the second period, was credited for helping the Wings gain momentum.

“Yeah after the fight,” Datsyuk said, “the game flipped momentum in our way and I’m happy.”

LOOKING AHEAD: Game 2 is Saturday at JLA, but don’t expect the Red Wings to get too high about their 1-0 series lead over the Coyotes.

“You know it’s going to be even tougher in Game 2,” Lidstrom said. “I think they’re going to come out with an even stronger effort. They came out hard tonight in the first period and they’re going to be coming out even harder, so I think we’ll have to try and respond to that.” Intern David Burke contributed to this report.

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