The first game of the Western Conference Finals offered a great deal of intrigue to the first Original Six conference final since 1995. Chicago skated into Detroit with a strategy to catch the defending champs sleeping after their seven game epic with Anaheim.
They employed the speed of a young team that had enough talent to defeat the all-world goalie Roberto Luongo and the Canucks in their prior series. At first their strategy seemed to work five minutes in, when Chris Osgood didn't see the Chicago players to his left. Adam Burish tapped in the puck and drew first blood in the game.
However as is the case with the Wings, the first goal is only the first goal. After a face-off in the Detroit end, Daniel Cleary took off into the Chicago end and let loose a seemly simple shot to Nikolai Khabibulin's glove side that went underneath the crossbar. The Red Wings fans erupted inside Joe Louis Arena in approval.
In between the interval of these goals, Jiri Hudler provided another demonstration of why you should keep your head up. However Brian Campbell's hit on him didn't have the impact to knock off his gloves like the hit by the Ducks' Mike Brown in Game One of the prior series.
Both teams then decided to hold target practice with each other's goalies, who were up for the challenge. The end result for Detroit was that Pavel Datsyuk and Marian Hossa were left off the scorer's sheet. However the shooting gallery would finally be won by the Wings.
With about four minutes left in the second period, Johan "Mr. May" Franzen took a rebound from behind the net and did a wrap-around that Khabibulin could not defend fast enough. It was his ninth goal in these playoffs which is third overall in the NHL—impressive on a team that includes Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Hossa.
The third-period scoring was started three minutes in by Chicago's Kris Versteeg on another loose puck shot by Osgood's glove side to tie the score. The Wings will have to focus on keeping someone there so Chicago doesn't exploit this possible chink in Osgood's armor.
The Red Wings answered the goal with three of their own to put the game away. About four minutes later, Mikael Samuelsson who is the sixth Beatle of the Swedish Red Wing players, scored one of his accurate wristers. He may not get the press of Lidstrom, Zetterberg, Holmstrom, Franzen and Kronwall, but in the playoffs, he steps up with some well-timed goals.
Cleary followed up about a minute later on a rebound to put himself one away from a hat trick. However the last goal, an empty netter, was instead scored by Zetterberg, who took a pass by Franzen, who was tripped up before he scored himself.
The score proves that in a way, Detroit was not fazed by the Anaheim series. They are also fortunate that the Blackhawks are not nearly as physical as the Ducks. They actually play quite similar to the Wings in that they can get physical, but prefer to focus on the offensive end of the ice, which they demonstrated with their 7-5 Game Six plastering of the Canucks to reach the Western Conference Finals.
The series is far from over, as this was only Game One, but the Wings look focused to make it their series to win.
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