The Detroit Red Wings outlasted the Chicago Blackhawks, 2-1, in an instant classic at Joe Louis Arena Wednesday night. After going into the game with a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, the win earned Detroit the right to play the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Eastern Conference champions, in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Game Five was a fierce battle of the teams' respective defenses and goaltenders, Chris Osgood and Cristobal Huet. The Red Wings blocked 13 shots, and Osgood stopped 30 of 31 shots. The Blackhawks blocked 12 shots, and Huet turned in a tremendous, 44-save performance. Both squads displayed nearly flawless defensive coverage, cut off passing lanes, hounded opposing puck handlers like hungry dogs, and were positioned soundly.
Because of the spectacular defense and excellent goal-tending, the first goal was scored unusually late in the game for the Red Wings, at the 6:08 mark of the third period. From the front of the net, Dan Cleary redirected Brett Lebda's slapper off the side boards from the left point into the nylon.
Cleary provided a huge boost to the Wings' already potent offense, with five goals in the series. He didn't get many chances to score (13 shots, with six coming in Game Five), but he made the most of his minimal chances.
An interesting statistical tidbit: Cleary has scored eight goals in his last 15 playoff games. In his 56 postseason contests before that, he had scored only seven goals.
Patrick Kane answered Detroit's opening tally roughly seven minutes later with a slick, elevated backhand that flew over Osgood's left shoulder into the top left corner of the net.
But Kane and the rest of the Blackhawks' efforts were foiled early in overtime. Brett Lebda snapped a shot at the net, and Huet stopped the bid, but gave up a rebound. Tomas Holmstrom, who was on the doorstep but had Huet in his way, centered the puck to Darren Helm, who buried it for the game winner.