Red Wings decisively won first battle over center ice
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DETROIT -- Consider the Detroit Red Wings' penalty killing, which stifled all five Penguins' power plays and came up with a short-handed goal.
Add to that the Red Wings' tight play down the middle and through the neutral zone, which helped keep the puck away from the Penguins.
Top it off with the goaltending of Chris Osgood, who made 19 saves in a shutout.
In the Penguins minds, those things might not have added up to total domination in Detroit's 4-0 win Saturday in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final -- "I don't think they did a whole lot to shut us down completely," Penguins captain and leading playoff scorer Sidney Crosby said after the teams practiced yesterday at Joe Louis Arena -- but to the Red Wings, it was at least a good start.
"Yeah, we heard a lot about their offense, how good it was," Osgood said. "And it was [Saturday] night. They had some chances. They played real hard.
"We did a good job of taking away the middle in the last two periods, and kept them to the outside as much as we could."
The Red Wings weren't thrilled with their start. They were outshot, 12-11, and took four penalties to the Penguins' two in the first period.
"We didn't think we got started on time," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "Just being nervous and not handling the puck like we're capable of handling it."
In the second and third periods, the Red Wings scored all their goals, and held a 25-7 shot advantage. They also got penalized just once, while the Penguins went to the box four times.
Detroit accomplished those things by matching, and therefore neutralizing, the Penguins' strengths of speed, skill and dedication to defense.
"We knew that we were going to have to play really tight, especially on all their centermen," Detroit defenseman Niklas Kornwall said. "They've got some big bodies that really skate and move the puck at the same time.
"We knew our centermen were going to do a good job of blocking the middle. From there, we just tried to create some turnovers around our blue line and go the other way. Our forwards did a great job of coming back."
For much of the second and third periods, the Penguins struggled to gain or maintain control in the Red Wings' end, or even at center ice.
That's just how good his team is, Babcock said, underscoring the Red Wings' reputation for managing the puck well.
"The more skill you have on your team, the more you have the puck, and you play a puck possession game, and everyone calls it that," the coach said. "But I think we're like most teams -- we forecheck real hard and we backcheck hard, and we try to be in good spots defensively so we can have the puck.
"You try to play the strengths of your players. And we're real fortunate. We have, I think, an excellent puck-moving defense, and we have really good centers. And when you have that, you have a chance to have, I think, the puck a fair bit."
That's a skill the Penguins demonstrated in winning 12 of 14 playoff games coming into this series.
Detroit was the first to bump them off that aspect of their game so consistently and in all phases. The Penguins had nine shots during 8:11 of power-play time and just 10 at even strength.
The first time Detroit was short-handed, after top defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom was called for hooking Evgeni Malkin at 10:15 of the first period, it continually cleared its zone and held the Penguins without a shot.
When Darren Helm was called for tripping Max Talbot 23 seconds after Lidstrom's penalty expired, the Penguins revved things up with five shots, including one by Crosby in the slot and another from Ryan Whitney at the left point that Crosby tipped in front. Each time, Osgood made a big save.
Short-handed once more in the first period, on Tomas Holmstrom's goaltender-interference call, Detroit limited the Penguins to two shots and kept the puck out of its end for much of the two minutes.
It was quite a display against the team that came into the series with the second-best power play in the playoffs, with a 24.6 percent success rate.
"You can be aggressive when you can, but you have to be in those passing lanes and those shooting lanes because they're really good at moving the puck around and finding the lanes, whether it's finding the player in the slot or having a player back door, just different options that you have to be aware of," Lidstrom said. "And Ozzie played really well, especially in the first period. He shut the door on them. That gave us momentum."
First Published May 26, 2008 12:00 am