When Detroit was going through its late season malaise a couple of weeks ago, coach Mike Babcock complained his team was doing things that were "very un-Red Wing like."
Babcock said it bothered him that Detroit seemed to be playing with just enough urgency to get by, but stressed his biggest frustration was the Red Wings habit of slow starts as they were basically playing out the string and waiting for the playoffs to begin. So one could suppose that Babcock was less than thrilled with the rocky way the Red Wings began their first round series against Columbus, taking penalties, playing back on their heels and generally letting the Blue Jackets dictate the pace of the game.
But by the end of what became a 4-1 victory, the opening 20 minute effort looked more like a strategy by a veteran team that understands the value of patience and pacing itself for the long haul. Smart thing too since the upstart Blue Jackets were making the franchise's first playoff appearance and had two thirds of their young lineup in post season debuts. That naturally lends itself to a lot of nervous emotions, something the Red Wings seemed to anticipate and more important, to take advantage of by letting the Jackets skate themselves silly and wear themselves down.
Like kids in a candy store, the Jackets came out scurrying everywhere, outshooting Detroit 8-1 in the first seven minutes and creating several good scoring chances. Still Columbus came away empty handed thanks to the brilliant work of Chris Osgood, Detroit's much maligned netminder who was exceptionally sharp and won this game in the first period by turning back everything the Jackets threw at him.
The Blue Jackets super rookie goalie Steve Mason was equally efficient at the other end, but ended up virtually helpless as Detroit started gradually picking it up and taking control of the game in the second period. You know, playing with as much urgency as necessary. Of course when you're as talented as Detroit, that can be plenty as Mason discovered.
Mason had not time to set up when Jiri Hudler neatly finished a 2-on-1 play to open the scoring and no chance when teammate Manny Malhotra deflected Jonathan Ericsson's point shot past him. Columbus did tie things briefly in between Detroit's first two goals when R. J. Umberger took advantage of an awful giveaway by Nik Kronwall behnd his net, but the Red Wings didn't panic and dominated things the rest of the way.
"It never really seemed to bother us that they scored right after we got the first one," said Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom. "We just kept going after them, getting pucks in deep, hanging on to it down low, doing the things we know we have to."
Kronwall even redeemed himself by scoring when Mason couldn't find a viewing lane around Johan Franzen's rear end, and then Franzen finished off the scoring in the third period with a wraparound that might have been Mason's only weak moment. It didn't matter though, because by then, the Red Wings were in complete control They ended up outshooting the visitors 20-8 over the final 40 minutes and more tellling, kept the Jackets best player Rick Nash, a career Red Wings killer, from being any type of factor.
It was all very Red Wings like, something that has to please the coach who recently claimed that all the pressure in the first round is on the top seeds.
That's what it looked like in San Jose, where the Presidents' Trophy winning Sharks, who had the league's best home record couldn't take advantage of Anaheim's lack of discipline or playoff newbie goalie Jonas Hiller and dropped their opener to the eighth-seeded Ducks. Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger did a masterful job shutting down Joe Thornton, but the story of this game was the Sharks goingent 0-for-4 on the power play and getting blanked for the first time in a year despite holding a 34-15 edge on the shot clock.
Still it was a good fnight for the other teams starting at home, particularly the Chicago Blackhawks who were in their first playoff game in seven years. The young Blackhawks got over their early game jitters and fought back twice from deficits to pull out a controversial 3-2 overtime win against the veteran Flames. Chicago dominated in the faceoff circle winning 61 percent of the draws, and surprisingly outhit the more physical Flames 38-24, but ultimately needed Martin Havlat to play the hero.
Havlat, the pending unresticted free agent who came to Chicago three years ago hoping to be the man, was. He scored the tying goal late in the third period and the winner 12 seconds into overtime on a play Calgary justifiably believed should have been called back for goalie interference.
There was no such controversy in Boston, just a nasty finish after the East's best team disposed of eighth-seeded Montreal 4-2. The Canadiens had Georges Laraque in the lineup for the express purpose of putting the hurt on the bigger, badder Bruins, but Montreal's enforcer wasn't the cause of an end of game fracas that could result in some discipinary action against the Habs.
Montreal coach Bob Gainey couldn't have gotten the memo about avoiding late "message sending," because the NHL announced its suspension of Philadelphia's Dan Carcillo and the $10,000 fine to Flyers coach John Stevens for a similar incident after the Canadiens game began. But the real message for the Canadiens is that they are facing an uphill battle.