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March 25, 2019
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
Mikael Samuelsson scored two goals and Dan Cleary added a shorthanded tally to lead the filthy Wings to a 4-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals. And there was absolutely no rejoicing. Those seen rejoicing will be shot.
Detroit played a perfect Detroit game. The filthy Wings sat back, played brilliant positional defense, limited Pittsburgh scoring chances, and then capitalized on the young Birds' mistakes.
Don't let the final score fool you. This wasn't a typical 4-0 game. While the filthy Wings were clearly the superior team on the night, things could have easily swung the other way had the Penguins potted the first goal.
A defensive chess match, the contest was more World Cup than Stanley Cup. Anyone expecting offensive fireworks was sorely disappointed. Both clubs were patient early, waiting for their opportunities, and Pittsburgh blinked first.
Samuelsson broke the seal at 13:01 of the second period. It was a splendid individual effort, as the Swedish winger stormed around Rob Scuderi, swept behind the net, and tucked in a wraparound at the right post.
Up to that point, the game was devoid of speed. There wasn't a lot of room to operate for either team. Samuelsson's goal was like a bolt from the blue.
When the play started, Jarkko Ruutu had the puck in Pittsburgh's high slot. The Wings had already dropped out of the zone. Scuderi and Hall Gil were back on either side of Ruutu. No problem.
That's when Ruutu, despite facing only token pressure, decided to throw a lazy cross-ice pass through center. All he had to do was chip it off the left wing wall and everything would have been golden. Instead, he tries throwing the puck in the direction of Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy, who were already heading off the ice for a change.
Samuelsson had just jumped on the ice for Cleary and intercepted the puck. In truth, the filthy Wings were lucky they weren't called for too many men. Cleary (at least I think it was him, it was tough to tell) was drifting to the open gate when Samuelsson grabbed the puck. Even though Cleary was still on the ice, Samuelsson had already established position a good six feet from the bench. Check the tape.
Anyway, Kennedy and Staal completely ignored Samuelsson on their way to the bench. Yeah, the Pens had three guys back, but they need to compete for that puck. Since he got the free ride, Samuelsson was able to attack the Penguin stripe with speed and back off Scuderi. Marc-Andre Fleury did a good job of forcing Samuelsson behind the net, but apparently the Flower thought the play was over. Marc-Andre hesitated for a split second before pushing across to the right post, and that's all the opening Samuelsson needed. He wrapped the puck in off Fleury's left pad for the 1-0 lead.
"They turned over the puck at the red line, and I saw they were out there, like, 30, 40 seconds," said Samuelsson. "I just took a shot at it. They went to the net. I couldn't really cut in front of the net, so I had to go behind. And I guess the goalie or Fleury committed to me a little bit. So I took a chance to throw it at the net, and it went in."
No doubt, it was a terrible goal for Fleury. And we should have known it was going to be a rough night when he tripped coming out of the tunnel for warmup. Not exactly the way to kick off your Stanley Cup Finals career.
While Fleury certainly deserves his share of blame, don't let Ruutu off the hook. This goal is really on him. Not only did he turn the puck over, he was worthless the rest of the play. He was soft as hell coming back. Had he been hustling, he could have easily stopped Samuelsson at the right post. He didn't put out the effort. And he knew it. The puck was barely in the net before Ruutu was two-handing the glass.
Samuelsson turned in another fine effort to make it 2-0 at 2:16 of the third. He forechecked hard on Gill, running the behemoth blueliner into the backboards. The collision freed the puck. Fleury whacked it over to Evgeni Malkin, who was skating from the left boards to the slot. Malkin was caught by surprise and fumbled the puck in front, allowing Samuelsson to whip it behind Fleury.
Both Samuelsson goals were the result of complete mental breakdowns by the Birds. Pittsburgh had three guys back on each play and still mangled everything. It may have been nerves, it may have been inexperience, but it was definitely bad hockey.
"Bad decision with the puck," said Michel Therrien. "Bad change. Those are mental mistakes against a team like the Red Wings. You can't do those type of mistakes."
Pittsburgh "debacled" the middle frame. After playing the first period on even terms and outshooting the Wings 12-11, the Penguins crumbled in the second, getting outshot 16-4. Granted, much of that was due to the Wings having four power plays in the period, but that momentum carried into the start of the third and led to the second Samuelsson goal.
Once they had the 2-0 lead, the Wings clamped down even more defensively, surrendering just three shots in the third. Still, the Penguins were only a bounce away from making it a game. Marian Hossa rang a shot off the right post at about the 9-minute mark. Kid Crosby just missed stuffing home a puck at the same post a few seconds later. Had either one gone in, things could have ended differently. That's a shame.
Cleary removed all doubt at 17:18. The Pens were on the power play, and a goal could have still set up a fantastic finish. Didn't happen. For whatever reason, Fleury didn't come out to play the dump. The puck hit the backboards and skipped right out in front. Cleary beat Kris Letang to the biscuit and chopped a backhander into the twine.
Henrik Zetterberg closed out the scoring with a sweet power-play goal at 19:47. Tomas Holmstrom passed from the right circle out to Nicklas Lidstrom at the left point. Lidstrom faked a slapper and returned to sender. Holmstrom one-touched the puck into the slot for Zetterberg, who wired a wrister top shelf to take the playoff scoring lead.
"We took some quality shots on the blue line," said Therrien. "Didn't get the bounce around the net. If you get the right bounce, it could give a goal, give confidence. It would have been nice to get confidence with our power play."
The true turning point was when Tomas Holmstrom got whistled for goaltender interference at 15:20 of the opening stanza to negate a Lidstrom goal. It was a questionable call to say the least. Holmstrom did have his stick between Fleury's pads, but it didn't really look like it affected Marc-Andre in the least. He simply never saw the puck because of the screen in front.
Right or wrong, the call was made. Not only did the goal come off the board, the Penguins went to the power play. If they could have scored there, it would have been a huge momentum shift. But the Wings got the clutch kill.
While Detroit fans are probably irate about the call, it was really the best thing that could have happened. Had the Pens fallen behind 1-0 in the first, they probably would have stepped on the gas a bit earlier. But with the game scoreless, the Birds sat back even more. It kept things at Detroit's tempo.
And not only did the Wings use the kill to swing momentum their way, the stripes made four straight make-up calls against the Pens to even things out.
Sidney Crosby: Kid Crosby wasn't much of a factor. Don't get me wrong; he was solid, but he needs to be dominant. Crosby gets listed here, though, for destroying Brad Stuart with a check in the third period. With the Birds trailing 2-0, Sid tried to stake the puck right up the gut. He eventually lost the puck a few feet from the net, but Crosby kept driving the cage and exploded into Stuart, knocking the Detroit defender right on his wallet. It was real wizard.
Brooks Orpik: He recorded a game-high seven hits, and he and Gonchar did a nice job of keeping Datsyuk and Zetterberg relatively quiet at even-strength.
Not Evgeni Malkin: Geno the Scoring Machine-o was dreadful. It was the worst game I've seen him play since Crosby went down with the ankle injury. That said, Geno hasn't looked the same since Game One of the Wales Conference Finals. He took a lot of big hits against the Flyers. It wouldn't be surprising to find out he's playing through an injury. Let's hope it's just nerves. He has to get better. He attempted only one shot the entire game. That's ridiculous.
Mikael Samuelsson: He picked a fine time to wake up. The two goals doubled Samuelsson's total for the playoffs. His other two markers came in Game Four at Colorado. Otherwise, it's been a whole lot of nothing. So he should be done for the series.
Niklas Kronwall: Kronwall was a monster. He was credited with only three hits, but he blasted Staal and Ryan Malone with gorgeous open-ice shoulder checks. Good stuff. He also logged 23:50 and finished plus-3.
Chris Osgood: Yeah, he got lucky on more than one mad scramble around the cage, but he didn't let anything cross the line. More importantly, he didn't make the mental mistakes Fleury did. But (sunshine) Osgood. He still sucks.
Henrik Zetterberg: He fired eight shots on Fleury and missed the net with two others. Crosby and Malkin combined for four shots.
Pavel Datsyuk: I thought Datsyuk was the best player on the ice. He was like vintage Forsberg. He controlled the puck, made all the smart passes, and wasn't scared to drop the hammer. Datsyuk led Detroit with six hits, and he set the tone with a bone-rattling belt of Kid Crosby early in the contest.
But Datsyuk's best play came in the second period when he rubbed Malkin into the wall. Geno was having his best shift of the game, flying around the Detroit zone and cycling the puck at will. Momentum was building. But as Malkin was making his second swing behind the Detroit cage and into the right wing corner, Datsyuk tracked him down and angled him beautifully into the boards. With shocking ease, Datsyuk shouldered Malkin off the puck and sent the play the other way. It was special. I still hate Detroit, though.
Detroit played a perfect game. The Wings controlled the contest from start to finish. They were clearly the better team in Game One. That said, it was still just 2-0 with five minutes to go and the Pens on a power play. They play seven for a reason.