Mikael Samuelsson celebrates with his teammates after he scored a goal in the third period to give the Red Wings a 3-2 lead against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game 1. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Move over Sid vs. Ovie, we may just have a new best playoff series of 2009.
The anticipation for the Detroit-Chicago Western Conference final was offense-on-offense; the No. 1 goal-scoring team in the regular season (Wings) against the No. 4 (Chicago).
Toss in Detroit’s 19th-ranked defense and a Chicago goalie in Nikolai Khabibulin who sported an .897 save percentage in this year’s playoffs, and the expectation was a smorgasbord of excitement.
And despite the teams combining for a relatively tame seven tallies (it could have easily been double), that’s exactly what we got. If each of the remainder of the games in this series matches this one’s pace and entertainment value, it’ll be one for the ages regardless of the number of times the red light is triggered.
From the opening faceoff, Game 1 was all about energy, speed, skill and tenacity. It also featured its share of toughness, but the real intimidation was fear of the opponents’ playmaking abilities and penchant for creating takeaways.
The first three goals of the game, in fact, were unassisted markers that came as results of turnovers/giveaways.
Adam Burish’s quickness was a factor when Chris Osgood misplayed the puck on the opening goal of the game; Brent Seabrook rushed an attempted play shortly thereafter (and maybe was the victim of bad ice) on Dan Cleary’s tying 1-1 score. And Duncan Keith was pick-pocketed by a swift Johan Franzen who executed a sweet wrap-around to make it 2-1.
The thrill factor was made all the more remarkable by the paucity of power plays – just two for Detroit (not counting a meaningless one as time ran out) and one for Chicago. How sharp were the clubs? The game was played in about two hours and 25 minutes, there were many long stretches with no whistles and you could probably count on one hand the number of offsides that were called.
While Detroit eventually pulled away, there’s a lingering sense the series will meet our expectations and go deep.
For that to happen, Khabibulin needs to replicate his stellar play, particularly the form he flashed in the second period; Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane must be more visible than they were in Game 1; and the Hawks have to use their legs to try to force Detroit into more turnovers and/or penalties.
Here’s hoping that happens and the two teams that gave us such a fun Winter Classic deliver an even better spring classic.
A few other random Game 1 thoughts:
• While Khabibulin mostly shone (38 saves), we wonder whether he borrowed Simeon Varlamov’s glove hand? Detroit beat the ‘Bulin Wall’ twice high to his catching side and are clearly targeting it as a weakness.
• Credit Joel Quenneville for not taking any false credit for the matchup on Chicago’s first goal, which featured his fourth line against Detroit’s No. 1 unit. In between periods, he basically claimed it was an accident.
• Broken sticks were an issue again; Chicago incurred three in the first 13 minutes, one leading to a Detroit power play.
• Best line of the afternoon from Doc Emrick, during a particularly frantic stretch in the second period: “There are accidents all over the freeway.”
• The neck guard debate was stoked, briefly, when Adam Burish took an errant skate across the throat and narrowly missed a very scary outcome. Comfort, of course, is at issue, but the competition committee should table this for discussion at its next meeting. The last thing hockey needs at any time, let alone during a sensational playoff season, is a nightmarish, bloody incident dominating headlines.
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Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every Friday.
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