DETROIT, Michigan -- The war to win the Western Conference is on. The Red Wings won the first battle. The fans contributed octopus missiles. And Darren McCarty was the star of the game, scoring his first hat trick ever to give the Red Wings a 5-3 victory over the Colorado Avalanche and a 1-0 series lead in the Western Conference finals.
The game, their first since defeating the St. Louis Blues a week ago, got off to a slow start for the Red Wings. The Avalanche still had momentum from their Wednesday night victory over the San Jose Sharks, and they were able to score the first goal of the game. Brendan Shanahan was called on a questionable interference penalty, and the Avalanche got to work. Joe Sakic got the puck from Adam Foote and managed to squeeze in between both Chris Chelios and Nick Lidstrom and beat Dominik Hasek with a quick wrist shot.
The Red Wings answered with a power play goal of their own late in the period. Mike Keane had been sent to the box for goaltender interference. Tomas Holmstrom went to the front of the net to screen Patrick Roy. Shanahan took a shot on net from the left point, and Holmstrom attempted to deflect it. He was knocked down, but the rebound came back to him, and he put it into the net while sitting on the ice, with 1:12 left in the period.
The second period was tighter for both teams. Hasek held off an assault by the Avalanche in the middle of the period, but kept them out of the net until only 6:24 was left in the period. Sakic, Alex Tanguay, and Milan Hejduk got away on a three-on-two rush. The rebound from Sakic's shot came free to Tanguay, and he passed across the goal crease to the wide-open Hejduk, who put it in the net.
Detroit tied the game back up just a few minutes later. Pavel Datsyuk and Boyd Devereaux carried the puck in on a two-on-one rush. Datsyuk got the rebound from his own shot and fired again. The puck bounced off the goalie again, but Brett Hull came in all alone trailing the play and put the rebound high past Roy.
The third period was all Detroit. Darren McCarty gave the Red Wings their first lead of the game less than two minutes in. Chelios got the puck out from a scrum along the boards and sent it ahead to McCarty. McCarty waited for Foote to drop in an attempt to block the shot, then blasted the puck past Foote, off of Roy, and into the net.
The Red Wings had to kill off a boarding penalty to Luc Robitaille, which they did neatly. The Avalanche never got a chance to set anything up on that one. Time began to dwindle down for Colorado, and they got caught in Detroit's zone, allowing McCarty, Kirk Maltby, and Jiri Fischer to get away on a three-on-one rush. Fischer stepped back to keep Peter Forsberg from getting back to defend, and McCarty looked llike he might pass across to Maltby but instead fired hard from the right wing side. The puck went in just over Roy's shoulder.
Roy got caught behind the net trying to settle a shot in by Sergei Fedorov, and thus was out of position to stop McCarty's third goal. The puck came free to Maltby, who threw it on net. Roy threw himself in front to block the shot, but McCarty was right there to get the rebound and flip it over the sprawled goaltender.
Tanguay did score once more for the Avalanche during a cross-checking penalty to Fischer, and Colorado did pull Roy from the net to send in the extra attacker, but by then it was too late. The Red Wings had shaken off the cobwebs from their week off, and the game was over.
The final shots on net were thirty to twenty-seven in Detroit's favor. Game 2 of the Conference Final will be Monday night at the Joe.
Notes: Patrick Roy has an alarming 9-0 record in playoffs for the game immediately following one in which he has given up five or more goals. But if anyone can snap that streak, it would be the Red Wings?. Jason Williams was in for Igor Larionov once again. Scotty Bowman stated that Larionov was getting ready to return soon, after recovering from a sprained knee?. Steve Yzerman told reporters he was glad to see Darren McCarty score his hat trick. "Believe it or not, Mac has pretty good hands...and we may never see that again!" he laughed after the game.