DETROIT, Michigan -- The third game this season between the Red Wings and the Dallas Stars would have had a tough time being a more even match. Shots on net were 31 to 30. Penalty minutes? 15 to 13. Faceoffs? 33-32. And finally the score: it was 1-1. It was fast. It was intense. It looked a lot like playoff hockey, never mind that it's December on the calendar. If this was a preview of the Western Conference Finals, as many hockey analysts are predicting, then hockey fans are in for an entertaining spring.
Meanwhile, it is still December, and it was the 32nd game of the Red Wings' season. The playoffs are months away, 50 games away, but mid-season doldrums were nowhere to be found at the Joe for this game.
The game was intense from the start. There was no scoring in the first period, even though both teams had chances. There was wonderful goaltending from both Manny Legace and Marty Turco, and there was quite a lot of checking. Not the questionable obstruction kind causing so much confusion this season, just plain old clean body checking on both sides. There was a fight- Sean Avery had some "words" with Stefan Robidas, and they both wound up being sent to the penalty box to cool down. There was even a successful three-man penalty kill by Detroit. Kirk Maltby and Max Kuznetzov were sent to the box just twenty seconds apart, giving the Stars a full 1:40 of five-on-three advantage. Legace, Sergei Fedorov, Nick Lidstrom, and Chris Chelios did a phenomenal job in keeping the puck out of the net.
The second period was just as intense and tight defensively as the first, but the Wings finally scored with only 3:19 remaining. Kris Draper's shot was deflected by Turco, but the rebound went all the way back to Kuznetsov at the left point. Kuznetsov made a hard pass to Brendan Shanahan at the right corner of the net, and Shanahan scooped the puck high over Turco to take the lead.
Fedorov had a chance to increase the lead with a one-on-one breakaway early in the third period, but his shot rang off the goalpost. The Stars managed to score instead. Scott Pellerin got the puck to Philippe Boucher on the right side boards. Boucher's shot deflected off the stick of Jason Woolley and high into the net before Legace could adjust to the changed direction of the puck.
Both teams played a cautious game through the rest of the third period and the overtime. With such a close match in the Conference standings (Dallas has 45 points, Detroit has 41), neither team seemed willing to take a risk of making a mistake that could give their opponent the extra point from the win, so they settled for the tie, their third tie of the season.
Legace and Turco played extremely well, with 30 and 29 saves respectively. The Red Wings continue their season with a game Saturday night against the New York Rangers.
Notes: Jesse Wallin sat out this game with a hyperextended elbow. Patrick Boileau, recently recalled from the Griffins, was in the lineup in Wallin's place.... Mike Modano and Brenden Morrow of the Stars were also out, Modano with a concussion and Morrow with a groin injury.... Brendan Shanahan's goal was the first even strength goal scored against Marty Turco in 230 minutes and 19 seconds of game time.