Sergei Fedorov had sat out for two games with a sore back, and that was quite enough for him. "He knows his body better than anybody else, and he said he was ready to go," said coach Dave Lewis. Fedorov's natural hat trick and another phenomenal display of goaltending by Curtis Joseph propelled the Red Wings to a 7-2 win over the St. Louis Blues.
Fedorov opened the scoring just 45 seconds into the game. He was alone at center ice. The St. Louis defenseman who was supposed to be covering him had crept forward to help his teammates try to press the puck into the Red Wings' zone. Nicklas Lidstrom got hold of the puck instead, and he made an onside pass which sent Fedorov flying up the ice alone. He faked a backhand shot, but then moved to his forehand and put the puck past young goalie Curtis Sanford. "He opened me up, he put it through the hole," Sanford said wistfully. "A nice goal."
The next goal came towards the end of the period on another breakaway. This time, it was Steve Yzerman who made the pass that got Fedorov away, and Fedorov took a slapshot which rocketed past Sanford.
Fedorov completed the hat trick on Detroit's first power play of the game early in the second period. He won the faceoff just inside the Blues' zone, popping the puck out to Tomas Holmstrom. Fedorov moved to the net, and Holmstrom gave the puck back. Fedorov's first shot was blocked by Sanford, but he got his own rebound, made a sudden reversal in skating direction, and put the puck in behind the goalie. "Tonight was one of those nights," Fedorov said. "From the get-go, I got rewarded every time I stepped on the ice."
That was the end of the game for Sanford. St. Louis coach Joel Quenneville sent in back up netminder Fred Brathwaite to take Sanford's place.
The St. Louis offense was by no means sitting idle while Fedorov was scoring seemingly at will. Joseph put together a dazzling series of five saves in a row midway through the second period. First he stoned Pavol Demitra. Then he blocked Corey Stillman's rebound shot. Then another shot by Demitra. Then a hard slapshot by Al MacInnis. Finally, ANOTHER shot by Demitra, this one a wrister from the side of the net. Joseph was on his back after making the save on MacInnis, but somehow he spun around on the ice, got his legs up in the air like a breakdancer, and made the save with his leg pads.
Holmstrom got in on the goal-scoring action by tipping in a Lidstrom shot for a power play goal. Darren McCarty was not to be outdone. He brought the score to 5-0 early in the third period by grabbing up the rebound from another booming shot by Lidstrom and slapping it past Brathwaite.
Henrik Zetterberg added two goals to bring the total to seven, and both goals were set up by the skillful passing of Pavel Datsyuk. The first came as Datsyuk passed the puck from just inside the blue line to Zetterberg moving towards the net. Zetterberg took a wrist shot. Brathwaite was able to slow it down, but not stop it, and it fluttered into the net. The Two Kids needed their Old Goat to help get their second goal. Datsyuk stole the puck along the left boards and centered it between a St. Louis player's legs to Brett Hull. Hull looked as if to shoot, but passed instead to Zetterberg, and Zetterberg put the puck into Brathwaite's wide open net.
St. Louis did manage to spoil Joseph's shutout with goals by Shjon Podein and Demitra late in the period, but the Blues were not at all happy. "It's embarrassing," explained Keith Tkachuk. "The biggest game of the season, and we don't show up for it." The win gives the Red Wings a four point lead over the Blues in the Central Division standings and lets them get a little bit tighter grip on the third seed in the Conference standings.
The shots on net totaled 31-29, with the slight edge going to the Blues. The Red Wings will head to the West Coast for their next three games. The first will come Sunday evening against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, who are currently in 7th place in the Western Conference.
Notes: Chris Chelios also returned to the lineup after a two-game absence to rest a sore knee.... Zetterberg now holds the lead in rookie goals and points.... Hull's assist was the 600th assist of his career.... This game was the 373rd win of Joseph's career, moving him past Andy Moog into 10th place on the list of all-time wins by a goalie.... Yzerman, Lidstrom, and Chelios were all sent to the locker room during the third period. The team assured that media that it was just a precautionary measure to let the three get a little extra rest, since the game was well in-hand by that point.
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