Tight Game, Tight Win: Wings Down Blues, 2-1

The St. Louis Blues had been unbeaten in the month of December, but they won’t be able to carry that streak into the new year. The Red Wings snapped the Blues’ streak and tightened their own grasp on the lead in the Central Division with a 2-1 win at Joe Louis Arena.

The Blues came out with plenty of pressure to start the game. The Red Wings, meanwhile, seemed inclined to wait for good scoring chances before joining the rush rather than open up the play and leave Curtis Joseph undefended. St. Louis outshot Detroit 10 to 4 in the first, but Joseph and Chris Osgood were both solid.

The Red Wings ran into a little penalty trouble in the second period, thanks to St. Louis disturber Mike Danton. Apparently he did something to get Mathieu Schneider‘s temper flared, because Schneider knocked him down and was sent to the penalty box for interference. Joseph made a save against Doug Weight, but Eric Nickulas got the rebound and banked the puck off the end boards. Joseph was still down low from the first save, and Dallas Drake was able to wrist the puck in high under the crossbar.

The Blues thought they’d be able to increase their lead when Jamie Rivers was sent out for cross-checking (Rivers also knocked down Danton), but Pavel Datsyuk had other ideas. Scott Mellanby was unable to keep the puck in the Red Wings’ zone, and it squirted free to Datsyuk flying up center ice on a shorthanded breakaway. Christian Backman kept up enough to hook Datsyuk up pretty well, but Datsyuk still got a backhand shot away right in front of the goal crease. The puck hit Osgood’s leg pads, then bounced up, over his head, came down off his back, and fell into the net.

The game was even tighter after that””the Wings and Blues didn’t fall back into playing a defensive game, but the offensive chances were so even and the goaltending was so solid that the tied score wasn’t broken until only 5:15 was left in the game. Datsyuk worked hard along the boards in the St. Louis zone to dig the puck free from two defensemen. Brett Hull got the pass in the left corner and circled behind the net before making a quick pass across the crease to Ray Whitney. Whitney had a mostly open net, and he flipped the puck in to take the lead.

St. Louis pulled Osgood for an extra skater in the last minute of play. Joseph and his defenders were kept busy holding off a desperate Blues attack, but hold it off they did, winding up with 23 shots to the Blues’ 25. The Red Wings come away with two valuable points against the team they will most likely need points against when playoff time comes around. The Central Division race looks like it will be a close one all the way into April, which makes any win against St. Louis that much more important.

The Red Wings will have a few days off for the NHL’s Christmas break before resuming the season on Friday against the Minnesota Wild.

The Blues were without regulars Keith Tkachuk and Petr Cajanek…. Hull has scored at least a point in every game he has ever played against Osgood…. With tonight’s win, the Wings lead the Blues 48 to 44 in the Conference standings. The Blues have played six games fewer than the Wings, but it does work out that all of those six are road games.

Injured Blues Win High-Scoring Game

The law of averages finally caught up with the Red Wings. They dominated the St. Louis Blues last season, winning all five of their regular season matches, so it was obvious that the Blues would do whatever they could to break that streak, in spite of injuries to key defensemen Al MacInnis and Barret Jackman. The defense had some holes in it, but former Wing Chris Osgood played a very good game, stopping 45 of 50 shots, to give the Blues a 6-5 win over Detroit.

St. Louis came out ready to play a tough, physical game, forechecking hard and driving players into the end boards. The Wings showed they could match that physical intensity when Jiri Fischer knocked Scott Mellanby down in front of Dominik Hasek‘s net. It was a clean hit, but Mellanby, just returned from a rib injury, left the game and did not return. Shortly thereafter, Fischer stepped in on tough guy Mike Danton, who had been harassing Chris Chelios. Most of the Blues’ checking was clean after that.

Keith Tkachuk opened the scoring for St. Louis just six seconds into the Blues’ first power play of the game by jamming in a rebound from Chris Pronger‘s shot from the blue line. Pavel Datsyuk tied the game up for Detroit with eight minutes left in the first period, but Doug Weight regained the lead for the Blues just 22 seconds later. A rebound from Mark Rycroft’s shot bounced off the side of Weight’s skate and past Hasek.

Weight added his second goal of the night with 32 seconds left in the first. His shot from the right side of the ice looked fairly harmless, but the puck beat Hasek on the stick side.

Steve Yzerman scored a goal from a tidy backhand pass by Ray Whitney early in the second period, but Peter Sejna increased the Blues’ lead again with a shot that beat Hasek through the five-hole. Manny Legace came in to take Hasek’s place after that.

The goalie switch got Detroit’s offense going, as coach Dave Lewis no doubt intended. Boyd Devereaux scored his first goal of the year on a wraparound try, and Kirk Maltby took a shot which deflected off of Kris Draper for a shorthanded goal to tie the game at four goals apiece.
The Blues moved into the lead for good, however, before that power play was over. Legace made three saves in quick succession, leaving him prone on the ice, but the clearing pass bounced off of Nicklas Lidstrom instead of sailing safely into the corner. Sejna picked it up and flipped it over Legace’s skates before the goaltender could get back up.

Weight scored his hat trick goal early in the third period on a rebound from a shot by Dallas Drake. The Red Wings turned up the offensive pressure after that, taking 25 shots against Osgood in the third period alone, but they weren’t able to score again until the game was almost over. Danton was in the penalty box for holding, and Legace left the net so the Wings could have six skaters against four. Lidstrom made a nice pass along the blue line for Brett Hull, and Hull one-timed the shot into the net in classic style with 1:10 left to play.

The pressure was on in the last minute, but Osgood stood his ground, gaining his first win against his old team.

Shots totaled 50 to 34 in favor of Detroit. The Red Wings play next tomorrow night, facing the Nashville Predators in the first game of a four game road trip.

Weight’s hat trick was the second of his career…. Jiri Hudler got his first NHL point by assisting on Devereaux’s goal…. Hull’s goal was the 718th of his career, moving him past Phil Esposito into sole possession of fourth place on the NHL all-time goal scorers list.

Wings Dominate in Important, Emotional Win

If there are many more games like this one in St. Louis, the Savvis Center’s management may want to consider building an expansion for their penalty boxes. The Red Wings came up with a 6-2 win over the Blues, and the Blues were really letting their frustration show by the game’s end. By the final buzzer, there were a total of seventeen players between both teams who hadn’t been tossed out of the game. And the playoffs haven’t even started yet. Bring it on!

Emotions were running high early. The Blues were fired up at the return of Chris Pronger, who has been out of the lineup all season. However, his first impact on his team was to take a high-sticking penalty. The Blues’ penalty killers did a good job of not letting Detroit get set up on that one. Tyson Nash managed to generate a shorthanded scoring chance, but Manny Legace was sharp on the shot and the rebound.

Brett Hull opened the scoring midway through the period. Henrik Zetterberg carried the puck up the right side and passed it back across the crease once he gained the goal line. Hull was following the play, driving to the net with his stick on the ice, and he was in perfect position to lift the puck over Chris Osgood.

Pavel Datsyuk increased the lead a few minutes later. Pronger fanned on a slapshot attempt in the Detroit zone, and Datsyuk stole the puck to carry it up ice. Pronger and Bryce Salvador backed up to defend, but Datsyuk cut right between the two of them and stuffed the puck into the net underneath Osgood.

The Blues got themselves on the board with 3:29 left in the first. Steve Martins won a draw deep in the Red Wings’ end. The puck came back to Pronger, who wound up and took the shot. The puck tipped off a Detroit skater on the way through, and flew just past the end of Legace’s catching glove.

The second period was a story of penalty killing. Chris Chelios had taken a four minute high-sticking double minor penalty just at the end of the first period. Thirty seconds had gone by in that when the referees saw fit to send Kris Draper out for boarding. Kirk Maltby, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Mathieu Schneider played an excellent penalty kill, and Legace came up with a huge save on Pronger to stop the clock and allow Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan to come over the boards to replace Schneider and Maltby. When play started again, Lidstrom cleared the puck, and that did it for the 5-on-3. The remainder of the Blues’ 5-on-4 was negated when Pronger took another penalty, this one for interference, but then the Red Wings’ resulting shortened power play was negated when the team was assessed a bench minor for having too many men on the ice.

The one call which probably should have been made in the second was not made at all. Tyson Nash was sticked in the mouth by Shanahan””Nash was falling at the time, so a stick at that height would ordinarily have hit a skater somewhere in the stomach, but the stick did draw blood, which would ordinarily be an automatic four minute penalty. None of the officials saw it, and the Blues apparently swore revenge.

Vengeance was not coming in the second period, however. Corey Stillman received an elbowing penalty shortly thereafter. Shanahan made the pass from behind the net to the high slot which allowed Lidstrom to pinch in from the blue line and wrist a shot through a screen of players over Osgood’s shoulder.

Nash, having had his lip stitched up neatly, was out on the ice to take a pass from Alexander Khavanov and fire it into the net from point blank range, bringing the Blues back within one goal with 7:38 left in the game. Just as the goal was called, Reed Low and Darren McCarty were handed coincidental minor penalties for diving and cross-checking respectively. Sergei Fedorov added a goal with a wrist shot just under the crossbar during the resulting four-on-four.

As soon as McCarty and Low were out of the box, they dropped the gloves and went at each other. Both were given five minute fighting majors, and McCarty was given a game misconduct for not having his jersey strap tied down””Low pulled it right off as soon as the fight started.

Scott Mellanby took an interference penalty with 5:11 left to play. Nash decided his goal wasn’t good enough revenge and attacked Shanahan directly. While those two fought, Fedorov tangled with Barret Jackman. Once the officials cleared the ice, Hull scored a power play goal. Datsyuk made a pass from behind the net to Schneider. Hull picked up the rebound from Schneider’s shot and put it into the empty corner of the net.

Hull’s third goal of the night barely two minutes later””set up by amazing passing from Zetterberg and Datsyuk, of course””opened the floodgates to chaos. Mellanby, Jackman, Dallas Drake, Ryan Johnson, Maltby, Draper, and Dmitri Bykov were all thrown out of the game. The very next shift, it started up again. Matt Walker tried to pick a fight with Tomas Holmstrom, who was skating away from it, but Luc Robitaille came in to defend his linemate. From the resulting battle, Walker, Salvador, Shjon Podein, Doug Weight, Holmstrom, Robitaille, Schneider, and Mathieu Dandenault were sent out. The Detroit bench took a penalty when assistant coach Joey Kocur threw a chair onto the ice in frustration at the way the Blues had simply decided to run at his players, and he and St. Louis coach Joel Quenneville screamed obscenities at each other until calmer heads prevailed, the linesman dropped the puck, and the few remaining players let the clock run down.

The count of shots on net was 24 to 21 in favor of the Blues. The total number of penalty minutes, for those who count such things, was 114 for Detroit and 129 for St. Louis. The Red Wings’ next game will be Monday night at the Joe against the Nashville Predators.

Turning It Up

The St. Louis Blues were prepared to give the Red Wings more of a challenge in Game Two, and challenge they did?more hitting, more shots on net, more defensemen rushing up to join the play and create scoring chances. Still, the Red Wings were able to rise to the challenge and outscore the Blues 3-2, giving them a 2-0 lead in this Western Conference Semi-final series.

The Red Wings controlled the game early and opened the scoring 2:46 into the opening period. Steve Duchesne dumped the puck into the Blues’ zone, and goaltender Brent Johnson attempted to clear it away. He mishandled the puck, however, and Sergei Fedorov was able to intercept it and get it to Steve Yzerman driving to the front of the net. Yzerman tapped it in past the scrambling Johnson.

Both teams took a few penalties in the first period. Detroit did a good job killing theirs off. They spent most of the time controlling the puck in the St. Louis zone and at center ice, making it nearly impossible for the Blues to set up a scoring play. The Blues, on the other hand, ran into trouble with their penalties.

Dallas Drake was sent to the penalty box for roughing with 1:56 left in the period. Nick Lidstrom sent a long pass from the right point across to Brett Hull waiting in front of the left side of the net, and Hull one-timed a wrist shot which hit the inside of Johnson’s left thigh and rattled into the net.

The Blues showed a lack of intensity in the second period, and ran into penalty trouble again midway through. This time, Jamal Mayers was in the box for interference. Chris Chelios passed along the blue line to Freddy Olausson. Olausson fired a hard shot on net, and the puck brushed the jersey of Luc Robitaille on its way past Johnson.

St. Louis came back hard after that, generating a lot of chances, especially when they got a power play chance of their own on a penalty to Kris Draper, but Dominik Hasek held them off in his acrobatic style, and the Red Wings’ defense was able to get the rebounds and clear the puck away from their goaltender.

Unfortunately for the Wings, the Blues carried that late period intensity into the third and were able to score less than a minute in. Chris Pronger carried the puck behind the net, and Hasek expected him to make a try for a wraparound goal, but Pronger instead left the puck for Scott Mellanby coming around the net in the opposite direction. Hasek couldn’t quite get over in time, and Mellanby stuffed it into the net.

The Red Wings picked up their play after that, controlling the puck for the greater part of the period and making the Blues have to go chase it in their own zone. The St. Louis bench pulled Johnson for the extra attacker with over two minutes to play. The six Blues pressed hard in Detroit’s zone, but Hasek managed to keep the puck out, and the Wings finally got it down the ice. They got caught mishandling the puck as the Blues brought it back up on the attack, and Keith Tkachuk and Mellanby brought it back in on a two on one. Lidstrom got his stick down to try to block Tkachuk’s pass, but the puck bounced over the stick to Mellanby. Mellanby’s quick shot jumped into the net over Hasek’s shoulder.

The Blues tried to press their advantage and score again to force an overtime with the forty seconds that remained to them, but they were unable to put the puck in the net again.

Hasek stopped thirty-five of the thirty-seven shots he faced, while Johnson turned aside twenty-eight of thirty-one.

The semi-final series will continue Tuesday evening at the Savvis Center in St. Louis.

Shaping Up the Western Conference

In spite of a much stronger game than the Red Wings have played since clinching the President’s Trophy, a few errors in judgment allowed the St. Louis Blues to get by and win 3-2 in overtime.

The Red Wings opened the scoring early in the first period. Chris Chelios fired a hard shot from the blue line, and Brett Hull got the blade of his stick down to the ice to redirect the puck into the net past goaltender Brent Johnson.

The Blues came back to tie a few moments later. The puck slipped away from the Red Wings, and Dallas Drake was able to pick it up and go in all alone against Dominik Hasek. Drake released the shot quickly, before Hasek could set himself, and the puck rattled into the net.

Detroit regained the lead near the end of the first period on a power play resulting from a holding penalty to Ray Ferraro. Igor Larionov played the puck from behind the net out front to Pavel Datsyuk. The rebound from Datsyuk’s shot came free to Jason Williams, who scooped the puck in behind Johnson.

The Blues tied the game back up midway through the second period. Hasek came out of the net to clear the puck away, but the clearing pass was intercepted by Keith Tkachuk, who quickly centered the puck to be tapped into the net by Pavol Demitra.

Both teams tightened up after this, neither one willing to open up the offense and risk making a mistake which could lead to an opposing goal. Detroit got control of the puck in the St. Louis zone at the very end of the third period, but Johnson was ready and able to stop the shots the Wings threw towards him, sending the game to overtime.

Chris Pronger gave the Blues their game winning goal with just over a minute left to play in the overtime period. Hasek stepped out of the net again, this time apparently to take a shove at Doug Weight, and Pronger’s shot went right into the empty net.

Each team took twenty-five shots on goal. The Wings were one for four on the power play, while the Blues did not manage to convert on any of their three power play attempts. The Red Wings will close out their regular season tomorrow afternoon when the Blues come to close out the home-and-home series.

Sergei Fedorov appeared to be injured in the third period when a shot fired towards the net struck him just above the ankle. He was putting some weight on it as he left the ice, but did not return to the game… The Blues’ win today means that they can finish no lower than sixth place in the Western Conference standings… A loss tonight by the Vancouver Canucks will make them the eighth place team and the Red Wings’ first round opponents.