Wings Hold off Kings, Clinch Central

The Detroit Red Wings held off a late surge by the Los Angeles Kings to pick up a 4-2 victory Saturday night, moving them into sole position of the top spot in the NHL standings. The Red Wings also clinched the Central Division Championship, becoming the first Western Conference team to officially make the playoffs.

Jason Williams scored twice for the second time in six games to lead the Red Wings offense. Williams also added an assist and captain Steve Yzerman had three assists in the game.

Three shots off the Los Angeles goalposts helped keep the Red Wings off the scoreboard in the first period and the Kings got the first goal of the game from Alexander Frolov on the power play at 4:25 of the opening frame. Frolov stuffed a backhander through Detroit goalie Curtis Joseph‘s pads to put the Kings up by one.

Williams scored twice early in the second to put the Red Wings in the lead. Just 1:30 into the middle period, Williams bounced a wraparound attempt off the pad of Los Angeles netminder Cristobal Huet and into the net to even the game at a goal apiece.

At 5:24, Williams fired a shot from the right faceoff circle that deflected off a LA defender to give the Wings the lead.

Williams’ line with Yzerman and Ray Whitney put Detroit up by two goals with 2:54 remaining in the second. A tic-tac-toe passing play from Williams to Yzerman to Whitney left Whitney with the puck at the top of the crease. After his first shot was stopped, Whitney put the rebound past Huet to make the score 3-1.

Los Angeles pulled out all the stops late in the game. With 4:30 remaining in regulation and two Red Wings in the penalty box, Huet went to the Kings’ bench for the extra attacker. Detroit killed off the six-on-three but before the second penalty was over, former Red Wing Luc Robitaille put a shot from the side of the crease over the sprawled Joseph to put the Kings within a goal.

Even with the extra attacker for most of the rest of the game, the Kings were unable to score the tying goal and with 12 seconds remaining Nicklas Lidstrom scored into the empty net to seal the Detroit victory.

Detroit was held scoreless in their three power play attempts while the Kings scored twice on six chances.

Joseph stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced in net for the Red Wings, while Huet made 20 saves on 23 shots against.

The Red Wings are next in action Sunday night. They face former Red Wing Sergei Fedorov and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the third game of their five-game road trip.

Robitaille’s goal put him into a tie for first place in all-time scoring for left wings.

Hull Snaps Slump as Wings Down LA

Brett Hull scored his first goal in 21 games, ending the longest goal scoring drought of his career and helping the Detroit Red Wings to a 5-4 victory over the Los Angeles Kings.

Hull’s goal came 3:47 into the second period as the Wings were on one of their two power plays of the game. Defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom fired a shot from inside the blue line that Hull deflected near the slot and went past Kings’ goalie Roman Cechmanek to pull Detroit back into a 2-2 tie with Los Angeles.

Detroit had opened the scoring off a faceoff 6:01 into the game. Pavel Datsyuk won the draw back to Jamie Rivers at the blue line. Rivers sent a pass to Jason Woolley who fired a shot from along the boards that was deflected into the net from the slot by Steve Thomas.

The Kings took the lead on goals just 1:30 apart later in the first period. Trent Klatt scored on the power play with 4:49 remaining in the period, deflecting a shot at the top of the crease through Detroit netminder Curtis Joseph‘s five-hole. Alexander Frolov put the Kings up by a goal after picking up a rebound and firing it over the sprawling Joseph.

Detroit regained the lead when Mathieu Schneider fired a shot from the right faceoff circle by Cechmanek 1:30 after Hull tied the game.

Jamie Rivers, who was inserted into the lineup late after Niklas Kronwall was injured in pre-game warmups, scored his first goal as a Red Wing 3:55 into the final period. Rivers picked off a pass just inside the Kings’ blue line and rifled a quick shot by Cechmanek to make it 4-2.

Another power play goal pulled the Kings back within a goal when former Red Wing Luc Robitaille deflected a shot by Joseph at the 6:15 mark of the third.

Schneider’s second goal of the game put Detroit back up by a goal with 6:08 remaining in the game and that was enough for the Red Wings to hold on for the victory.

Frolov finished the game’s scoring with 1:17 remaining in regulation. As the Kings skated with the extra attacker, Frolov swept down the left side of the ice and fired a backhand shot over the stick of a surprised Joseph for his second goal of the night.

Joseph stopped 25 of the 29 shots he faced in net for the Red Wings. Cechmanek made 24 saves on 29 shots between the pipes for the Kings.

Detroit is next in action on Saturday night when the Red Wings pay their first ever visit to the new Glendale Arena, home of the Phoenix Coyotes.

Hull’s 3rd Place Goal Lifts Wings over Kings

It was another milestone night for Brett Hull, and this time, the goal counted towards a win. Hull scored his 732nd career goal 1:51 into the overtime period to lift the Red Wings to a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings and move into sole possession of third place on the all-time goals scored list, behind only Wayne Gretzky (894) and Gordie Howe (801). The Red Wings started the scoring early in the first period. In fact, they scored on their first two shots of the game. Brendan Shanahan got the crowd in the right mindset to see milestone goals by scoring his 544th career goal 2:27 into the first period. Mark Mowers made a sharp pass from behind the net, and Shanahan snapped off a shot which bounced off the left leg pad of goalie Roman Cechmanek and into the net. The goal tied Shanahan for 19th place overall with Maurice “Rocket” Richard.

Pavel Datsyuk didn’t break any records with his goal, but the Los Angeles defensemen may have broken something else afterwards, by kicking themselves for leaving Datsyuk unwatched. The goal came on the power play, with Kings’ captain Mattias Norstrom in the penalty box for hooking. Datsyuk left a drop pass for Hull on the left wing side, then circled around behind the net. The Kings all seemed to be keeping an eye on Steve Thomas in the high slot, so no one was ready for Hull to thread the puck through the goal crease to Datsyuk on the far side. Datsyuk banged the puck past Cechmanek to put the Wings up 2-0.

The Kings were hardly ready to give up being down by two goals. They refused to sit back, forcing Dominik Hasek to make some strong saves. Hasek held firm until he lost his temper late in the third. Los Angeles was in the middle of a shift of sustained pressure in Detroit’s zone. In all fairness, there could have been a goaltender interference penalty against Luc Robitaille, but none was forthcoming. Hasek appeared visibly upset, and thus was not set to stop Michael Cammalleri’s one-timer off Robitaille’s pass.

The goal gave the Kings new life, but they weren’t able to tie up the game until they got a lucky break. Steve Thomas was unable to handle Jiri Fischer‘s pass along the boards in the Red Wings’ zone. Martin Straka, recently acquired from the Penguins, grabbed the puck away and took a hard shot which beat Hasek high.

The Red Wings controlled the overtime period from its beginning, however. Hull’s historic goal was set up by Jason Woolley holding the puck in at the Los Angeles blue line, stick handling around two skaters, and sending the puck up to Mathieu Schneider. Schneider made the pass across the rink to Hull, who was ready and waiting with his classic one-timer. The puck sailed up and bounced over Cechmanek for the win.

Los Angeles outshot Detroit by a count of 28-20. The Red Wings’ next game will be on the road, Wednesday night against the Buffalo Sabres.

Ray Whitney started this game, but didn’t finish. He left sometime during the second period. Prior to tonight, Whitney had missed ten straight games with a strained groin…. Chris Chelios left the game with an injured right knee after colliding with Cammalleri late in the first period. Chelios tried to play a shift early in the second, but had to leave the ice.

Off to a Good Start

“We’re counting on our young guys this year to contribute more,” said coach Dave Lewis. “We think they’re ready for it.”

The younger Red Wings certainly seemed to be ready in this year’s home opener against the Los Angeles Kings. Jiri Fischer and Pavel Datsyuk both contributed goals. But, since this is Detroit, a veteran team, it took a veteran to put the game away. Captain Steve Yzerman‘s goal gave the Wings a 3-2 victory over Los Angeles.

Former Wing Sean Avery started his usual abrasive style of play early, trying to stir up some trouble with Derian Hatcher. Hatcher was too sensible to take the bait. The Red Wings came to play hockey, and play they did.

Detroit’s strong pressure in the Los Angeles zone caused Luc Robitaille to take a holding penalty against his former teammates 4:27 into the game. Detroit’s power play unit controlled the play very well. Offseason acquisition Ray Whitney did an excellent job of holding the puck in the zone against the Kings’ clearing attempts, but the Wings didn’t score until their next power play opportunity.

When Avery went into the box for tripping, the Red Wings were prepared for the man-advantage. The Kings’ penalty-killers were focused on trying to interrupt Brett Hull‘s and Pavel Datsyuk’s passing, so no one noticed Jiri Fischer sneaking towards the net. Datsyuk threaded a pass through a few pairs of legs, and Fischer one-timed the puck past Roman Cechmanek to put Detroit on the board at 10:10.

The Red Wings seemed to back off a little bit in the second period, and the Kings were more than willing to take advantage of that situation. Their shot total, a measly six shots in the first, skyrocketed to fourteen in the second period alone. Dominik Hasek looked comfortable handling most of the shots (he likes a lot of work, remember). The only one which didn’t look right was the one that got by him.

Eric Belanger shot the puck on net from the left circle. The puck bounced off Hasek’s helmet and fell towards the right side of the net. All the skaters were scrambling to grab for the puck and take each other out of the play. In the confusion, Belanger was able to circle behind the net and stuff the puck in from the right side to tie the game with 7:49 left in the second.

Detroit came out to start the third period with quite a bit more energy than they had in the second. Avery tried to start trouble then with Kirk Maltby, but then Darren McCarty drew Avery into taking his third penalty of the game. The Grind Line’s energy spread to the rest of the team, and shots on net were plentiful, but Cechmanek stood his ground.

Zigmund Palffy gave the Kings a one-goal lead midway through the third. Jozef Stumpel was held up by Hatcher, but he managed to center a pass from the left corner. Palffy was on hand to lift the puck high over the sprawling Hasek.

Nicklas Lidstrom took a hooking call with 7:38 left to play, leaving an even tighter margin of time for the Red Wings to try to get back in the game. Their hopes were fulfilled when Lubomir Visnovsky was sent to the box for tripping, and the power play unit could get to work.

The passing work was incredible: crisp, accurate, and completely out of reach of the Kings’ penalty killers. Hull passed from the top of the left circle to Whitney at the blue line. Whitney sent the puck across to Lidstrom at the right side, and Lidstrom one-timed the puck towards the net. Datsyuk tipped the puck on its way through, deflecting it past Cechmanek.

Just as everyone was about to settle in for overtime, Yzerman decided he wanted to open his 21st season in style. He scooped the puck away from the Detroit net and sent it ahead to Whitney, who was moving up through center ice. Whitney carried into the Kings’ zone, wheeled away from three defending players, and dropped the puck back to Yzerman. The Captain sent a wrist shot high over Cechmanek with less than two seconds remaining””and the crowd went wild.

The Red Wings outshot the Kings by 38 to 23 over the course of the game. Detroit’s next game will be on the road Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators.

Los Angeles defenseman Mattias Norstrom left the game with an arm injury in the first period.

Robitaille Signs with Los Angeles

Former Detroit Red Wing Luc Robitaille signed a one-year contract with the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. This marks Robitaille’s third tour of duty with the Kings.

Reportedly, Robitaille took a severe pay cut to return to Los Angeles. He earned $4 million with Detroit last season but will earn only $1.1 million in 2003-2004. That amount could rise to $2.5 million with bonuses.

Robitaille was originally drafted by Los Angeles in the ninth round of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. He has played twelve of his seventeen NHL seasons with the Kings, also spending time with the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and the Red Wings.

“We are very happy to have Luc back in Los Angeles with the Kings,” said Kings general manager Dave Taylor. “He has had great success in a Kings uniform and has proven to be one of the great scorers in league history. His experience and leadership abilities will be a great influence on our younger players as well.”

“My family and I are very excited to be returning to the Kings” said Robitaille, from his off-season home in Park City, Utah. “The Kings is where it all started for me, and the fans of Los Angeles have always treated me and my family so well. I look forward to playing for them once again.”

NHL Free Agent Scene Finally Roars to Life

After two days of inactivity on the NHL’s free agent front, the silence was finally broken Thursday with four major signings and a three-way trade.

The free agent market opened one minute after midnight on Tuesday morning but the only major move made between then and Thursday was Philadelphia’s signing of goaltender Jeff Hackett from the Boston Bruins.

Thursday, some of the big-name free agents finally found homes as teams finally opened up their checkbooks. The Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings were the big spenders of the day, both picking up players in an attempt to claim one more Stanley Cup before the NHL lockout expected to begin in the summer of 2004.

Colorado bolstered an already impressive forward corps with the addition of former teammates Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya.

Kariya, embittered by the fact that Anaheim, the team he captained for many years, failed to make him a qualifying offer, signed with the Avalanche for only $1.2 million for one season. Selanne also signed a one-year deal, reportedly worth $5.8 million. Both players accepted less than their market value for the chance to play together and compete for the Cup.

Detroit began their attempt to shift to a more defense-minded system with the signing of former Dallas captain Derian Hatcher. Hatcher, a native of the Detroit area, did not receive an offer from the Stars before accepting the Red Wings’ five year deal. The contract is reportedly worth $30 million over its lifetime.

The Columbus Blue Jackets made the first foray into big free agency spending in franchise history, signing tough checking forward Todd Marchant away from the Edmonton Oilers. Marchant was coveted by many teams, including the usually-big-spending New York Rangers, but accepted less money from the Blue Jackets than he had demanded from the Broadway Blueshirts.

After the free agent deals of the day were done, a trade shook up the rosters of three NHL teams.

Colorado, desparate to find roster space for Kariya and Selanne, dealt center Steve Reinprect to the Buffalo Sabres for defensive prospect Keith Ballard. The Sabres then packaged Reinprect with blueliner Rhett Warrener in a deal with the Calgary Flames for former Avalanche center Chris Drury and center Steve Begin.

The long summer still has time for the many star free agents available to find a home. Sergei Fedorov, who has announced that he will not return to the Red Wings, is reportedly in talks with several teams. Rangers captain Mark Messier and top defenseman Brian Leetch are both still available. Detroit’s Luc Robitaille and Anaheim’s Adam Oates are also still on the market.

Wings Won’t Bring Back Robitaille

The Detroit Red Wings have notified Hall of Fame-bound forward Luc Robitaille that they will not exercise their option to bring him back for the 2003-04 season. The Red Wings will pay $1 million for declining to bring Robitaille back for a third season in Detroit.

Red Wings’ general manager Ken Holland broke the news to Robitaille on Thursday and spoke to Pat Brisson, Robitaille’s agent, on Friday.

“It wasn’t made official in writing, but we did talk,” Brisson said Sunday night. “It wasn’t unexpected.”

Robitaille experienced the least-productive season of his career in 2002-03, scoring only 11 goals.

Robitaille, 37, does not plan to retire yet.

“Once we have permission to speak to other teams, we’ll make a few calls and we’ll get a few calls,” Brisson said. “He still believes he has one or two years in this league. He played on the fourth line. On another team, he might get more ice time, more power-play time.”

Robitaille is reportedly interested in playing in Los Angeles, where he was twice a member of the Kings and where he spent the most-productive years of his career, Phoenix, Colorado or Montreal, his hometown.

Early Summer This Year

The Game
Henrik Zetterberg scored the first goal of the game, his first-ever playoff goal, but Steve Rucchin scored the last goal of the game, and that, as it turned out, was the important one. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim completed their quarterfinal sweep of the Red Wings with a 3-2 overtime win.

The Red Wings looked much better to start Game Four than they had looked previously in the series?not completely up to their potential yet, but certainly better. They were driving to the net and trying harder to put the puck high against Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and that extra effort led directly to Zetterberg’s goal late in the first period. Brett Hull stripped Petr Sykora of the puck in the high slot area of Anaheim’s zone. Hull pushed towards the net, and Zetterberg came with him on the right side. Hull made a quick pass across to his linemate, and Zetterberg lifted a quick wrist shot over Giguere.

Confusion on a call let the Ducks tie the game up just under two minutes later. Mathieu Dandenault knew he was about to get a penalty for high-sticking on a delayed call. He looked to have touched the puck, and the other Wings on the ice slowed in anticipation of the whistle, but that whistle didn’t come because Dandenault never actually had possession of the puck. Adam Oates took the puck away, brought it into the zone, and sent it across to Paul Kariya. Kariya had a clear shot on Curtis Joseph and was able to put the puck into the top corner.

The second period was scoreless, although both teams had their chances. The Grind Line brought havoc to the Ducks’ zone, creating multiple quality scoring chances. Rob Niedermayer was so frustrated by Joseph’s excellent saves during an Anaheim power play that he took an ill-advised cross-checking penalty, negating his team’s man-advantage and giving the Red Wings a shortened power play of their own.

Jason Krog scored early in the third period, and the Ducks promptly shut down. The Red Wings still managed to get through to the Ducks’ zone, but rarely were they able to get the screened shots or deflected shots which seemed to be the best way to defeat Giguere. Mathieu Schneider took an interference penalty with just 5:23 left in regulation, further thwarting the Wings’ chances.

Then, with 2:15 left to play, the Red Wings finally got a break. Sergei Fedorov eluded the Ducks who had been dogging his steps all series. He went into the right corner, one on one against Keith Carney, and won the battle for the puck. Fedorov threw it out in front of the net, and it hit the skate of Niclas Havelid. It bounced. It bounced right past Giguere and into the net.

Fedorov played like a man possessed for the rest of regulation time, seeking to win before overtime started, but Giguere regained control of himself and sent the game to the extra session.

At 6:53 of overtime, a little after 1:00 am in Detroit, a little after 10:00 pm in Anaheim, Rucchin scored his series-winning goal. Carney was allowed to take the puck behind the net. He centered it out front to Rucchin, coming up the high slot all alone. Rucchin one-timed the shot up and over Joseph for the win.

Now What?
There could be changes in Detroit this summer. Not drastic ones, surely. But there will be financial considerations, with no further playoff revenue coming to the team. Ticket prices may have to be raised for next year. It may be harder to keep free agents like Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Darren McCarty, Luc Robitaille, and Jason Woolley, and certainly it could be more difficult to lure free agents from other teams.

But these are matters for later. It’s time to rest now, time to carefully roll up the car flags and stow them in the trunk, time to fold the banners and set them gently in the closet for next year. Time to regroup and heal, time for our young rookies to become stronger and time for our veterans to rest their strength.

The 2002-2003 season is over. But Jiri Fischer will be fully healed by fall, and Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Dmitri Bykov show much promise, along with a host of other young prospects who played in the minors or the European leagues this year. The team’s veteran core will remain intact, contributing and teaching. There’s always 2003-2004.

There’s always a next year for Hockeytown.

Tempting Fate

In spite of a late rally after Tomas Holmstrom finally cracked the armor of Jean-Sebastien Giguere, in spite of outshooting the Mighty Ducks once again, in spite of the huge amounts of ice time logged by Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, and Steve Yzerman, the Ducks took a 2-1 win in their first home game and now lead the quarterfinal series 3-0.

The game started off well for the Red Wings. The Grind Line played well, with Darren McCarty, Kirk Maltby, and Kris Draper taking it in turns to post themselves in front of the net to screen Giguere and try to grab up stray rebounds or redirect shots on the way through. Curtis Joseph made two big saves early against Steve Rucchin. The Red Wings even got the first power play of the game late in the first. Brendan Shanahan had a good chance to score from his customary spot at the left faceoff circle. He had beaten Giguere, but the puck clanged off the crossbar.

A turnover at the blue line let the Ducks open the scoring early in the second period. Stanislav Chistov barely managed to drag the puck around Dmitri Bykov, but got the pass away to Samuel Pahlsson. Pahlsson took a quick shot which rattled into the net.

Mathieu Dandenault thought he had evened the game up with a long shot from the blue line just a minute later, but the play was whistled down because Detroit had had too many men on the ice. Shanahan and Steve Yzerman had a good chance to score shorthanded on the resulting penalty, but Shanahan’s shot was just low enough that Giguere could catch it in his glove.

The Red Wings certainly had their chances to score, but again Giguere played an excellent game, and his defensemen picked off most rebounds before Detroit could get to them.

The Ducks increased their lead early in the third period. Joseph came out of the net to clear the puck away, but his pass bounced off the leg of Chris Chelios and back to Chistov. Joseph scrambled to get back, and Henrik Zetterberg scrambled to help him cover the empty parts of the net, but Chistov put the puck off Zetterberg’s skate and into the net.

Pahlsson took a penalty for holding the stick of Luc Robitaille (and thus denying Robitaille a strong scoring chance) at 6:22, and the Red Wings finally got on the board within six seconds. Holmstrom went to the front of the net, got shoved around as usual, and was rewarded with the rebound from Lidstrom’s shot. He lifted the puck up and over Giguere, making it a one-shot game.

The Red Wings scrambled after that, trying to beat the solid goaltender one more time. They pulled Joseph from the net for an extra attacker with just over a minute left to play, but Giguere was able to control all his rebounds, and the Red Wings finally just ran out of time.

The count of shots on net was 37-26 favoring Detroit. The best-of-seven series will continue Wednesday night from Anaheim.

Ducks Take 2-0 Lead Back Home

The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim rallied back after being down by a goal late in the third period Saturday to claim a 3-2 win over the Red Wings and stretch their lead in the first-round playoff series to two games.

Down 2-1 with 6:26 remaining in the third, Anaheim forward Jason Krog skated in on top of Detroit goalie Curtis Joseph and beat him to tie the game.

Just over two minutes later, after a botched breakout pass by Chris Chelios, Rob Neidermayer sent the puck to Steve Thomas, who skated in alone and blasted a shot past Joseph, giving the Ducks the lead.

Anaheim had taken an early lead on a goal by Stanislav Chistov but Detroit battled back in the second periond.

Just 2:14 into the second, Jason Woolley picked up a rebound and ripped it past Mighty Ducks’ goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Four minutes later, Luc Robitaille knocked a fluttering puck down behind Giguere to give the Wings the lead.

Giguere kept the Mighty Ducks in the game, making several key stops and giving the team a rest while he dealt with a long “equipment problem” similar to the incident when he was “shaken up” in Game One. Giguere finished with thirty-four saves.

Joseph made twenty saves on twenty-three shots in net for Detroit.

Game Three will be on Monday night in Anaheim.

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