It's a big game for the Predators and Red Wings tonight in Detroit. In most years, I'd say the Central Division championship really doesn't matter that much, but with the way the Western Conference is shaping up, it makes the difference between facing the 3rd-place Northwest division team (my money's on Minnesota), or a 5th-seed Dallas or San Jose, two teams which nobody will want to face early on. I thought I'd attempt a "live blogging" of tonight's contest...
Plenty of scratches on both sides tonight, the most prominent being Peter Forsberg for Nashville, and Hank Zetterberg for Detroit.
18:40 1st: A nifty breakaway pass from Martin Erat sends Paul Kariya in alone, with Chris Osgood making the save. Erat hesitated just a moment to lift the puck over the stick of a Red Wings defenseman, but another split second delay and Kariya would have gone into the zone offsides. The teams definitely seem geeked up for the game, as there are plenty of near-miss big hits. Guys are trying to make a big impression early, but are perhaps over-eager in committing to a check.
DELAY: Thank goodness for Tivo - I spend 20 minutes helping my youngest son with potty training, with solid progress to report! And I do mean solid...
15:37 1st (1-0 DET): Valteri Filppula's speed creates a dangerous chance for Johan Franzen, giving him time to gather in a bouncing puck before making the pass to his linemate. Tomas Vokoun makes the save for Nashville, but just when Filppula's line heads off Pavel Datsyuk picks the puck up, speeds down the right boards, and creates enough space to slip a wrist shot short-side and put the Red Wings up 1-0. That's the kind of goal that big-time players make in big games, turning what looked like a routine play into a highlight-reel effort.
13:00 1st: The Predator penalty killers do their job early, fighting off a 5-3 stretch despite a few good shots for Detroit.
12:30 1st: Kris Draper has a wide-open rebound opportunity for Detroit, and while Nashville color commentator Terry Crisp says it went right off the post, the replay, to me, showed that Vokoun deflected it with his glove first, keeping the game close early on.
11:10 1st: Another near big-hit as Jordin Tootoo almost catapults himself into the Detroit bench after missing a check. Fortunately for him he gets his stick back right away and gets back into the play. A couple months back, Minnesota's Stephane Veileux wasn't as lucky...
DELAY: That's a double "thank goodness for Tivo", as I send the Little Forecheckers off to bed. Now to catch up with the action...
7:58 1st: After killing off a Nashville power play, Detroit starts to take control of the action, culminating in a blast from Niklas Lidstrom that stings Predators defenseman Greg Zanon before going into the stands. Zanon doesn't look so spry as he heads to the bench. It's all in a day's work for the stay-at-home blueliner, who heads into the game leading the Preds with 142 blocked shots.
7:11 1st: Another wide-open rebound chance blown by Detroit, as Kyle Calder sends one wide. The Red Wings can't afford to let too many of those opportunities slip by.
4:52 1st (1-1): The Predators tie things up on the power play. For about a minute, Nashville had trouble setting up a decent play, but a long-distance shot by Paul Kariya turned into a tap-in opportunity for Martin Erat. Red Wing Chris Chelios was outnumbered in front of the net as Jason Arnott was there as well.
2:08 1st: Things start to heat up physically, as Shea Weber checks and throws down Kyle Calder behind the Nashville net, bringing a rise out of the Hockeytown crowd. A few minutes earlier, Jiri Hudler checked Dan Hamhuis awkwardly into the boards, so we'll see if this continues into the 2nd period. Lots of empty seats are visible in the lower bowl, but of course in Detroit those are bought and paid for. Perhaps they need more seat fillers?
The first period ends 1-1, with Detroit getting more of the quality scoring opportunities, and the emotions high on both sides.
Early 2nd: Word comes in that Scott Nichol is out of the game with a broken thumb, leaving Nashville with 11 forwards.
14:49 2nd (2-1 NSH): After some good up-and-down action, J.P. Dumont makes a harmless dump into the corner to Osgood's left, but Jerred Smithson hustles in to feed the puck back to a trailing Jason Arnott who one-times it from the faceoff dot past Ozzy for a 2-1 Nashville lead. The Predators TV duo mistakenly rave about Dumont's hard forechecking work on the play, but it was clearly Smithson getting the 1st assist.
Mid 2nd: He may not be scoring like he did earlier in the season, but rookie Alexander Radulov is contributing well in other areas, applying pressure on the forecheck. As noted in the recent Sports Illustrated piece, Nashville needs to find out how well Radulov responds to pressure situations, leading into the playoffs this spring.
7:42 2nd: Tomas Vokoun looks very sharp, shutting down a great chance by Nicklas Lidstrom, who snuck down from the left point to take a crossing pass from Pavel Datsyuk. Vokoun had to cross from left to right to stuff the opportunity.
7:30 2nd (2-2): Whoops, sorry to jinx you, Tomas. The Red Wings tie things up on the power play, as Robert Lang picks up the rebound off a Niklas Kronwall point shot to tie the game at 2.
7:05 2nd (3-2 DET): Mathieu Schneider jumps up into the play out of the Detroit end, takes a Robert Lang pass at center ice, and carries the puck all the way down between the circles before sending a nice wrister to the far-side top corner to put the Red Wings ahead. It's Schneider's 200th career goal, and he couldn't have asked for a nicer play.
5:17 2nd: A mad scramble in front of the Nashville net with Kyle Calder creating havoc down low, and the Predators defense struggling to handle him. One of the notable scratches for tonight is Vitaly Vishnevski, who was acquired to add "grit" to the mix for Nashville.
2:59 2nd: With Detroit on the power play again, Nashville just doesn't look good in front of Vokoun. Johan Franzen sets up just outside the crease for a good 5 seconds before a Predators defenseman lamely tugs him from behind. In net, Vokoun is reduced to shifting left and right, trying to get a clear view. Considering that uber-screener Tomas Holmstrom isn't even playing tonight, that doesn't bode well for Nashville.
The 2nd period ends with the momentum clearly in Detroit's favor. They capitalized on a couple opportunities to take the lead, and in the final minute, Kirk Maltby starts agitating, apparently in an attempt to draw a penalty from Nashville.
Early 3rd: Another Predator goes down to injury, as Marek Zidlicky succumbs to the dreaded "upper body injury". That could mean anything from a tummy ache to a brain tumor as far as I can tell...
17:20 3rd: The line of Jordin Tootoo-Vernon Fiddler-Alexander Radulov has a nice shift, creating a couple good chances. With all the big names not playing tonight, it's interesting to see which depth players make an impact.
13:00 3rd: The Predators kill of a Detroit power play nicely, keeping their hopes alive as time slips away.
8:18 3rd (3-3): As Martin Erat carries the puck down the right boards, Mathieu Schneider cuts off his scoring chance and Erat continues behind the net, dropping the puck off at the left point. A wrist shot from Greg Zanon hits Osgood in the right shoulder, pops up, over, and into the net behind to tie the game at 3. Both Alexander Radulov and David Legwand were in front screening Osgood, and suddenly we've got a tied game. What are the chances we'll head for overtime? Judging by the results lately, pretty good.
5:52 3rd: The Predators are buzzing, as they get a 3-on-1 crossing the blue line into the Red Wings end, but Jarred Smithson holds onto the puck too long and fires a wrister that Osgood blocks easily.
3:35 3rd: More good chances for Nashville, as Martin Erat creates a rebound chance first for Radulov and then later Legwand. Erat has been able to carry the puck around the offensive zone nearly at will all game, holding off the Detroit D while looking for open teammates or a good shooting lane.
late 3rd: Some great chances for both teams in the final minute of regulation. Another hustle play (this time it really was J.P. Dumont) into the corner yields a couple shots, on the ensuing Detroit rush Datsyuk sets up Franzen nicely in the slot, but Vokoun denies him. We're headed for overtime...
4:10 OT: Dan Hamhuis takes the initiative, protecting the puck with his body as he carries it behind the Detroit net, and feathers a soft centering pass that goes through several skates before action heads back up ice.
3:25 OT: The defense for Nashville is getting all the good chances, with Shea Weber working hard to create a shot while fighting off Brett Lebda all the way.
1:22 OT: The Red Wings almost catch Nashville on a change, but the pass for Johan Franzen skips off his stick.
OT finishes with one last flourish for Detroit, with Nicklas Lidstrom getting a shot from about 35 feet. Vokoun deflects it, and we're headed for a shootout...
DET - Pavel Datsyuk: He comes straight down the middle, and puts a quick backhander by Vokoun's stick side. DET 1-0
NSH - Alexander Radulov: The rookie comes down the middle much like Datsyuk, but goes to the forehand and Osgood makes the leg pad save. DET 1-0
DET - Jiri Hudler: Hudler takes a forehand shot from about 10 feet out, with Vokoun making a routine toe save. DET 1-0
NSH - Paul Kariya: One of the top shootout snipers in the NHL, Kariya approaches from the right side, and lifts a shot high to the short side over Osgood's glove to tie things up. 1-1
DET - Valteri Filppula: The speedy youngster dekes once to the backhand before attempting a forehand tuck, but Vokoun barely gets the toe on it, and recovers to stop the puck before it crosses the goal line. 1-1
NSH - J.P. Dumont: Dumont swings wide to the right and tries a similar shot as Kariya's, but Osgood makes the glove save.
DET - Johan Franzen: Franzen comes in slowly from the right side, and after a forehand/backhand deke, gets Vokoun down and puts a forehand shot high to take the lead 2-1. Nashville must score to keep it alive.
NSH - Martin Erat: An approach down the middle results in a wrister covered easily by Osgood. Detroit wins the shootout in four rounds, 2-1.
Overall, a well played game that leaves plenty of questions for the matchups to follow, once more of the regulars return to action.
My 3 Stars:
Martin Erat, Nashville: The most dangerous forward all night long.
Mathieu Schneider, Detroit: His quickness helped contain Nashville defensively, and created the Wings third goal.
Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit: He wasn't consistently a force, but his early goal put the Nashville defense on notice that it was going to be a long night.