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WCS Game 1: Red Wings 4, Avalanche 3

photo courtesy of Karl Gahring/Denver Post

Johan Franzen is a beast. The 6-3, 220 pound center was the key player for the Red Wings early on in last night's game 1 against the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference Semifinals, leading his team to a 4-3 victory.  He scored the third and fourth goals (the latter of which turned out to be the game-winner) for his team and also had an assist.  All this in just 16:35 of ice time.

He also inadvertently took out Wojtek Wolski when he careened into him after a first period hip check from Ruslan Salei (who was awful early in the game).  Wolski's early departure, combined with the loss of Peter Forsberg to another "groin injury" and Jose Theodore to some kind of horrible stomach illness, were just too much for the Avs.

Theodore was yanked from the game early in the second period for two reasons: one, he got shelled and had no defense in front of him; two, he was sick as a dog and probably shouldn't have played at all.  Live and learn.

Not that the Avs didn't try to come back.  After a horrendous first period in which everybody except Paul Stastny played like they'd never seen an ice rink before, the Avs started to right the ship.  Unfortunately, it was after Theodore gave up four goals (including a fluky airborne rebound that he couldn't see).  But Peter Budaj came in and provided some stability to the Avs and they completely turned their game around.  Budaj stopped all 20 shots he faced and the Avs scored three goals.

Unfortunately, the comeback attempt failed, and the Avs lost the game after Chris Osgood (the best goalie to ever play in the NHL) stopped a last-second shot by Ryan Smyth John-Michael Liles after Budaj had been pulled for the extra attacker.  That save ensured a game 1 win for the Wings and a one-game advantage in the series.

With the losses of Wolski and Forsberg (and the playing of Cody McCormick over Jaroslav Hlinka), Coach Q resorted to an old favorite: the RPM Line of Ryan, Paul and Milan.  Sure enough, it was money.  All three finished with two points.  Paul Stastny especially looked fantastic through most of the game, and he scored the first goal of the series early in the first period.  It looks like he's shaken off what ever haunted him in the first round against Minnesota.

Andrew Brunette and Joe Sakic both had rough games, and were both defensive liabilities through much of the early going.  They both finished - 2.  Brunette was more flat-footed than usual, and just couldn't seem to adapt to the Wings' run-and-gun, puck possession style of play.  

A lot of people would argue that simply because of geography and membership in the Original Six, the Red Wings should be in the Eastern Conference.  I'd agree, but more because of their style of hockey.  They don't play like a typical Western Conference team, and it just goes to show that trap-heavy grinding isn't always a successful strategy.  Granted, you have to have a high level of offensive skill to pull it off, but they do, and they can.

photo courtesy of Getty Images

Now, what have we all learned from game 1?  Well, it helps to have a healthy goalie and Peter Forsberg in the lineup.  It also helps to watch video of your opponent before the game so their style of play doesn't completely catch you off guard in the first period.  But another lesson is that even with a suddenly-depleted lineup, the Avalanche can hang with the Red Wings.  After a shaky start, the Avs shifted the momentum and controlled the pace of play for the second half of the game, often scaring the Wings with close-calls and great chances (and some clangers).  If the Avs are healthy, the Wings are beatable.

Also, I have to comment that both teams played extremely clean last night, and relied on their skill rather than their mouths and their fists, and it was great to see.  There were some chippy moments around the net and some late hits, but overall both squads focused on scoring goals rather than tallying penalty minutes.  It was a great game to watch.  The Avs didn't embarrass themselves early on while behind by three goals, they just focused and cleaned up their acts.  The Minnesota Wild could learn a lot from game 1 between the Avs and the Wings.  

It's a tough loss, but the series just started and we know now that the Avs aren't outmatched.  The only thing that can really defeat Colorado in this series is their own tendency toward injury and illness.  Stay healthy, and the series could go the distance.

Stars of the Game:

  1. Johan Franzen (2g, 1a)
  1. Paul Stastny (1g, 1a)
  1. Henrik Zetterberg (1g, 0a)

Kittens Killed: