Henrik Zetterberg scored seven-minutes into the third period to give the Red Wings a 3-1 win and a 1-0 series lead over the Nashville Predators in their best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinals.
The Red Wings entered the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs with high expectations. Detroit won the Presidents’ Trophy for best overall record, after finishing the regular-season with a league-best 53-21-7 record.
"The first one is always very, very difficult," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "That's what the playoffs are about. Just try not to give up too much and wait for your opportunity."
Dominik Hasek made 19 saves and Johan Franzen scored his fifth career playoff goal to help earn the victory.
“It’s always good to get the first goal," Franzen said. "I don’t know … play hard in the corners and try to hang onto the puck and get to the net as soon as you can and shot it. It’s been pouncing my way."
The Red Wings continued their regular-season success of shots on goal, firing 40 at the Nashville net Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena. Detroit led the league in the regular-season with 2,820 shots taken, 151 more than second-place Carolina.
The Predators' defense caused problems for the Wings, though they outshot Nashville by a 2-to-1 margin.
“You can’t let it frustrate you, because that’s when they’ll create turnovers and they’ll get their scoring chances," Lidstrom said. "You have to stick with your game plan and keep shooting the puck and getting the puck to the net, because it’s eventually going to go in. And it finally did for us in that third period.”
Rookie goaltender Dan Ellis played well against the Red Wings once again, making 37 saves for Nashville.
"They came at us hard, we came at them hard," said Ellis, who was making his NHL playoff debut. "It was just another one of those games that we've played against them the entire season. All the games have been hard fought games, they've all been really close, and tonight was no different."
It took little time for the two Central Division rivals to show their distaste for one another. Pushing and slashing preceded the opening faceoff to start Game 1. The physical play showed throughout.
In the first period, Nashville let power play chances slip away, negating penalties by Nicklas Lidstrom and Franzen by taking their own.
Hasek and Ellis both played well in the first, making 10 and 11 saves, respectively.
Franzen was the first to find the back of the net, beating Ellis six-minutes into the opening period. After a shot from the point bounced around in front of the Nashville goal, the puck found its way to Franzen, who fired it home to give the Wings the early lead.
He scored a career-high 27 in the regular season, along with breaking Gordie Howe’s record for most game-winning goals in a month with six in March. He was named March’s third star of the month by the NHL.
Detroit dictated the play in the second period, out-shooting the Predators, 16-7. All the momentum changed, however, when Nashville tied up the contest with two-minutes remaining. Jordin Tootoo tipped in Greg Zanon’s shot from the left side of the Detroit blueline, sneaking the puck through Hasek’s legs.
In the third, the Red Wings answered back in form when Euro-Twins -- Pavel Datsyuk and Zetterberg -- teamed up to score the game-winning goal. With 14 minutes left to play, Zetterberg kept the puck inside the Nashville zone, and passed over to Datsyuk, then cut to the center of the ice. Zetterberg then one-timed Datsyuk’s return past Ellis’ left leg from just inside the blueline.
Zetterberg finished off the game by scoring an empty-net goal with 19-seconds remaining, off a pass from Kris Draper.
Playoff away games continue to be a problem for the Predators, who have never won a postseason game away from the comfortable confines of Nashville.
GAME NOTES: Chris Chelios tied former goaltender Patrick Roy for most NHL playoff games played with 247 when he took his first shift on Thursday. Chelios has now played in 23 different playoff seasons, which is an NHL record as well. ... Detroit played their 270th playoff game, which is second only to the Montreal Canadiens. The Red Wings have been a top-4 seed in the playoffs for 16 consecutive seasons. ... Scott Nichol left with an injury and would not return. Detroit led the regular-season series 5-3.
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