Wearing an early groove to the penalty box is no way to beat the Detroit Red Wings. The Stars had that basic premise reinforced in Thursday night’s Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
Detroit was on the power play five times in the game’s first 27 minutes, and the Red Wings converted on three in their 4-1 victory.
In addition to the penalties, killer turnovers and the inability to handle Detroit’s speed and skill put the Stars further behind the 8-ball against an opponent that compiled the league’s best regular-season record.
“We didn’t skate, didn’t get to the level we needed to get to tonight,’’ Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “When you’re engaged in a game and doing things at a top level, we didn’t have enough people at that level tonight. Whether we left our legs in Dallas, time will tell. We’ve got to get our legs moving.’’
Brian Rafalski, Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom bagged man-advantage goals, Valtteri Filppula struck at even strength, and Chris Osgood stopped 20 shots to win his seventh straight in these playoffs.
Dallas had 15 man-advantage goals in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but the Stars were unable to capitalize on four power-play chances against the Red Wings.
Brenden Morrow notched his eighth goal of the playoffs at even strength late in the second period, but it was not nearly enough for the Stars, who were outshot, 31-21.
“You don’t like to kill penalties early and try to get in the flow of a game,’’ Morrow said. “We didn’t do a good enough job killing penalties. Special teams are usually one of our strengths but tonight it let us down a little bit.’’
For the first time in these playoffs, the Stars dropped a series opener. Winning the first two on the road propelled Dallas to playoff upsets of Anaheim and San Jose.
Detroit is a tougher assignment, however. The Red Wings’ ability to establish puck control wasn’t overstated.
The Red Wings had fresh legs, coming off a seven-day layoff since their second-round sweep of the Colorado Avalanche. Dallas had three days off following its four-overtime second-round knockout of San Jose on Sunday night, and perhaps the Stars appeared to be feeling the lingering effects of that marathon.
Bottom line: the Stars lacked the passionate effort they displayed throughout their first 12 playoff games.
“I’m not worried about how the Red Wings played. I’m worried about how we played,’’ Tippett said. “That wasn’t even close to the way we’ve played in the playoffs. Whether it was fatigue from that last game, whatever the reason, we didn’t play close to our capabilities. Give the Red Wings all the credit in the world. They did what they had to do to win, but we’re going to have to be much better.’’
Less than five minutes after the opening faceoff, Detroit found itself on a 5-on-3 for 1:26 with Dallas’ Mattias Norstrom and Mark Fistric in the penalty box. Norstrom’s hooking penalty was legit but Fistric’s roughing call was debatable, with Tippett later calling it “a pretty harsh penalty.’’
The Red Wings quickly capitalized at 4:28 of the first period on Rafalski’s wrister from the high slot with Holmstrom screening Marty Turco. The puck bounced to Rafalski after Nicklas Lidstrom’s shot glanced off the goalpost.
The Stars killed off 14 of 15 Red Wing penalties during the regular season, but they were unable to maintain near that pace in the playoff opener.
Detroit was on its third power play of the opening period when Franzen set up in front of the net and deflected Niklas Kronwall’s shot past Turco for a 2-0 edge at 15:34 of the first period. Franzen has 12 goals in his first 11 playoff games, five with the man advantage.
The Stars were already minus top penalty killer Stu Barnes, out with concussion-like symptoms, and then were without another of their best penalty killers, Jere Lehtinen, for the first two power-play goals. Lehtinen was in the locker room getting a facial cut stitched.
Dallas had its best chance of the first period with a little over two minutes left when Antti Miettinen slid a centering pass to Niklas Hagman, but Hagman couldn’t get a stick on the puck to nudge it by an out-of-position Osgood and into an open net.
It was a dominant first period by the Red Wings, who held a 10-4 shots edge and won 13 of 20 faceoffs.
Turco was under siege early in the second period, making a miraculous stop on a wraparound attempt by Henrik Zetterberg with about five and a half minutes gone.
Seconds later, Osgood made a great stop on Hagman, and then Detroit went on its fifth power play of the night with Mike Ribeiro whistled for hooking. Again, Holmstrom was encamped in front of the net and Turco had little chance to stop the deflection of Lidstrom’s shot from the left circle to give the Red Wings a 3-0 lead.
Turco felt he’d been interfered with by Holmstrom, but the referees allowed the goal to stand.
“We were told that if there was a player in blue paint, that would be no goal but obviously that didn’t happen,’’ Tippett said. “When they’re in the blue paint, our goaltender is supposed to have the ability to do his job. The third goal, that wasn’t the case. Marty’s going to have to be more aggressive, we’re going to have to be more aggressive in front to deal with those people in front if they’re not going to call it how to me they’re supposed to call it.’’
Filppula split the Dallas defense, went in alone and beat Turco with an even-strength wrist shot at 15:37 of the second period to make it a four-goal mountain for the Stars to climb.
Morrow got the Stars on the score sheet on a rebound of Steve Ott’s shot at 18:53 of the second period to give Dallas a little momentum heading into the second intermission.
The Stars were better in the third period, but were unable to generate enough scoring chances for a serious comeback as Detroit was content to protect its lead and run out the clock.
None of the goals Turco allowed could be considered soft. He expects a harder effort from his team in Game 2.
“A lot of that had to do with the team in front of him tonight, not so much Marty,’’ Tippett said.
“Personally I don't think it's all that difficult a spot to be in because it's just Game 1,’’ said Turco, now 0-8-2 for his NHL career in Detroit. “This team has had great resiliency during the playoffs and we will bounce back in Game 2. I didn't see the first one (goal) and the second one I did see but I was looking the other way. Tonight, all of them found their way in, off bars, off me, whatever. It was generally a tough night and we definitely have some things to discuss. I have full confidence in our coaches and our veterans to do what is necessary for the next one.’’
Now the Stars must regroup for Game 2 on Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena.
“We’ve got to forget about this but learn from our mistakes at the same time,’’ Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas said. “We know we can play better. Tonight they outplayed us, but we weren’t really there, we didn’t play our game. You’ve got to give them credit. They’re a good team. If you let them play, let them skate, they’re going to burn you.’’
- In addition to Barnes, also out for the Stars was defenseman Philippe Boucher (hip). LW Brad Winchester made his first appearance of the playoffs, playing on the fourth line with Toby Petersen and Ott.