Wings overpower Predators

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 2:17 PM ET


 DETROIT -- Not many teams could have managed it, but the Detroit Red Wings impersonated their way to a critical victory over the Nashville Predators last night.

 Right-wingers impersonating left-wingers, centres impersonating both, line combinations changing by the shift, the Wings energized themselves and baffled the Predators en route to a decisive 4-1 victory to take a 3-2 lead before heading to Nashville for tomorrow afternoon's sixth game.

 In recent days, the Wings had been accused of impersonating a Stanley Cup contender, particularly after dropping a 3-0 decision to the fast but unheralded Predators. It stung and the Wings responded.

 Brendan Shanahan said all the switching around kept the Wings alert and made line-matching difficult for Nashville. Having played for former Wings coach Scotty Bowman, who pretty well invented new line combinations on the fly, the veteran Wings were able to carry it off smoothly.

 "We spoke about being very alert on the bench, calling out your position and calling out the guys (you'd be on with next shift)," Shanahan said. "I played about half right-wing, half left-wing. We showed a lot of different looks, wingers taking faceoffs and everything."

 The look Nashville goalie Tomas Vokoun saw most often was a swirl of red jerseys buzzing his net as the Wings scored three first-period goals.

 "When you do it, the players on the bench have to stay alert," Red Wings head coach Dave Lewis said of the changes. "They have to know who's up next and what position they're playing. It's harder (for the opponent) to match up when you do that."

 The decisive outcome proved Vokoun is beatable after he stopped 82 of 83 shots the last two games. For the first time in the series, the Wings came out with their game, rather than letting Nashville set the tempo.

 "As I've said all along, if we give them time and space, they are going to do what they did today," said Nashville coach Barry Trotz.

 That, coupled with the widest array of lines the Predators have seen this spring, made the Wings dominant across all three zones, but most importantly, dominant on the scoreboard.

 Detroit got two goals on their first four shots, by Henrik Zetterberg and Brett Hull, then added another via Shanahan's short-handed score before the first period was out.

 Niklas Lidstrom clicked on a power-play blast midway through the second period and Nashville matched it on Sergei Zholtok's power-play score in the final minute of the period.

 As important, goaltender Curtis Joseph was sound during his first start since March 20 against Los Angeles.

 His 19 saves seemed as gratifying to his teammates as to himself in this, the most turbulent season of his career.

 "It was a tough game for Curtis," Shanahan said, pointing to the ankle injury that had bumped him to backup behind Manny Legace.

 "But he responds to being in tough spots. That's why Curtis is Curtis. To be thrown into a pot of boiling water and come out the way he has shows how tough he is."

 Joseph's trials began the moment Dominik Hasek decided to come out of retirement and Detroit management welcomed him back. Suddenly, heir-apparent Joseph, who had moved from Toronto two seasons ago in quest of a Stanley Cup ring, was more like air-apparent -- as in flying out of Detroit to another team.

 The Wings couldn't find a taker for his $8-million salary, so he stayed on the Red Wing goaltender roulette wheel.

 First, he spent some time in the minors. He got in when backup-cum-starter Manny Legace was yanked Tuesday, stopping all nine shots he faced in 18 minutes of play.

 "I wasn't concerned about the ankle but was a bit about not playing for so long," Joseph said. "It's been a different year, no question."

 He was asked if he'd ever had a year like it.

 "Uh . . . no," he replied with a smile.


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