Experience pays off for Wings

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:53 PM ET


 DETROIT -- Who said you can't buy experience?

 It took a while but the Detroit Red Wings' high-priced lineup finally brushed the unfancied Nashville Predators aside in their Stanley Cup playoff opener 3-1 on third-period goals by Kris Draper, Tomas Holmstrom and Robert Lang. Adam Hall connected for Nashville seconds into the game. It wasn't a pretty one.

 "We were trying to do too much and lost our ice balance," Wings coach Dave Lewis said. "It's a bit of a relief. You want to keep your home-ice advantage. It was an ugly win."

 Much has been made of the relative playoff experience of teams in this year's playoffs and there's much to be said for it. There are aspects of spring hockey that are invaluable.

 At the same time, discipline, hard work and commitment go a long way and the Predators made it work for two solid periods. Detroit entered the contest with 2,106 games worth of collective playoff experience while the new-comers from country music country boasted a total of 233 Stanley Cup playoff games in their lineup.

 Nashville certainly started on the right note, driving right to the Detroit goal from the first drop of the puck. The goal came almost as quickly as the first octopus of the playoffs. The last strains of the national anthem were still ringing through Joe Louis Arena when the eight-tentacled Detroit playoff tradition plopped messily to the ice.

 "My concern was that we not be in awe of the Wings and get rattled," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "We have to make a few minor adjustments. We were in it but Lang made a great move (to score the insurance goal). That's why they got him."

 When Hall connected 16 seconds after the opening faceoff, it was the fastest goal the Red Wings had conceded in 49 years. Detroit goalie Manny Legace, who has taken the bulk of the netminding chores due to injuries to Dominik Hasek and Curtis Joseph, couldn't hold a shot in his catcher. It popped to the right side of the crease and Hall snapped it home.

 Not since the Toronto Maple Leafs' Sid Smith connected 17 seconds into a 1955 game had the Wings trailed so quickly.

 It wasn't until the third period that the Wings tied it on a similar score. Draper, coming off the best scoring season of his career, cut over the Nashville blue-line and caught Tomas Vocoun moving to his right for a shot between the pads at 37 seconds.

 Detroit went a goal up at 4:55 when Holmstrom, from his usual position directly in front of the goalie, tipped Mathieu Schneider's blueline drive past Vocoun.

 Lang outbattled Nashville defenceman Dan Hamhuis for a free puck 1:45 from the end to clinch it.

 It wasn't easy.

 The Predators, employing a disciplined two- and sometimes three-man forecheck, impaired the Wings' normal fluidity for two periods. Obviously well-coached, the Predators combined their speed and presence to rattle the Wings at almost every turn and were willing to pay a price to complete the play.

 Reduced to five defencemen when Marek Zidlicky went out with an undisclosed problem in the first period, they didn't skip a beat on the back line, with Hamhuis, Kimmo Timonen and Jason York taking up the bulk of the play on defence.

 Had the Predators connected on a penalty shot earlier, the Wings would have been in deeper trouble. Steve Sullivan, harassed on a break-in by Chris Chelios, was awarded the free shot at 1:31 but drilled it wide to Legace's glove side.

 For all their presence, it is difficult to see the Predators prevailing on guts and will. They're outmanned and as any series such as this goes on, the continual roll of four solid Detroit lines is bound to take a toll.

 Nashville played about as well as it could. The Wings were a long way from their best but still got the win, which pretty well says it all.


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