By Allan Muir, SI.com
Watching the Red Wings lock it down for the final two periods Saturday night against Dallas, you could tell they're feeling it. Two more wins and they're in the Stanley Cup finals.
The way Detroit is rolling, that may mean just two more games in the season for the feckless and frustrated Stars.
The 2-1 final score might suggest a hard fought playoff battle, but there was little tension as to the end result. Long before they'd sealed this business-like victory over the visitors, there was a certain sense of inevitability to the proceedings. Even absent the services of their hottest player, Johan Franzen, the Wings attacked the contest with a confidence rooted in 82 games of bedrock. This was classic Detroit hockey, a masterful display of puck control that flustered the Stars and left their confidence in tatters.
It's a testament to the depth of the Wings that their offense didn't miss a step despite losing Conn Smythe contender Franzen. Announced as a scratch 30 minutes prior to the opening faceoff due to "concussion-like symptoms," he's likely to miss Game 3 as well. No matter. Even without his league-leading 12 goals in the lineup, the remaining Wings still peppered Marty Turco with 34 shots, using their peerless transition game and crisp, cross-ice passing to test Turco's lateral mobility and his suddenly dodgy glove hand.
Both goals, in fact, came off those cross-ice dishes. The opener, scored by rookie Darren Helm, was set up by Jiri Hudler off a beautiful neutral zone steal. With Helm streaking down the boards, Turco overplayed the angle, allowing the rookie to beat him high on the glove side. The winner by Henrik Zetterberg came on a late-first period power play set up by another 60-foot pass, this time from Pavel Datsyuk. This one also went glove side. Going by how often they attacked that area, it's obvious the Wings recognized that's where the Sharks went for the final three goals of their series.
As with the series opener, the Wings spent the majority of the night with the puck, forcing the Stars to abandon their physical game and chase the biscuit. Faceoff control, no, domination, again was the key. After stunning Dallas in Game 1 by winning 63 percent of the draws, Detroit upped their success rate to an unheard of 71 percent in Game 2. The play that led to the game-winner started with a draw won by Zetterberg, and Dallas' final four power-play chances were whittled away by their inability to control the puck off the faceoff.
To be sure, this was a fair better showing for Dallas than its sluggish effort in Game 1. It started in net with Turco, who made 32 saves to keep his team within striking distance, and a reconfigured defense that prevented the Wings from setting up camp in his crease. But while he was making the big stops at one end, his 'mates missed chance after chance to light the lamp at the other.
He should sue them for non-support. There'll be much talk of Turco's 0-9-2 record in Detroit, but two goals in two games isn't enough to allow him, or any other goalie, to beat the Wings.
The announced plan was to blister Chris Osgood with shots. Eighteen, their total in Game 2, won't do the trick. It's a sign of their offensive struggles that six of 12 forwards dressed for the Stars failed to land a single shot on net. That group includes captain Brenden Morrow -- who earns a pass based on his previous efforts -- and Niklas Hagman, one of a group of disappointing players who need to make a significant contribution if the Stars are to stop the bleeding in Game 3.
Hagman, who flubbed a partial breakaway late in the first, was one of five players who missed the net completely on a high percentage scoring chance when the result was still in the air. In fact, missed opportunity was the theme of the game for the Stars, who as a group appear to be feeling the pressure of the semifinals. That was particularly evident on a four-on-one chance -- when was the last time you saw one of those in organized hockey? -- that concluded with triggerman Steve Ott brutally shanking one wide right from 10 feet out.
That they've managed just two goals is worry enough. But the Stars also have to be concerned that, with the game on the line in the third, they couldn't generate a single decent scoring chance. Although they simplified their transition game -- and reduced the turnovers that killed them in Game 1 -- they still struggled to maintain control of the puck in the Detroit end in the final frame. Time after time they were beaten to loose pucks or, when they did arrive in time, were muscled off, allowing Detroit a clean breakout. There's plenty of talent on that roster, but nowhere near enough to compete with the Wings without a better effort.
Each of their previous series saw the Stars returning home with a 2-0 series lead in their pocket, and each time there was concern that a return to the American Airlines Center might not exactly bring out their best.
This time, the benefits of home cooking are all they can hope for. Last change should help. They should gain back a bit of edge on faceoffs as well. But without considerably more spring in their step, and finish in their sticks, they won't be more than a speed bump on Detroit's road to the Cup.
Allan Muir is the senior editor of Beckett Hockey magazine and serves as the NHL's official scorer for Dallas Stars home games.