May 24, 2008 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski: Stanley Cup Finals Game 1: Red Wings 4, Penguins 0

Smothering Wings negate Penguins' stars

Pittsburgh's Darryl Sydor skates away while the Detroit Red Wings celebrate a third-period goal by Henrik Zetterberg. (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)

DETROIT -- This is what the Red Wings can do better than anyone. They can make opposing stars flat-out disappear. Poof. Gone. And they can conjure up their own stars out of, well, practically nowhere.

Mikael Samuelsson wasn't nowhere when the Stanley Cup Finals began Saturday night, but he sure wasn't anywhere prominent. Then all he did in Game 1 was go out and find the puck and keep flipping it past the goalie.

If the Wings are going to be this opportunistic and this smothering, and if Chris Osgood is going to be this darn good, the young Penguins could be in for a major schooling. Samuelsson scored the first two goals and the Wings were their standard puck-possessing selves, while harassing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin all over the ice in a 4-0 victory at Joe Louis Arena.

Owning the ice

The Wings did everything but knock the C off of Rosby, er, Crosby, holding him to three shots and Malkin to one. When Crosby did get in close in the third period, there was Osgood, squatting low and standing tall.

Heck, the Wings didn't even need an apparent Nicklas Lidstrom goal, which was wiped out by yet another questionable call by the referee, who said Tomas Holmstrom's stick interfered with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Seriously, is the NHL just making up the rule as it goes along? Maybe Holmstrom should dress himself in bubble-wrap so he doesn't harm those poor goalies.

Not that it ultimately mattered. Who knew that amid all the stars in this hotly anticipated series, the first star would be a guy who hadn't scored a goal in nearly a month, and the biggest star would be the unassuming goalie who never, ever gets the credit he deserves.

Samuelsson scored with guile. Osgood won the game with guts.

And the Wings clinched it by refusing to let the flashy Penguins play with the puck, outshooting them, 36-19.

Motown show

The first game of the NHL's showcase event was a one-sided show, especially after the Wings' shaky first period, especially when they started skating and bumping Crosby, especially when Osgood helped them survive the first-period flurry, when they were whistled for four straight penalties.

"We're a different team than what they played before," Osgood said. "We possessed the puck and we like to do it the majority of the time, if we can. I mean, that's the best defense, when we have the puck. I think we do it better than any other team in the league and that's what makes our defense so good."

Osgood was being modest, of course. He's an astounding 11-2 in these playoffs, and in this one, he made a couple of great saves on Marian Hossa early and a huge one on Crosby later. Crosby and Malkin couldn't generate much, and every time Crosby looked up, he was getting banged by Zetterberg or defenseman Niklas Kronwall.

And yes, that was the "other" superstar out there, Pavel Datsyuk, hitting any Penguin that moved. (Datsyuk led the team with six hits).

Zetterberg scored a late goal to seal it, but there's a chance the superstars will cancel out each other's offense for chunks of this series. That would leave opportunities for guys like Samuelsson and Dan Cleary, who also scored.

"They're all good players but I believe depth will be the difference," Cleary said. "What we try to do is hit them, keep them to the outside and limit them to one shot, and maybe one good chance."

That's about all Crosby and Malkin got. Lidstrom was his standard brilliant self, but it's the Wings' relentless forechecking that makes the difference. And their best players, Zetterberg and Datsyuk, are as good as anybody at it.

Crosby shrugged it off, and I'm certain he'll play better. I'm not certain he'll find many holes in the Wings' defense.

"For sure, they played a tight-checking game, but that's playoff hockey," Crosby said. "You still have to find ways around that. We have more success when we move our feet. In the second period, we didn't do that a whole lot."

The Wings completely dominated the second period, outshooting the Penguins 16-4. It was eerily similar to the way they've won other Cups, by simply treating the puck as if it were their personal toy.

And when the Penguins made mistakes -- a bad line change, a turnover forced by Kris Draper -- the Wings pounced. Specifically, Samuelsson pounced, swiping loose pucks and scoring both goals unassisted.

"With two good teams out there, it's going to be small mistakes that win the game," Samuelsson said. "Sometimes you get on a streak and it goes in for you and sometimes it doesn't."

Smothering the stars

In the end, it didn't matter that the Wings took too many penalties early, although they better not make that a habit. It didn't matter that yet another ref instituted the "Holmstrom is a menacing person" clause in the rulebook to wipe out a goal.

All that really mattered is that the Wings were suffocating, and the Penguins aren't used to getting suffocated. It had to be frustrating. The Wings can do that to teams and stars, no matter who they are.

You can reach Bob Wojnowski at bob.wojnowski@detnews.com">bob.wojnowski@detnews.com