Blue Jackets defenseman Mike Commodore falls into the Red Wings bench after being pushed by Red Wings forward Dan Cleary. (David Guralnick/The Detroit News)
The Wings are being downright merciless, even ruthless. And they're teaching the clueless, novice Blue Jackets a lesson that has to hurt.
This officially is a gigantic mismatch, primarily because when it comes to the playoffs, the Wings have no problem going into the rough, nasty, profane areas -- in Ohio or on the ice. Yes, always-festive Columbus got to host an NHL playoff game for the first time Tuesday night, and the Wings shut down the raucous party practically before it began.
This first-round series should be over quickly now because the experienced Wings are showing all the poise, and most of the skill. Tomas Holmstrom scored barely a minute into the game, slamming a loose rebound past rookie goalie Steve Mason, and really, that was about it, as the Wings rolled to a 4-1 victory and a 3-0 series lead.
If you're still keeping score at home, that's 12-2 in goal differential, and once again on this night, Chris Osgood thoroughly out-dueled the touted Mason. On their first three goals, the Wings simply planted themselves in the coveted area in front of Mason and took their shots. Henrik Zetterberg and Dan Cleary were particularly effective down low, with Zetterberg scoring twice, including an empty-netter.
As the Blue Jackets grew more frustrated, occasionally dangerous and periodically dumb, the defending champs shrugged and shook them off.
"I don't want to say people misunderstand us or underestimate us, but we kind of relish coming into a rink like this," said Osgood, who faced 32 shots. "It pumps us up, gets our adrenaline going. There's nothing we haven't seen before, and we've been able to stay composed. We're built for the playoffs, and we love the pressure, the excitement. We take pride in winning big games."
Big games require little sacrifices, and that's what the Wings are giving now. The signature play of the game, probably of the series, came late in the second period, right after Wings defenseman Brad Stuart leveled R.J. Umberger with a terrific check. Columbus defenseman Mike Commodore was so fired up, he answered with a wild check and ended up flying into the Detroit bench.
Seconds later, Commodore chased down Johan Franzen behind the Columbus net, knocked him down, stood over him and knocked him down again. While Commodore was busy making a dumb point and being called for a penalty, the puck popped out to Cleary, who coolly flipped it in front to Zetterberg, who scored for a 3-0 lead.
"A great pass by Cleary," Zetterberg said. "We had good net presence, and that's the way you win in the playoffs."
Doing the little things
The Wings know that way well. Holmstrom's goal came when he crashed the net and shoveled in a rebound of a Marian Hossa shot. Cleary scored late in the first period by deflecting a Franzen shot, collecting the puck in front of Mason, then whirling around and slamming it home.
Those are classic playoff goals. The Jackets might have taken notes.
"(The Wings) play a very mature game, and we get discouraged at times with that," Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Detroit squeezes the life out of you."
At least initially, the atmosphere here was great, with the pregame video introduction flashing images of the Blue Jackets and the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, which stunned the dastardly Russians. Ah, I get it. The Ruthless Red Army of Detroit is the evil foe down here. Um, sorry, no gigantic upset coming.
The Wings have flipped on their defensive switch in front of Osgood, although he really was tested in the third period. Meanwhile, the Jackets have just flipped out, getting booed by the home crowd when their putrid power play puttered.
The Wings should wrap this up Thursday night, then likely enjoy a week off while awaiting their second-round opponent. Honestly, I haven't seen anything this lopsided out of Columbus since Jim Tressel last took his Buckeyes to a BCS championship game. I'd call it embarrassing, except to be fair, the Blue Jackets are making the franchise's first playoff appearance and the Wings are making their 18th in a row.
Does the experience show? Um, is a Buckeye nuts? A resounding yes to both.
Nowhere was it more evident than on Zetterberg's clincher to make it 3-0, when a Blue Jacket went head-hunting and the Wings made him pay.
"Franzen's so big and strong, and for (Commodore) to double-down on him, I just got on the puck and got it to Z," Cleary said. "And when Z gets the puck in that position, you're in good shape."
The Wings are in great shape because they generally know where to be when the action is tense and the puck is loose. The poor Blue Jackets will keep chasing 'em but they're not catching 'em, not unless the Wings show a little mercy, which sure doesn't appear likely.