May 2, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Game 1 message: Toughness to decide Wings-Ducks series

The winner will be the team that imposes its will, style

Ducks forward Bobby Ryan makes an unexpected line change after trying, and failing, to check Dan Cleary. (David Guralnick/The Detroit News)

Detroit

You push or punch or needlessly prod, you pay. That's pretty much the Red Wings' mantra now, in the blood and guts portion of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Anaheim came in with limbs flying and confidence soaring, a rising rival with specific intentions. But the Wings fought back in their traditional way, and in an unusual way, and at the end, in their time-tested way.

Blood was spilled and fists were thrown, and in a terrific game, both teams showed they're up for a good scrap. And how strange, amid the hits and rancorous scrums, it was the Wings' smooth, reliable captain, Nicklas Lidstrom, who fired two perfect shots to lift the Wings to a 3-2 victory over the Ducks in Game 1 Friday night.

Lidstrom's last goal came when he swooped in for a rebound and blasted it past Jonas Hiller with 49.1 seconds left. What made it possible was Johan Franzen dragging the defense out of the way, yet another reminder (as if we needed one) that these games will be won in the dirtiest part of the ice, in front of the goalies.

And, um, speaking of dirty, the Wings sure weren't happy with the hit by Ducks forward Mike Brown in the first period on an unsuspecting Jiri Hudler, who had just passed the puck. It sent Hudler sprawling and blood spewing, and sent Brown out of the game with a misconduct. On the five-minute power-play, Franzen scored to tie it 1-1 and essentially scrape away whatever rust the Wings showed.

"I think it was a dirty hit -- he should have more respect for players," the Wings' Henrik Zetterberg said. "It was an obvious hit to the head. It could've ended very badly."

Well, it did end badly for the Ducks, who gave up the goal. Lidstrom's other goal also came on the power-play, and that's the point of making a team pay. You can do it with punches, as rookie defenseman Jonathan Ericsson surprisingly did when he out-dueled Ducks forward Corey Perry in a solid fight, or you can do it on the power play.

Crime and punishment

The Ducks are known for getting a little, ahem, feisty. Hudler was sporting a few stitches and a grin afterward, and the Wings were unfazed.

"You want to punish a team by scoring," Lidstrom said. "They're a big, physical team and you have to be ready for anything. We can stand up for ourselves."

This was good, and it promises to get better, especially after Ducks coach Randy Carlyle strongly refuted the Wings' and referees' assessments of Brown's hit.

"He didn't hit him with his elbow, he hit him with his shoulder," Carlyle said. "And Hudler was admiring his pass. They can say all they want about a dirty hit, that's not a dirty hit."

Hoo-boy, this baby is officially under way. It was clear pretty quickly this would be a much different series than the Wings' stomping of Columbus. These are the last two Stanley Cup champions, loaded on defense, packed with punch (so to speak).

If the Wings have a rival now, it's surely Anaheim, the last team to beat them in the playoffs, eliminating them in a taut six-game series in 2007. That's old news but a relevant reminder about the way the Ducks play. They still have hulking Chris Pronger, who drew boos every time he touched the puck. They still have big forwards eager to bang.

It's ratcheting already, and it might be best to batten down for a good, long series. The Ducks were better early but the Wings gathered strength, out-shooting Anaheim 18-7 in the third period.

A turning point

The game turned long before that, though. With Anaheim up 1-0, Hudler was whistled for an elbowing penalty. A few minutes later, Brown either was exacting retribution or just being dumb and leveled Hudler, who dropped with a thud, blood staining his visor and the ice.

On the ensuing power play, Franzen skated in on Hiller and slammed the puck in, and if there's such a thing as a slam dunk in hockey, that's essentially what Franzen did.

"When I get an opportunity, I'm going to be in their faces as much as possible," Franzen said. "I don't think anyone on this team is backing down."

Just like that, the tone was set. The Ducks were playing their game and the Wings weren't ducking.

Early in the second period, Ericsson and Perry pushed each other after the whistle, words followed, and then the fists flew. It was a statement fight by Ericsson and he won it cleanly, landing a couple punches before landing on top of Perry.

It's not the Wings' normal response, that's for sure, but it took one of the Ducks' best players off the ice and confirmed yet again that when pushed, the Wings are fully capable of pushing back.

This was only the first foray of what should be a compelling test, but the Wings' response was appropriate. It was punchy and pointed, and perfectly timed.

bob.wojnowski@detnews.com">bob.wojnowski@detnews.com

Red Wings center Darren Helm checks Ducks center Ryan Carter in the open ... (John T. Greilick/The Detroit News)
Jiri Hudler was left bloodied by an elbow from Mike Brown of the Ducks in ...
Wings goalie Chris Osgood sticks with the puck and ignores the distraction ...
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