Both Pavel Datsuyk and Brandon Inge came into their respective games tonight (both, ironically, against Canadian teams) with something to prove. Datsuyk to the critics who said his $46.5 million contract extension was too expensive and that he couldn't deliver in the playoffs. Inge to the critics who said his contract extension was similarly inflated and who also said he couldn't buy a hit with the money he earned from signing that contract. Both delivered tonight.
Starting with the Detroit Red Wings, who defeated the Calgary Flames 4-1 in Game One of their Stanley Cup Playoffs matchup. And the outcome was never in doubt. As I wrote in my series preview earlier this week that one of the biggest problems the Red Wings have had in recent years in the playoffs is lack of scoring. One too many passes, a half-a-second too long of a hesitation before taking a shot. That was not a problem tonight. The Wings were flying from the drop of the puck, and they were clearly the better team on the ice. They had Calgary out of sync from early in the game and by the end, the only thing Calgary could do is try to rough up some of the Wings players in a vain attempt at saving face and taking some kind of momentum into Sunday's Game Two. Jarome Iginla looked especially perturbed with his team's poor performance and the Wings dominance and that's good news for the Red Wings. When Iginla is going after Wings players after the whistle instead of concentrating on scoring goals during play, that's advantage Detroit every time.
And leading the Wings was Pavel Datsuyk who didn't take long to score his first playoff goal of the season. Taking a pass from Tomas Holmstrom, Datsuyk deftly skated around a Flames defender and put a beautiful backhand shot past Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff in the second period. He later added an assist on Mathieu Schneider 's goal which gave Detroit a 4-0 lead. Datsuyk played a strong game and it should go a long way to quiting some of those who thought his contract extension, given his lack of playoff success, was undeserved. Datsuyk was named one of Allan Muir's "Three Stars" of the night in his CNNSI column.
The crafty center responded to criticism about previous playoff failures with a strong two-way game. He was 59 percent in the faceoff circle and dished out a pair of hits, but the highlight of his evening was a dazzling second period goal that broke a 26-game postseason drought.
Another player who I was very impressed with was Henrik Zetterberg. Playing for the first time in a month and a half, Zetterberg looked like he hadn't missed a beat. Certainly did not appear to be favoring his back and he was playing a very physical game, perhaps in an effort to prove that he was really was healthy and ready to go. Considering that the Wings would likely be lost without Zetterberg, the fact that he not only returned to the lineup, but looked very healthy, is a great sign going forward. And with it looking more and more like Todd Bertuzzi will be ready go by Tuesday's Game Three at the latest (he skated today and may in fact be ready for Game Two), the Wings look to be in good shape.
Kudos as well to Dominik Hasek who, despite not being challenged much by the Flames, stepped up when saves needed to be made. This game could have very easily been the kind of game which would have seen the Wings dominance, and time in Calgary's zone, lull Hasek in, taking away his concentration and sharpness. But to his credit, when Calgary did have scoring chances, he answered the call and then some. Good news all around heading into Game Two. Dave over at Gorilla Crouch has a great summary of the game for those that missed it (or were watching the Tigers). As does Matt from OnTheWings. Both good reads. Christy of Beyond the Jersey said she hadn't "enjoyed a playoff game like that in a long time." I agree.
Moving on to the Detroit Tigers another victory for the American League Central leaders, defeating the Toronto Blue Jays 5-4. And the hero of tonight's game was Brandon Inge, who coming into yesterday's game had yet to record a hit on the season. Today, though, Inge led the Tigers to victory (makes my "Don't worry Tigers fans" blog post look pretty prophetic). He hit a solo home run in the third inning, singled home a run, and chipped in a sacrifice fly, which turned out to be the game winning run. Now, one game does not a turnaround make, but now that he finally has the monkey off his back (to use a tired cliché) he can put his 0-20 start behind him and start to move forward, as he did tonight, slugging his first homerun.
Mike Maroth had a so-so outing, but picked up his second victory in as many outings. He gave up a lot of hits (9) and walked two, but for the most part, he was able to pitch himself out of trouble, including a bases loaded situation early in the game. The fact that Maroth is fully healthy and 2-0 on the season is enough to make anybody smile. Jose Mesa's performance, on the other hand, was not pretty. Thankfully Joel Zumaya and his 100 mile-per-hour-plus arm was ready to go and pick up his first save of the season, otherwise, Maroth's performance and Inge's terrific game may have been wasted.
And lastly, this is not Tigers related, but, man, you have to feel bad for the Seattle Mariners who just can't catch a break. After having their four game series with Cleveland snowed out, had tonight's game with Boston rained out. The LA Angels have played 10 games so far this season. The Mariners? 5. Talk about never being able to get any momentum going or getting into a rhythm to start the season.