A lot has been made of the Detroit Red Wings' collective age, but in defeating the St. Louis Blues 3-2 in Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal on Saturday, the Red Wings looked old the way a 20-year-old Volvo is old.
They're stylish enough, but above all, the Red Wings are reliable and efficient, and even when there is the odd breakdown, there's always Dominik Hasek to fall back on.
Scott Mellanby finally solved Hasek with a pair of third-period goals to give the crowd at the Joe Louis Arena some reason to fidget, but Hasek again frustrated the Blues, while captain Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille -- all with 600-plus career goals -- made the Detroit scoresheet look like a future Hall of Fame legacy project.
That late-game nervousness aside, the Red Wings thoroughly erased memories of their inauspicious opening to the 2002 playoffs, when they were stunned by the Vancouver Canucks in the first two games of their Round 1 series in Detroit.
Of course, those two games served as a wake-up call to the veteran crew of future Hall-of-Famers, who went on to dispatch the Canucks in the next four games, and that cool confidence, opportunistic scoring and superb team play have all been in abundance over the two games against the Blues.
So has the excellent goaltending of Hasek, who has stepped up his play since his shaky start in the playoffs -- instrumental given that the Blues outshot Detroit 37-31 in Game 2.
After being thoroughly stonewalled by Hasek and the stalwart Red Wings defence in dropping a 2-0 decision in Game 1, the Blues knew they had wreak a bit of havoc in front of the Detroit goal and distract the Dominator if they were to have a chance of leaving Detroit with a split in series.
Smart dump-ins, strong forechecking and aggressive pinching by the St. Louis defence, most notably captain Chris Pronger accounted for a lot of the Blues' chances, including an early flurry when they managed to take up position in front of Hasek, but they were unable to rattle the Czech, who responded with some big saves.
"He was superb," Detroit coach Scotty Bowman said of Hasek. "He didn't have any chance on the goals. In the first two periods, he made many, many saves."
Having weathered the first storm from the Blues, the Red Wings quickly pounced when the hitherto brilliant St. Louis goalie, Brent Johnson, was victimized by a goofy bounce off the end boards. Johnson went out to play a Steve Duchesne shoot-in, but the puck struck some unevenness in the boards, which gave Johnson trouble throughout the game.
The puck scooted past Johnson an on to the stick of Sergei Fedorov, who tapped it over to Yzerman, who was gliding toward the net and knocked it in before Johnson could scramble back into position.
Johnson couldn't be faulted on that or either of the other goals potted by Detroit, who benefited from six power plays, converting two of them.
Niklas Lidstrom set up the second Detroit goal on the power play with a sharp pass from the right point to Brett Hull, who managed to get himself open at the side of the net for approximately the millionth time in his career. Johnson scampered across, but couldn't close pads pads in time and Hull's one-timer bounced around between them until it crossed the goal line.
With Jamal Mayers in the penalty box on a very iffy interference call, Johnson made a series of great saves, but Robitaille parked himself at the lip of the crease, screening Johnson while Fredrik Olausson, making his first start of the series, wound up for a point shot, which rippled across Robitaille's jersey and past Johnson.
The Blues poured shots in on Hasek on their own power-play, but Hasek stood his ground, casually making a glove save on Dallas Drake, who was in on a partial break, and a superb toe save on Keith Tkachuk. It was all Tkachuk could do not to slam his stick into the goalpost out of frustration and disgust.
"I was maybe lucky, maybe I made good saves," Hasek said. "Of course, they were probably frustrated."
Mindful of time ticking away and perhaps inspired by Johnson's stop of a Fedorov breakaway at the end of the second period, the Blues came out flying in the third, leading to their first goal of the series. Pronger pinched in low to pick up a shoot-in behind the Detroit net, tipped it to Mellanby, who deposited a wraparoun before Hasek could get his bearings.
The goal energized the Blues, who went to the net a little more fearlessly, but to little effect until the final two minutes, when Johnson was pulled. So confident and serene were the Red Wings that despite have several opportunities to attempt empty-netters from their own end, they opted to coolly rag the puck in the neutral zone.
That calm reserve nearly backfired on them, though, when Mellanby scored with 41 seconds left, finishing off a two-on-one pass from Tkachuk by ripping it over a sliding Hasek.
However, the Blues couldn't get any plays unspooled in the remaining time.
Game 3 is scheduled for Tuesday in St. Louis.
"The third game is always a big game because either you get life, or you lose a lot of life," Robitaille said. "For us, it's going to be important to come out real strong."