Original Six matchup brings playoff atmosphere to The Joe
DETROIT -- If you closed your eyes Friday night at Joe Louis Arena and listened to the crowd, you might have thought you were at a Stanley Cup Finals game.
Two of the top teams in the league, the Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens, played in Detroit for the first time since Nov. 26, 2008.
There were nearly as many chants of " Go, Habs, go!" as there were "Let's go, Red Wings!"
The Wings (18-6-3) held on for an important 4-2 victory over the Canadiens (18-9-2), who came in on a three-game winning streak. It snapped the Wings' three-game skid.
But almost more than the victory, what I took away from the game was the whole atmosphere of the night.
"Awesome atmosphere," said Niklas Kronwall, who scored the goal that put the Wings up 2-1 in the second period. "Fans were great, cheering for both sides. It's a pretty cool feeling. It's always something special when you play the Original Six teams. Obviously Montreal, the history goes way back. We didn't really play our best, obviously, in the third period, but we were able to hold our ground. Jimmy (Howard) came up with some huge saves for us and gave us the win."
Speaking of Howard, he definitely heard the Montreal fans loud and clear.
"The energy was great but one thing that really fired me up was when I heard the crowd, the Habs fans, cheering for Carey Price there," Howard said. "They were chanting his name. I thought that was a little much and it definitely fired me up."
Howard didn't need much firing up early, but in the third period, he had to be at the top of his game to make 18 saves as the Canadiens poured it on.
Howard improved to 16-4-2 while Price, who had a strong game for Montreal, saw his record fall to 17-8-2.
"I thought Price was sensational for them early and I thought Howard was sensational for us late," coach Mike Babcock said. "Obviously two real good teams, they play the game quick, they know how to play and every time we turned it over we were in trouble. I thought that was evident in the third period. But it was a good game. It was nice to win."
Pavel Datsyuk scored the game-winner on a 2-on-1 when Jonathan Ericsson smartly passed him the puck and Datsyuk scooped the puck into the top of the net at 15:31 of the second.
Even Datsyuk noticed the crowd.
"I like this atmosphere, lots of Canadiens fans come -- welcome," Datsyuk said. "It's a nice atmosphere."
Hockey Night in Canada even made a special Friday night appearance at the Joe and had to be pleased with everything -- the atmosphere, the exciting game, the tradition.
The Wings aren't going to move to the Eastern Conference anytime soon, it seems, so is it too much to ask for them to play the Original Six teams at least home-and-home every season? Maybe cut one game out against the Columbus Blue Jackets or something?
Nick Lidstrom, who was playing in just his 25th game against the Canadiens in his 19-year career, said it was a fun game to play in.
"You could hear when they stepped on the ice right before the game, that a lot of fans cheered and you knew it was going to be a lot of electricity in the arena," Lidstrom said. "That's what happened. We felt it, too. It felt just like a playoff game."
Lidstrom didn't have the game-winner but he might have had the most important goal of the game. He scored with 1.2 seconds left in the first period to tie the game as the Wings were on a 5-on-3.
"We had some chances on the 5-on-3 and I know it's only a few seconds left so I'm trying to sneak in," he said. "Homer (Tomas Holmstrom) had the puck behind the net, tried to look for a pass from him or from Pav (Pavel Datsyuk). It was just a matter of a couple seconds but I was able to get that one in before the buzzer went."
After the game, Babcock might have been kidding around, but he had an idea that just might work.
"I think it's real special when Original Six teams play," Babcock said. "I wish we did this more often. It would have been a real big crowd if we would have played in the Big House tonight. That's where it should have been."
It's certainly an interesting thought, especially on the eve of the Big Chill game.
Dec. 11, 2010