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St. Louis Cools It to Win at Detroit

NHL playoffs: Blues don't buy into aggressive play, use two Campbell goals to beat Red Wings, 4-2, in Game 1.

May 09, 1998|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DETROIT — He was slashed and hacked, high-sticked and cross-checked, taunted and teased. But no matter how aggressively the Detroit Red Wings tried to get St. Louis defenseman Chris Pronger off his game in the opener of their Western Conference semifinal, the Blues' captain wasn't biting.

"It's certainly something they tried in the last two series, last year and the year before, and I let it get to me before," Pronger said of the teams' most recent playoff encounters, both won by Detroit. "But for us to be successful, we've got to be disciplined, and that starts with me."

From Pronger on down, the Blues on Friday played with a discipline the Red Wings lacked and a ferocity that exposed Detroit's defensive deficiencies in detail. Pronger's intelligent play, two goals by Mighty Duck reject Jim Campbell and the Blues' special-team prowess propelled them to a 4-2 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champions at Joe Louis Arena, preserving their distinction as the only unbeaten team in the playoffs.

"Obvious, they're champions and they're going to be tough to dethrone," Blues Coach Joel Quenneville said. "At the same time, I think we have the ingredients, but we know it's not going to be easy."

They made it look easy, even though defenseman Al MacInnis missed the game because of a pulled groin muscle. Pronger picked up the slack in minutes--he played a game-high 32--and in leadership. "The first round against L.A., he was OK. Tonight, we had to call upon him to play a more defensive role and he was real solid," Quenneville said.

Despite being off since they completed their first-round sweep of the Kings on April 29, the Blues scored on their first shot on Chris Osgood, a short-handed goal by Todd Gill off a three-on-one break at 3:55. They also killed a five-on-three Detroit advantage in the first five minutes of the game. "That kind of got everybody into it early," Brett Hull said. "Because we had been off for eight days, our legs weren't really going."

Although the Red Wings pulled even at 14:33 of the second period on a long shot by Igor Larionov that was deflected past Grant Fuhr by Martin Lapointe, the Blues sprinted away in the third period. They repeatedly outraced the slow Red Wing defensemen to create three-on-two and two-on-one rushes. "At our own blue line, we gave up the puck too much," Detroit defenseman Jamie Macoun said. "Controlling the blue lines is controlling the game, and we didn't."

Unlike Pronger, Detroit captain Steve Yzerman displayed a lack of restraint when he high-sticked Pronger with Brent Gilchrist already in the penalty box, giving St. Louis a five-on-three power play to open the third. Campbell didn't waste it, backhanding his own rebound past Osgood 18 seconds into the period.

"We took some undisciplined penalties," said Yzerman, who was given three minor penalties by referee Kerry Fraser. "We just got sloppy."

The Blues padded their lead to 3-1 at 3:48, after Pierre Turgeon took advantage of a mistake by Detroit's Larry Murphy behind the Red Wings' net and centered a pass to Hull, who flicked the puck past Osgood's glove. Campbell sent the capacity crowd of 19,983 streaming home at 10:28, when he lifted the rebound of a Geoff Courtnall shot over Osgood two seconds after a St. Louis power play had ended.

Detroit made the final margin appear respectable with a power-play goal by Tomas Holmstrom after Coach Scotty Bowman pulled Osgood to get a six-on-four manpower advantage. But the Blues, who lost a conference semifinal series to the Red Wings in double overtime of the seventh game in 1996 and lost a first-round series in six games last year, would not yield Friday. "For us to win, it shows the character and depth this team has," Gill said. "It's fun to play for this team. It's the funnest part of my career."

Losing wasn't fun for the Red Wings. "We didn't play well enough, that's as simple as I can put it," Macoun said. "Right now, they're a very confident team, and we've got to knock that out of them a little bit [Sunday in Game 2]. We've got to move the puck a little better and be disciplined."

That's a lesson the Blues have already learned.

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