DETROIT -- Until last night, the Detroit Red Wings hadn't lost a game this postseason at Joe Louis Arena. But last night, in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Stanley Cup final series, the New Jersey Devils beat the Red Wings, 2-1.
"I'm happy we stole one," said New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire, after Claude Lemieux scored the game-winning goal.
Game 2 will be played here Tuesday night, before the series moves to New Jersey for Games 3 and 4.
Lemieux has scored his share of game-winning postseason goals. This one was No. 14 and moved him into seventh place on the NHL's all-time list. That it was Lemieux who produced when the game was on the line did not surprise his coach.
"I've known Claude for a long time and I know in the playoffs he is a hard worker and that he focuses better in the postseason," Lemaire said. "He is getting great goals for us."
The two sides were so evenly matched through the first two periods, one side or the other needed something great. They had entered the last 20 minutes tied 1-1 on power-play goals by New Jersey's Stephane Richer and Detroit's Dino Ciccarelli.
But at 3:17 of the period, Lemieux one-timed a rebound past Red Wings goalie Mike Vernon for the 2-1 lead.
"We had a line change and Johnny MacLean was kind of by himself and got a shot that kind of came back out into the slot and I was there for a kind-of open shot," Lemieux said. "There was no one around and it was a pretty difficult shot for the goalie."
After a regular season in which he had scored just five goals, Lemieux came into this championship series as the postseason's leading goal-scorer. The one he netted last night was No. 12.
But just as important was the way New Jersey played in its own zone because if there was a trap, the Red Wings didn't see it -- at least not in the neutral zone. The Wings breezed through the neutral zone. It was in around the Devils' net that they were muddled.
"We've had things pretty much our own way so far and we didn't play well," said Ciccarelli. "We didn't play our system as well as we have in the past. If you give up opportunities when the shots are the way they were, you're going to have things go against you and they got the goal. It's one game -- a reality check for us."
Once Detroit got into the New Jersey zone the Devils refused to give the Wings an uncontested pass.
Despite Detroit coach Scott Bowman's contention that "overall, we had chances to get the puck to the net," the Devils held the Wings to one shot in the final 10 minutes and their total of 17 was a season and postseason low, wiping out the previous low of 22 against Vancouver on Jan. 27.
"That's been our success throughout the whole playoffs," said Lemaire. "When we do that, we're playing pretty good. Detroit had the puck around our net much of the time, but I was satisfied with the way we were handling their pressure and I knew eventually that we'd get our chances, too."
Detroit played the final period without center Keith Primeau, who left with five minutes to play in the second period after getting hit from behind by Scott Stevens.
"It was an innocent hit on his shoulder," said Stevens, "but he wasn't ready for it and that's when injuries can happen, I guess."
Primeau, according to Bowman, suffered back spasms. The extent of the discomfort will not be known until at least today.
Much of the second period featured Ciccarelli, the former Washington Capital. He got high-sticked and then scored on the power play at 6:52, which was a good thing at the time, because the Devils had taken a 1-0 lead on their second power-play opportunity on Richer's goal.
When Ciccarelli scored, it was the first legitimate chance the 19,875 fans here had to practice their 40-year-old tradition of tossing octopuses onto the ice. But it was not the first time last night, that octopuses were seen.
Before the game began, a giant purple and gray octopus descended from the ceiling and fans threw about a dozen octopuses on the ice during the National Anthem.
New Jersey .. .0 ..1 ..1 ..-- ..2
Detroit .. .. .0 ..1 ..0 ..-- ..1
DETROIT RED WINGS
vs. NEW JERSEY DEVILS
(New Jersey leads series, 1-0)
Last night: Devils, 2-1
Tuesday: at Detroit, 8, ESPN
Thursday: at New Jersey, 8, ESPN
Saturday: at New Jersey, 8, Fox
June 26: at Detroit, 8*, ESPN
June 28: at N. Jersey, 7:30*, ESPN
June 30: at Detroit, 8*, Fox