This isn't some softie-toffee Detroit club

Updated: April 14, 2007, 7:18 PM ET
By George Johnson | Special to ESPN.com

DETROIT -- The assignment might have defeated even the most multi-lingual of U.N. translators.

Dion Phaneuf and Dominik Hasek. Nose to cage. Slinging witticisms and dropping enough F-bombs to satisfy the quota of a single "Sopranos" episode.

"He was just yapping," Hasek said Friday in the wake of Detroit's comprehensive 4-1 decimation of the Flames in Game 1 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series. "He was frustrated. They were down three or four goals. That was part of his frustration.

"But I didn't want to back up." Pause. Small smile. "I didn't want to fight with him, either."

Too bad it didn't come off. It would've been the only bout on the fight card the Flames' could win. Detroit KO'ed virtually everything else. The skill battle. The determination battle. The emotional battle. Even the physical battle. Mathieu Schneider nearly launched Matthew Lombardi into the top row of The Joe (the cheapest ticket was $88, which might explain the surprising number of empty seats up high) in the first couple of minutes, establishing a few ground rules.

For those convinced the softie-toffee Detroiters might shrivel up into the fetal position in the face of a withering Calgary assault -- reconsider. These Wings will compete. They will not back off. They will even initiate. This is a far different proposition than the upset-minded Flames pummeled into submission in six games three years ago.

Younger. Stronger. Hungrier. No Hullie or Shanny or Stevie Y. Great players all, no argument. But there's a lift in the legs and in the attitude of this group. If the Flames are waiting for the Detroiters to automatically run down like a $5 knockoff Gucci watch bought off a blanket on a street corner, they could be out of this thing faster than Pavel Datsyuk speeding down the boards with a half-step on a defenseman.

The positive spin doctors in support of Calgary will undoubtedly trot out the standard line about it being just one game. "A loss is a loss is a loss." Save your breath. That wasn't just a loss. Any more than Vesuvius was just a burp of nature or The Black Death was just a plague. Game 1 must be considered a statement performance by the Wings. And the statement, issued on official club stationary, reads: "You've seen us. Now try and stop us."

That's going to be a large order.

Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen and Jiri Hudler might not yet possess the profiles of, say, Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom and Henrik Zetterberg, but they've already served notice of their willingness to play major parts in this playoff hunt.

"We're not a team famous for running around hitting people," Hasek said. "We're known for passing the puck, playing good positional hockey, good skating. But we play hard, too. We've played the same way all year."

And at playoff time, when the stakes couldn't be higher and the intensity level is being ratcheted up a few notches.

"I thought the boys did a good job sticking up for each other," said the hulking Todd Bertuzzi, still sidelined by post-concussion syndrome. He has received medical clearance and skated with the group Friday, but will miss Sunday's Game 2.

Only the magnificence of the Flames' Vezina Trophy winner Miikka Kiprusoff saved the opener from deteriorating into an embarrassing rout. During the second period, the shots were a comical 21-5 in favor of the Wings. Significantly, the lightning-in-a-bottle Datsyuk ended a 26-game playoff goal drought that stretched back to 2002. Detroit defensemen pounded Kiprusoff with 19 shots of their total 46, paced by Schneider's half dozen.

Calgary, meanwhile, rarely got close enough to The Dominator to find him, let alone test him. Before the series started, the Flames had droned on and on about the importance of crowding him, getting pucks on target, making the old man work, being so close they could identify his after shave and deodorant brands. For all that bold talk, Hasek might've mistaken Friday for a stat holiday.

"They're going to come harder Sunday, especially at the net," predicted The Dominator. "They can't be happy with the way they played. I looked at the sheet and saw that [Jarome] Iginla didn't have one shot. How often is that going to happen? We were lucky. We got the two early goals, they started to press and we took advantage of it."

Wings coach Mike Babcock didn't seem in the least surprised at his club's competitive zeal.

"Zetterberg finished six checks alone in the offensive zone. We expect all 12 of our forwards to be physical," Babcock said. "Being physical isn't just with the puck. It's when you don't have it, too.

"They're gonna be better. We have to be better. We can feel good about [Thursday] night for a few minutes, and then we have to get scared to death."

If the Wings are scared, imagine the sensations rippling through the Flames after seeing their opponent's speed, style and sass up close. The idea the two days between games can't help but be beneficial to the Flames is also open to debate. Sure, it allows them more time to make adjustments and another 48 hours for bone-crunching defenseman Robyn Regehr's ailing knee to recover sufficiently for him to suit up. But it also gives them more time to ponder just how thoroughly they were beaten and how enormous the task is in front of them.

On Friday, Calgary players talked of being more disciplined, more tenacious, more bruising. The physical battle, they promised, had not yet heated up. The Wings, not surprisingly, didn't seem overly concerned.

"What is intimidation, anyway?" asked Holmstrom. "It isn't only running around the ice like crazy, hitting guys. It's winning puck battles, beating people to loose pucks. Hudler, the smallest guy on the ice, did that a few times.

"Somebody blowing past you at 140 mph -- that's a form of intimidation, too."

The most frightening kind.

George Johnson, a columnist for the Calgary Herald, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

George Johnson, a columnist for the Calgary Herald, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.