DETROIT -- On a team bursting at the seams with stars, a gritty grinder stole the show.
Darren McCarty scored three goals, all in the third period, as the Detroit Red Wings beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-3 Saturday in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
''I guess when you only score five during the regular season and haven't scored any in the playoffs, you're due,'' McCarty said before dozens of reporters in a conference room. ''I've always heard about this room, I've just never been it. It's nice. Thanks for having me.''
McCarty's only other career hat trick didn't really count because it came in an exhibition game against Toronto two years ago. He's never scored more than three goals in one postseason, or 20 goals in a regular season.
Despite his meager numbers, Hockeytown will always adore the winger for his charisma and his series-winning goal in the 1997 Stanley Cup.
McCarty's rugged style provides a needed contrast on a team full of stars oozing with talent.
''We've got the ten or eleven Hall of Fame guys that get it done each night, but when they don't get it done, we have different guys to step up,'' McCarty said. ''Tonight was my night. It's about time, but it's one game.
''I'll cherish this for a couple days.''
McCarty's teammates may joke about his day in the spotlight longer, however.
''I have a better chance of winning the lottery than he does of getting a hat trick,'' Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman said.
Detroit, which has won nine of its last 10 games, will play host to the defending Stanley Cup champion Avalanche again in Game 2 on Monday.
The Red Wings don't think they will face a shaken team.
''They don't get rattled,'' McCarty said.
McCarty put the Red Wings ahead 3-2 -- giving them their first lead -- early in the third. He provided a two-goal cushion midway through the period, then padded the lead with 4:05 left. He was promptly showered with hats.
Red Wings goaltender Dominik Hasek, who is 5-0 in his last five games at home, stopped 24 shots. Patrick Roy made 25 saves in the much-anticipated meeting of two of the game's best goalies.
Colorado got off to a good start despite being pushed to seven games by San Jose in the conference semifinals. Detroit had a week to rest after eliminating St. Louis in five.
Colorado's Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk gave the Avalanche 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the first and second period, but Detroit's Tomas Holmstrom and Brett Hull each answered with a goal toward the end of each period to tie the game.
McCarty's go-ahead goal was scored just above Roy's glove on a wrist shot from between the circles.
In keeping with playoff tradition in Detroit, octopi were thrown onto the ice.
''That first goal got the crowd going, got the Wings going,'' Colorado coach Bob Hartley said.
Other traditions were not repeated in this fierce rivalry -- no punches and no blood. With 19 seconds left, sticks were dropped and there was some shoving, but a brawl didn't ensue.
This is the fifth time these Western Conference powers have met in the playoffs since 1996.
The Avalanche have won three of those series, including the last two, in 1999 and 2000. The only time Detroit eliminated the Avalanche was in 1997 en route to its first of two straight Stanley Cups.
These teams have combined to win four of the last six Stanley Cups -- Colorado last year and in 1996 and Detroit in 1997 and '98.
McCarty beat Roy's glove with his second goal on a slap shot from the right circle, and then lifted a shot over the sprawling goalie off a rebound for the third goal.
''Those were great shots,'' Detroit's Brendan Shanahan said. ''they weren't three garbage goals.''
Alex Tanguay cut the Avalanche's deficit to 5-3 with 2:00 left, but they couldn't get closer.
Colorado's Peter Forsberg, the leading scorer in the playoffs with 19 points, saw his eight game point streak end.
Notes: The start of the game was delayed by about five minutes because one-third of the ice was too dim, due to a power outage. ... Sakic, who scored Colorado's first power-play goal since Game 3 of its series with San Jose, has eight goals in the playoffs. ... Detroit's Igor Larionov missed his third straight game with a knee injury. ... Colorado's streak of four straight appearances in the conference finals is the best in the NHL since the New York Islanders advanced to six consecutive from 1979-84.
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