ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Detroit Red Wings are getting a first-hand look at what the San Jose Sharks experienced in the first round against the Anaheim Ducks.
Not only is Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller foiling them at every turn, but in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals, the Swiss netminder received a large dose of good fortune as well.
Hiller made 45 saves in another stellar postseason performance, but the Ducks' 2-1 victory to grab a series lead of the same margin figures to be remembered as well for a whistle blown by referee Brad Watson.
After Scott Niedermayer misplayed the puck behind his net, Watson lost sight of the puck as it trickled along the goal line underneath Hiller and out to his right. Watson blew the play dead right an instant before Detroit's Marian Hossa jammed the puck in the net for the apparent tying goal with 1:04 remaining.
The play is not reviewable by the League’s control room since it is deemed dead.
"First off, as any of us watch on a replay, it's easy to make the correct call," said E.J. McGuire, the series supervisor of officials. "In the case tonight, the official was down along the goal line. He was moving forward toward the net to try to get a look at where the puck was.
"When he couldn't see the puck, all referees' instructions are to blow the whistle and blow the play dead. A combination of the black puck and the black pants may have been a factor. But when he didn't see the puck, he blew the whistle."
Naturally, there were distinct opposing views from each side.
"It was lucky for us, but I always say you have to fight to be lucky and everybody in here fought hard tonight," Hiller said. "I was looking at the referee behind (me) and he waived it off right away. That's a part of hockey.
"Once a call is for you, once it's against you. Tonight, it was for us and we're definitely happy."
Anaheim center Todd Marchant, whose triple-overtime goal won Game 2 to tie the series, acknowledged that his team got a call that saved their victory.
"Brad Watson is right behind the net," Marchant said. "I mean, you couldn't have had a better seat. You couldn't have been in a better position to make the call. He lost sight of the puck. He blew the whistle and then it went in.
"It's a non-issue as far as I'm concerned. He was right there. It wasn't like he was trailing the play or he was outside the blue line. He was right there and he made the call. Now, are they happy about it? Probably not. That's the call that he made."
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock didn't mince words when asked for his viewpoint.
"We should be playing (overtime) obviously, right now," Babcock said. "Two teams scored twice tonight, but it just didn't work out that way. There's no sense in complaining about the refereeing or anything like that."
Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom said he saw the play develop clearly.
"I'm standing up at the blue line and I can see the puck the whole time," Lidstrom said. "I think the referee was in a bad position where he couldn't see the puck. It's unfortunate for us, but that's the way it happened tonight. It's a tough call. That's the way the rule is right now."
Said forward Dan Cleary: "Early whistle, maybe. A situation like that, you've got to make sure the puck's covered, at least.”
In the end, the Red Wings are putting all kinds of shots on Hiller but are finding him tougher to beat as the ultra-tight series wears on.
Hiller stopped a career-high 59 shots in the Game 2 win. He might have been even better in Game 3, in which Detroit began to push the pace late in the second period and thoroughly controlled the third. Some of his best work came when the Ducks had to kill off two Red Wings' power plays within a four-minute span of the third.
In particular, Hiller made two key saves on Mikael Samuelsson and foiled Hossa on a strong chance.
"I felt that we got a lot of good opportunities," Cleary said. "He made some good saves. The power play and penalty kill for both teams was the difference. We had some chances late in the third to get it done and we just couldn’t get one by him."
Only Henrik Zetterberg's rebound goal at 14:20 of the second period got past Hiller, cutting into a Ducks lead that had been built on a first-period goal by Teemu Selanne and an earlier second-period tally by Scott Niedermayer against Detroit goalie Chris Osgood, who stopped 21 shots.
Though he wasn't happy with Watson's call, Babcock also said the Wings paid the price for a slow start.
"We controlled the majority of the game," he said. "But two nights in a row, we could have been better at the start. The bottom line is that, instead of complaining about the officiating, let's do a better job at the start."
Detroit wound up outshooting Anaheim, 46-23, and holds a shot advantage of 145-93 over the first three games.
"It was definitely a lot of shots but I felt pretty good," Hiller said. "I'm not tired or anything. I can't complain about it. Sometimes it's even easier to stay in the game if you get a lot of shots than almost no shots."
Babcock was on the Anaheim bench in 2003 when Jean-Sebastien Giguere literally stole the show in a first-round sweep of the Red Wings. Now he's watching another Ducks goaltender star against Detroit.
"They've always have good goaltending with Jiggy last time and he was solid," Babcock said. "We expect nothing different from this guy."
Who knew that Teemu Selanne could play defense, too? The prolific goal scorer made his biggest impact of the series to date in the first period. After Detroit's Valtteri Filppula won a faceoff back to defenseman Brett Lebda, Selanne used his stick to block Lebda's shot attempt and then immediately bolted down the ice as the loose puck found its way to Ryan Carter. Carter fed Selanne a perfect stretch pass for a breakaway and Selanne tucked a backhander under the right arm of Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood for a 1-0 lead.
Ryan Carter is making the most of his increased responsibilities as the postseason wears on. The Ducks' young forward not only spotted linemate Teemu Selanne breaking behind the Detroit defense to hit him with a perfect stretch pass, but he seemed to finish every check and have an effective shift nearly every time he was sent over the boards.
Anaheim defenseman James Wisniewski was taken off the ice on a stretcher in the second period after being injured during a long shift by the Red Wings in the Ducks' zone. Television replays appeared to show that Wisniewski was not only hit by a shot from Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, but also took an elbow from Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom to the head.
Henrik Zetterberg put Detroit on the scoreboard at 14:20 of the second period with a power-play goal on a rebound. Not only was it Zetterberg's first goal of the series, but it was the first goal by Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk or Marian Hossa. They were the Red Wings' top three scorers during the regular season, combining for 103 goals.
Lethargic and outplayed for much of the game, the Red Wings seemingly turned it on from the moment Wisniewski left the ice. But what they will look back at in Game 3 is the two power-play opportunities that they failed to score on with a chance to tie the game. The answer to that can be found right in the Anaheim net as Jonas Hiller was again outstanding when he had to be.