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Abdelkader shines on big Game 7 stage

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Justin Abdelkader's short-handed goal gave the Red Wings a 2-1 lead, one that they never relinquished in Game 7 at Honda Center. (Photo by Getty Images)

ANAHEIM, Calif. – For a guy who couldn’t buy a goal two months ago, Justin Abdelkader made scoring look easy on hockey's biggest stage Sunday night.

His first-period heroics against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 of the Western Conference quarterfinals were text book. A perfect penalty-kill play transitioned into a breakaway topped off with a five-hole goal.

Abdelkader’s short-handed goal was the footing for the Red Wings’ 3-2 win that catapulted them into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs with a 4-3 series win over the Ducks at Honda Center.

“From start to finish it was a great individual play,” said Kyle Quincey, who saw the play develop from his sit in the penalty box. “He was standing still pretty much (and) to go to full-speed by the red line is just a great show of athleticism. Finishing it off like he did was unbelievable. That was the game right there.”

With Quincey serving a minor penalty for cross-checking and the score tied at 1-1, the Ducks went on the power play looking to take a lead. But those plans were quickly squashed when Abdelkader anticipated a pass at the Wings’ blue line and made a mad dash through two zones before sliding a shot between Jonas Hiller’s legs.

The Wings’ penalty-killers, led by Pavel Datsyuk, kept the Ducks to the outside during their man-advantage. But as Francois Beauchemin sent a cross-ice pass along the blue line to his defensive partner Sheldon Souray, Abdelkader lowered the shaft of his stick in the puck’s path. His foresight led to his first career short-handed goal that put the Red Wings 2-1 at 16:37.

“Pavel was putting pressure on him and I knew he wanted to go D-to-D,” Abdelkader said. “I just kind of stayed up high there. Got my stick on it and was trying to get off to the races there.”

From there Abdelkader had time to think about his shot.

“I was just trying to make a good play and get a good shot off whether it was a shot or a deke,” he said. “Once I got in free there I knew that I could make a good play. I was going to shoot it at first, but decided to deke and the five-hole opened up.”

Abdelkader, who served a two-game suspension for his illegal hit to the head of Toni Lydman in Game 3, was also a physical factor in the series, leading the Red Wings with 18 hits despite playing in only five games.

The former Michigan State star went nearly a full calendar year – covering 41 games total – without a goal. When he final did score this season, it was an empty-net gift in early March. Nine days later he scored two crazy goals by re-directing Datsyuk shots with his foot on one, and his chest on the other.

Abdelkader has 12 goals – regular season and playoffs combined – and five have come at Honda Center this season. He's been playing on Wings’ top line for a while, but now he’s scoring like a top-liner, and potting Game 7 breakaways. That’s crazy.

“It was nice to see him score that one,” said captain Henrik Zetterberg, who scored the game’s first goal. “He had a few of those chances before. He has a lot of speed and I think it helped that you’re playing against a goalie for six games and you’re seeing what he does and kind of moves he has. He made a nice back-and-forth move to get it through the legs, so it was nice to see.”

The Red Wings are now 14-9 all-time in seventh and deciding games in Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s the first time in 49-years that they won a Game 7 on the road after trailing the series three games to two. The last time was 1964 when they won two straight over the Chicago Blackhawks to advance to the Cup finals.

Now it’s off to the Windy City for the Red Wings, who will face the top-seeded Blackhawks in Game 1 of the conference semifinals on Wednesday in Chicago. It will be the 16th time that they two Original Six clubs have faced in the playoffs. Detroit has won the last two meetings advancing past the Blackhawks en route to the Stanley Cup finals in 1995 and 2009.

Before the Easter Sunday massacre when the Blackawks blitzed the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, the two teams had played nine straight one-goal games.

“Chicago touched us 7-1 once time, other than that we had overtime games with them,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We're excited. Chicago's a great city, they got great players. They led the West. We got a lot of reasons to be excited about playing them. They got nice restaurants. We'll have a good time. They got five D that are flat out great skaters. They got captain who's a real good human being and a great leader and they got lots of skill and good depth. They're well-organized. The national anthem is fun. Lots of things to like about Chicago.”

MOVING UP: Zetterberg’s first-period tally was playoff goal No. 54 of his career, tying former captain Nicklas Lidstrom on the franchise’s all-time list. Only Steve Yzerman (70) and Gordie Howe (67) scored more in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The captain added an assist on Valtteri Filppula’s second-period goal that put the Red Wings up by two scores. Zetterberg finished with a series-high eight points, which included three goals.

FIL’S IN: Filppula gave the Red Wings a 3-1 lead in the second when he scored on a nifty back-hand shot from the right circle. The game-winning goal was his first in the playoff since his deciding tally in the Wings’ Game 6 victory against San Jose in 2011.

Zetterberg set-up the play Sunday, digging the puck out of the corner to Filppula, who flipped a shot that went between Beauchemin’s legs. It appeared that Hiller never saw the puck either as he was screened by his own defenseman.

The goal also stood as relief for Filppula, who had a costly mistake led to a very big Ducks goal in Game 6.

“You make mistakes sometimes when you play, you hope you wouldn't make those kind of mistakes but you try to forget them quick,” Filppula said Sunday. “We won that game and obviously you want to do your best all the time to help the team and I’m glad I could do a little better today in that department.”

THREE STARS: 3, Cam Fowler, ANA (1 assist); 2, Emerson Etem, ANA (1 goal); 1, Henrik Zetterberg, DET (1 goal, 1 assist).

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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