- Game 1: Fri., May 11, 7:30 p.m. @ Detroit
- Game 2: Sun., May 13, 7:30 p.m. @ Detroit
- Game 3: Tue., May 15, 9 p.m. @ Anaheim
- Game 4: Thu., May 17, 9 p.m. @ Anaheim
- Game 5: Sun., May 20, 3 p.m. @ Detroit (if necessary)
- Game 6: Tue., May 22, 9 p.m. @ Anaheim (if necessary)
- Game 7: Thu., May 24, 9 p.m. @ Detroit (if necessary)
That the Ducks are here isn't much of a surprise. That the Red Wings are though, after getting through fearsome foes like Calgary and San Jose, well, a lot of people didn't expect to see Detroit still standing so late in the tournament.
But these aren't your older brother's Red Wings. This obviously isn't the perennially top-ranked playoff patsy, certainly not one of the Detroit teams that went into the postseason with a top seed and an early round exit. Like 2001 against the Kings. Or 2003 against Anaheim. Or 2004 against Calgary. Or last spring against Edmonton.
This year's Red Wings appear to be on a mission to win their first Cup since 2002. Pavel Datsyuk is scoring for the first time in the playoffs. Dominik Hasek has been as good as always in the net. And Detroit has a new identity as a team that's no longer an easy early-round out.
The Ducks are on a mission, too. They've challenged for one of the top positions in the NHL all season and were right up there with Buffalo for most of the year as one of the top two teams in the League. So far they've won their two series in a total of 10 games -- the least of the conference finalists -- toppling the Wild, arguably the best defensive team in the playoffs, and Vancouver, with the best goalie in the tournament. So now the veteran Red Wings are next up.
Will we see a repeat of the 2003 series Anaheim snatched from the Red Wings? Or will Detroit continue living up to their lofty No. 1 seed and knock off another team that's been groomed to win championships in the new-age NHL?
Detroit Game-BreakersPavel Datsyuk:
The idea that he doesn't score in the playoffs is as stale as last week's bread. Datsyuk has officially shaken the monkey (or was it an octopus?) off his back in this spring's tournament after going without a playoff goal since 2002. Averaging about a point per game in the playoffs this year, Datsyuk was leading the Red Wings in goals and had two game-winners to boot. In a year the Wings appear on a mission to erase past playoff failures, nobody has done more to reorganize the culture in Detroit than Datsyuk, who has been their best forward by a wide margin.
Nicklas Lidstrom: No player is more important to his team, perhaps anywhere in the playoffs, than Lidstrom is to the Wings. Averaging almost 30 minutes per game, Lidstrom is the straw that stirs their drink. He's paced all Detroit scorers throughout the playoffs and when it comes to shutting down the opposition's most dangerous scorers, Lidstrom figures to see the most time against them. With Mathieu Schneider out for the remainder of the playoffs with a broken wrist, veterans on the blue line like Lidstrom will be relied on more than usual. If that's even possible.
Tomas Holmstrom: If Homer's impact was ever in question, his return against San Jose after missing the first three games of the series with an eye injury reinforced his importance within the Detroit dressing room. The Red Wings haven't lost a game since he returned last week and Holmstrom's helped them to overcome an early 2-1 deficit in the series against the younger, faster Sharks. There's nobody better in front of the net and the Wings have proven they're a different team ? a better team ? with him in front of the enemy goal. Alongside Datsyuk and Zetterberg on the top line, Holmstrom is the wing nut that holds their corps of forwards together and makes their power play function.
Anaheim Game-BreakersSamuel Pahlsson:
Capable of shutting down Detroit's top line of Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Holmstrom, the 29-year old Swede is also able to light it up at the other end. One of the smartest, most underrated two-way forwards in the playoffs, Pahlsson was tied for second in scoring among Ducks players with seven points in 10 games. Averaging almost 20 minutes per game, he's also a plus-4 in the playoffs despite playing against the opposition's most dangerous scorers throughout. One of the grizzled Anaheim playoff vets, Pahlsson is one of their most important players, high praise for someone that plays on a team loaded with superstar defenders.
Chris Pronger: Another multiple-zone force, Pronger has been counted on even more than Scott Niedermayer, if you can believe that, and is one of only two Ducks players averaging over 30 minutes per night. Pronger is also Anaheim's leading scorer in the playoffs with 11 points in 10 games, a stat due in large part, to his ability to get pucks on net without getting blocked from the point. Pronger's taken as many shots in the playoffs as sniper Teemu Selanne has and his plus-4 rating in the tournament is tied with Pahlsson for the team lead.
Ryan Getzlaf: Part of the famed PPG line with Dustin Penner and Corey Perry, Getzlaf is having a breakout tournament with seven points in 10 games. No Anaheim forward is on the ice as much as he is, and Getzlaf has earned all of his 22:32 average ice time with two game-winning goals so far. The 21-year-old is emblematic of what the Ducks do, combining his speed with his 6-3, 213-pound frame to form one of the dynamic young forwards in the game right now. Alongside fellow youngsters Penner and Perry, Getzlaf has shown he's capable of taking games over in just his second playoffs.
Don't look now, but the Dominator has now won six consecutive playoff series in a Detroit uniform after winning four en route to the Stanley Cup in 2002, and now two more in the current tournament. Despite the long layoff between meaningful playoff hockey games, Hasek looks a lot like he did back then when he won the Cup five years ago. The 42-year-old has been spectacular throughout the playoffs, allowing less than two goals per game. But with a goalie that plays an unorthodox style like Hasek does, there's always the potential to give up the occasional bad goal. They've been few and far between, but it'll be interesting to see if Hasek can dominate against the Ducks, a team that will move him from side to side more than any other opponent has to date.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere: He was named the MVP of the 2003 Playoffs when Giguere took the Ducks to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. If you can believe it, Giggy's been even better this time around, holding a lower GAA (1.28, versus 1.62), and a higher save-percentage (.952, versus .945) than he did in that run four years ago. Giguere is also playing behind a better team than he was in 2003, a team that may or may not leave it up to their goalie to steal a game or two. So far, they really haven't needed Giguere to stand on his head as the Ducks have seemed to breeze through the first two rounds, but if the opportunity arises, they have a guy that can close the door in a hurry. Perhaps whether or not they need Giguere to save their bacon is more of an X-Factor than the goalie himself will be.
Five Fast FactsTime Machines:
The Ducks have six players averaging over 20 minutes per game in the playoffs, tied with Ottawa for the most among the remaining teams, as compared with Detroit's four players who see that much time now that Schneider (23:35) is out with a broken wrist.
Killing them Softly: Anaheim has allowed only three power-play goals in the playoffs and owns the top penalty kill in the tournament with a 94.6 percent kill rate.
Man-Down = Man-Up: Detroit leads all playoff teams with three shorthanded goals in the tournament. Though their PK is third among the four teams still remaining in the tournament (only Buffalo has been less effective) the Wings are still dangerous when down a man.
No Shootouts: Red Wings forward Dan Cleary scored on the only penalty shot so far in the playoffs when he beat Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff in the first round.
Know Your Role: This series features the only two defensemen who lead their teams in outright scoring in the tournament with Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Pronger both pacing their squads in points through two rounds of play.
Quotables"Every player has a toolbox. And when you talk about Niedermayer and Pronger, their toolbox is full. You watch Niedermayer skate. He does it the same way some people get up and eat in the morning."
-- Minnesota Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire on Anaheim's dynamic defense duo.
"He was on his way to the hospital, he called me in and kind of between me and him we had a heart-to-heart, kind of what to do now. I don't want to say it was a passing the torch thing because this was a huge loss for our team, but he gave me some words of wisdom and really touched home with me." -- Detroit defenseman Brett Lebda on the conversation he had with Mathieu Schneider, who will miss the remainder of the playoffs with a broken wrist.
Crystal BallThe Red Wings will win if:
They can withstand the pounding they'll receive from the rugged Ducks. The Wings took Calgary's best shot in the opening round and stood up to the big, bad Sharks in the second round, so they are certainly up for the challenge. They'll also have to stay healthy if the Red Wings hope to advance to play for the Cup, something they haven't been able to do throughout these playoffs. Detroit overcame losses like Tomas Holmstrom
and Mathieu Schneider at points in the tournament, but if they lose any more guys against an opponent like the Ducks, it may be too much to overcome. Datsyuk will need to keep scoring, Hasek will have to steady the ship against the high-flying Anaheim attack, and their veteran leaders must continue to show the way as they advance deeper into the playoff than they've been in five years.
The Ducks will win if: They keep sending waves through Hasek's crease and they continue to move the puck better than anyone in the playoffs. When the Ducks are skating and passing and banging, there are few teams that can compete with them over the course of a seven-game series. They'll try to sting the Detroit defense with their hard-hitting forecheck and Anaheim, who has needed only 10 games to get to this point in the playoffs, will need to continue to kill penalties better than anyone in the tournament. The Ducks own the top-ranked PK in the playoffs and that will be an awesome weapon against the Red Wings, a team that's made opponents pay for taking penalties with guys like Lidstrom and Holmstrom on the extra-man unit.