SERIES REVIEW: Detroit Red Wings Triumph After Seven Game Epic With Anaheim
With the second seeded Anaheim Ducks taking on an injury ravaged but playoff savvy Detroit Red Wings, this match-up of postseason rivals was always going to produce something a little bit special. What followed was arguably the most thrilling series of this year’s playoffs so far (well in the West anyway), with the Red Wings eventually winning Game seven in California to progress. Following defeat in their second round opener against the Chicago Blackhawks yesterday, this post will take a look back at how they eliminated the highly favoured Ducks.
The Anaheim Ducks had a fantastic regular season, a blistering start catapulting them to second in the Western Conference, only behind a record-breaking Chicago Blackhawks team. That is where they remained for the rest of the season, coasting a little at times, but still displaying a line-up full of energy and talent. The form of Viktor Fasth was one of the early season’s main headlines, the goaltender acquired from Sweden going 8-0-0 in his first eight games and helping the Ducks to their best start since their Stanley Cup winning 2007 season. The key difference with this year’s Anaheim line-up was offensive depth, in stark contrast to previous seasons, where they had relied on the top line for most of their points.
Dealing with the retirement of legend Niklas Lidstrom, key injuries on defence and settling in under the new captaincy of Henrik Zetterberg, the Detroit Red Wings struggled for a lot of the regular season. There was even talk of the inconceivable, the Wings not making the playoffs. In typical fashion however, they responded when it came to crunch time, seeing off a late challenge from the Columbus Blue Jackets to make the postseason for the 22nd consecutive time, eventually finishing seventh. With their line-up featuring a blend of cynical veterans, Pavel Datsyuk and exciting youngsters pressed into duty, no-one really knew what to expect from this year’s team. They had won the regular season series against the Ducks 2-1-0, with both their wins coming at the Honda Centre.
The Ducks started fast at home in Game one, narrowly edging the special teams battle despite some nervous moments in Jonas Hiller’s crease. Nick Bonino opened the scoring in the series on a power-play. After doing an excellent job getting to the front of the net, he tipped in Cam Fowler’s shot from the point past an unsighted Jimmy Howard. Detroit continued the power-play theme by leveling the score at 1-1 before the first intermission. Taking advantage of a 5-on-3 opportunity, Jakub Kindl’s shot struck Daniel Cleary’s leg before taking a fortunate bounce through Hiller’s 5-hole. Despite Anaheim out-shooting Detroit 10-5 during the second period they couldn’t get the breakthrough, Jimmy Howard pulling off some fine saves, one in particular from Corey Perry was superb (this would become a regular occurrence).
The game-winner when it arrived in the third period, was one to savour for both the Ducks and the NHL neutral. After good zone rotation on the power-play, the ageless wonder Teemu Selanne took a Ben Lovejoy pass in space and fired an instant wrist-shot into the top corner of Howard’s net. The strike was the 42 year-old Finn’s 42nd career playoff goal. Even though the Red Wings pressured the Ducks’ goal towards the close, forcing Hiller into eleven saves, Francois Beauchemin sealed the Anaheim victory with a length of the ice empty-netter with 25 seconds left. The power-play unit was the key difference between the two sides, but the Ducks also outworked and out-hit Detroit to take a 1-0 series lead.
Even with a history of stunning matches between these teams in the postseason, Game two is certainly one to add to the ‘Classic’ category. This time it was the Red Wings who started brightest, Justin Abdelkader carrying great speed into the Ducks zone before firing an early shot past an off-balance Jonas Hiller 48 seconds into the game. The lead was doubled four minutes later, Kyle Quincey picking off a sloppy pass from Teemu Selanne, passing the puck to Damien Brunner who provided a clinical finish. Into the second period, Detroit took advantage of a power-play to open up a 3-0 lead, Johan Franzen scrambling home the puck from close range after Hiller had stopped two shots. The Red Wings were battling hard, resisting Anaheim’s defensive attempts to box them to the outside.
The Ducks finally got a foothold with nine minutes left in the second, Saku Koivu sliding the puck into an open net on the power-play after Jimmy Howard had saved an effort from Teemu Selanne. Detroit responded at the start of the third, once again punishing Anaheim on the man advantage. Johan Franzen scored his second of the game after darting into Hiller’s crease and tucking a shot into the bottom left corner of the net. Then the real fireworks began. The Ducks scored three times in twelve minutes to take the game into overtime. First Ryan Getzlaf carried the puck from behind the Detroit goal before back-handing a shot through Howard, Kyle Palmieri causing disruption in the slot. Then as a power-play expired, Palmieri turned goal-scorer, flashing a wrist-shot high on Howard to bring the score to 4-3. With just over two minutes remaining, Bobby Ryan completed the comeback, taking a pass from Cam Fowler and burying his shot to finish a flowing one-two. The Ducks were bringing great energy to their offensive cycle.
The Red Wings then got a crushing winner in overtime, a costly penalty meant the Ducks started the extra period a man light. Valtteri Filppula dancing between two defenceman before sliding the puck to an unmarked Gustav Nyquist, who fired home with aplomb. Going 3 for 6 on the power-play and dominating in the faceoff circle, Detroit levelled the series at 1-1.
Game three was simple, after the teams exchanged 5-on-3 power-plays in a scoreless first period, the Ducks got a huge opportunity when Justin Abdelkader was assessed a 5-minute major for charging against Toni Lydman during the second. Abdelkader was ejected for targeting the head and after Anaheim took advantage, Detroit never recovered. Though the Ducks only scored once during the five minutes, Nick Bonino back-handing the puck past Jimmy Howard after being fed by Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, it was enough to shift the momentum.
Captain Getzlaf then knocked all the stuffing out of Detroit, stealing the puck from Damien Brunner whilst shorthanded before rounding Howard to give the Ducks a crucial 2-0 lead. The rest of the period was relatively comfortable, the lively Emerson Etem adding a third with his first career playoff goal after receiving a clever back-hand pass from Teemu Selanne from down low and then Saku Koivu dishing a perfect through the seam pass to Matt Beleskey who finished the scoring from right in front of the net. The Ducks dominated this game in the special teams department, limiting the Red Wings to only two shots on goal and keeping them 0-for-6 whilst on the man advantage. Ducks led the series 2-1.
For the first time in the series, the Ducks were passive during the third period of Game four and the Red Wings punished them. Outshooting Anaheim 49 to 33, Detroit once more settled a game in overtime that could easily have gone the other way. Matt beleskey had opened the scoring with persistent play, after good forechecking in the offensive zone. Despite being denied by Jimmy Howard with his first shot, the winger spun and fired the Ducks into a 1-0 lead. The Red Wings killed off a crucial penalty at the end of the first period which turned the tide, effective positioning in the shooting lanes stifling the attack.
After a tense second period, Detroit finally equalised in the third, Joakim Anderson hitting a ferocious shot towards net which deflected of multiple Anaheim players in front before finding goal. Their joy was soon cut short, David Steckel tucking the puck into the net after great forechecking in deep by Kyle Palmieri and Emerson Etem. After regaining the lead, the Ducks eased up and Pavel Datsyuk took full advantage. Bursting up the wing, the Russian magician dazzled his way past Lucas Sbisa before firing an unstoppable shot high on Jonas Hiller to tie the game a 2-2.
After the Ducks had an early power-play opportunity in the overtime period killed off by the Red Wings, the game-winner arrived 15 minutes in. The dangerous Gustav Nyquist splitting the Anaheim defence and crashing towards goal, the puck bounced off Jonas Hiller in the confusion and sat perfectly for Damien Brunner to poke home. The Ducks had thrown away two separate leads and Detroit levelled the series a 2-2.
Game five of this nail-biting series again went to overtime, but it was Anaheim’s turn to prevail. In a familiar story, the Red Wings took the lead on an early power-play. After good approach work from Niklas Kronwall and Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen stabbed home the puck, Jonas Hiller failing to control his initial attempt. The Ducks were level before the break however, Kyle Palmieri taking the puck from an offensive zone faceoff win and firing on the spin, the early release flashing past an unsighted Jimmy Howard. Detroit regained the lead in the second period, an awful rebound off Hiller from a Henrik Zetterberg effort snapped into the net by Mikael Samuelsson. Anaheim were rocked by the goal and looked shaky for several minutes until Captain Ryan Getzlaf stepped up in a huge way. Carrying the puck through centre before ripping a wrist-shot into the top corner with seconds left in the period.
After neither team could get a goal in the third, the game went into overtime yet again and the Ducks got the game-winner. Defencman Ben Lovejoy pushing up, dangling the puck past the Detroit defence and sliding a pass through the crease to Nick Bonino, who finished at the far post. In another game decided by depth scoring, the Ducks got the most production. Anaheim now looked to have control of the series, leading 3-2 heading back to Motor City.
Whilst Anaheim had the opportunity to put the series to bed, the Red Wings were fighting for their playoff lives in Game six and when you’re fighting for your lives, you need your stars to shine. Detroit’s best almost blinded everyone in attendance. Pavel Datsyuk opened the scoring during the first period, Henrik Zetterberg fought off the attentions of David Steckel and found the playmaker, who glued the puck to his stick before fizzing a back-hand into the top corner. Kyle Palmieri equalised in the second after a high-tempo rush, his shot bouncing off the post and deflecting off an unfortunate Brendan Smith into his own goal.
The third period was played at a relentless pace and contained a flurry of goals. Detroit took a 3-1 lead after Henrik Zetterberg fired in a shot on the power-play and Justin Abdelkader, returning from a two-game ban, somehow found the net off the post and Jonas Hiller. The spirited Ducks replied with two quick-fire goals in the final three minutes to take the game to an astonishing fourth overtime of the series. Emerson Etem flicking home the puck after a Red Wings’ giveaway, before an unmarked Bobby Ryan found an open net, after pressure from Corey Perry on Jimmy Howard, to tie it at 3-3.
The game-winner meant the old adage of ‘Cometh the man, cometh the hour’ had never been more apt. Detroit Captain Henrik Zetterberg rounding off a three-point night in style, smashing a slapshot past Jonas Hiller to take the series to a seventh game. With the stats all favouring the Ducks, who out-hit, out-shot, and dominated in the faceoff circle, Game six was really about all the clear moments of inspiration coming from the Red Wings.
After the excitement of the previous six games and although the series as a whole was a remarkable spectacle, Game seven itself was ugly. Warriors on both teams sick of seeing the same faces and energy levels waning. The Red Wings were once more quickest out of the blocks, rapid line changes meaning they pinned the Ducks in their own zone for large periods. Henrik Zetterberg was again a difference maker, giving Detroit an early lead. The constant pest-like play of Daniel Cleary creating a juicy rebound off Jonas Hiller which the Detroit Captain snapped home. Again the Ducks got a response from their depth lines, youngster Emerson Etem showing a veteran’s patience to out-wait and then fire a shot shortside on Jimmy Howard, his third tally of the series causing the Honda Centre to explode. The defining moment of the game came just as Anaheim were building momentum at the end of the first, Justin Abdelkader intercepted a terrible pass from Francois Beauchemin whilst shorthanded at the blue-line, before racing towards Hiller and sliding the Detroit Red Wings back into the lead.
The eventual game-winner was scored by Valtteri Filppula in the second, as confidence drained from Anaheim’s players and errant passes crept into their play. He took fortunate possession of the puck before back-handing a shot past Hiller, who was screened by his own defenceman. The tally was his first of the series, but proved a vital cushion. Although the Ducks battled to the very end, they never looked capable of replicating the comebacks of previous games. Jimmy Howard was terrific with 31 saves and though Francois Beauchemin added a late goal to reduce the deficit, his effort through the crease bouncing into the net off Jonathan Ericsson, the Detroit Red Wings deservedly won Game seven 3-2 to take the series 4-3.
Keys to the series:
– Slow starts by Anaheim. The Ducks had already shown evidence of taking their time getting into games during the regular season and it cost them dramatically in this series. Allowing Detroit the score the first goal in four of the seven games, including Games six and seven. Against playoff teams, constantly digging yourself out of a hole becomes an almost impossible task, regardless of offensive prowess.
– Detroit Red Wings got production from their stars in key games. Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datysuk, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall and Justin Abdelkader were all outstanding in the final two games. Zetterberg scored three times and amassed 5 points. Datysuk was a constant threat and exceptional defensively whilst Abdelkader also scored two important goals. In contrast, Teemu Selanne, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry had one goal between them across the two final games. Perry also failed to score throughout the entire series, despite registering 24 shots on goal.
– Overtime success. The Detroit Red Wings were able to clinch victories that they perhaps didn’t deserve. This ability to step up with a goal during the extra period was a key difference between the teams, with Detroit winning three of the four games that went to overtime, including Game six.
– Jonas Hiller and Jimmy Howard. Though Jimmy Howard didn’t put up extraordinary numbers, when a save needed to be made at a crucial moment, he delivered for Detroit. In contrast, Jonas Hiller struggled with rebound control throughout the series, gifting Detroit several goals. Though the Red Wings did an excellent job getting net presence through the likes of Daniel Cleary, there were obvious errors in the Ducks’ goaltender’s play.
– Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu slowing up? Though tremendous players, both of the veterans visibly tired as the series progressed and struggled to make their usual impact. This is something Selanne, who didn’t register a point after Game 3, has spoken about since, though I believe the condensed schedule of the shortened season had a role to play in their fatigue.
– Mike Babcock won the coaching duel. Backing his youngsters to perform, Babcock’s line combinations turned out to be a master-stroke, in particular moving Pavel Datysuk and Henrik Zetterberg to separate lines in Game seven had a significant effect on the outcome.