The Ducks are done, going out after playing their hearts out and getting some lucky breaks along the way. If anything, you might say that they got stronger as their series with Detroit went along. The Ducks stopped taking quite so many penalties (though Ryan Getzlaf blew that in Detroit Thursday with two offensive zone infractions in the first period). They used their speed, and they got speed—and one goal—out of their second line of Selanne, Carter, and Ebbett on Thursday night. They saw their top line of Perry, Getzlaf, and Ryan come back to form, being particularly dangerous in the third period while netting the team’s third goal. (Perry also got the Ducks’ second marker on the power play, in period two).
None of this was supposed to happen, if you listened to the experts in January. Nor February. Nor the first part of March. But at the trade deadline, the team shifted players, getting rid of potential free agents and adding on some great pickups including Ryan Whitney, who got six points in the playoffs from the blueline while logging around twenty minutes a contest.
Things probably wouldn’t have been as exciting as they were had the Ducks not gotten the lucky break of a referee not seeing the puck and consequently blowing a play dead that negated Detroit’s tying goal in game three. At that point, the Wings were coming on, and had they won, they might have made it a short series, rather than a classic seven-gamer. But those are the breaks, and Anaheim took them and made something of them.
As they say, get me to game seven, and anything can happen. What happened was that the game went down to the final six or eight minutes, when Anaheim was outplaying the Wings. They had their first line pumping, and almost scored a couple of times. But then, having just tied it, they took a penalty, Selanne for holding. It was in the defensive zone, and probably was a marginal call. In the old days, well, you know. But these days, you don’t get away with those that often, and the hockey gods know that that game three deal was unfair. So the referee called the minor.
The Wings didn’t do anything as harmful as score on the chance, but they did pin the Ducks in the zone, tiring them out and putting them off their rhythm. Thus while it appeared that Anaheim survived the onslaught and got back to five on five, they had to scramble to get right afterwards.
The Wings kept the pressure up after the Ducks’ kill, and though Anaheim’s checking line of Niedermayer, Miller, and Marchant had a good shift in the Detroit end, the Wings got the puck back eventually and scored an ugly-ish goal to go ahead by what would become the final score, 4-3.
The Ducks pressured with two-plus minutes left, and made some more scrambly efforts with one and change remaining, but they didn’t get really close to Osgood. A shot went off the end of his stick with four seconds on the clock, but by then, it was over, and Anaheim was packing for the trip home and off to the cottage (most of them are Canadians, remember?).
Despite losing, the team had some questions answered in this series: Yes, Hiller is the real deal. He played spectacular hockey at times, good enough hockey at others. Thursday, despite being creamed by Hudler in the second period, he got up and resumed his play, stellar.
Yes, they have a deep defense. Even if Pronger and Niedermayer disappear, starting with Beauchemin (also a free agent) and Whitney could allow them to rebuild the back line.
Yes, they have some guys that can do what Niedermayer, Pahlsson, and Moen used to do. They are former fourth-liner Marchant and former Iowa Chop (but also 2007 Stanley Cup champion) Drew Miller. The third member of the third line, Rob Niedermayer, may be on his way elsewhere this summer. How hard would it be to replace his 7-14-21 contribution? With another checking center, who is not in his mid-thirties? Precisely.
Yes, they have a way of finding offensive talent. Perry, Getzlaf, and Ryan were great in the series and all playoffs long, contributing thirty-nine points. Add to that Ryan Carter, who seems to have held his own with Selanne and Ebbett, and Ebbett himself, who took a few dumb penalties but showed some bursts of speed and the ability to put the puck on Selanne’s stick, and that’s a line that can work. Or not, if Selanne leaves. Big unanswered question left there.
And yes, they still have their heritage as past champs. The question, however, is the one Lady Bruton asks in the novel Mrs. Dalloway (yes, I read) when Richard and Hugh leave her house after lunch.
How long do those threads connecting us to one another get before they snap? In other words, how far past your Stanley Cup year can you go before you say that it’s in the distant past? With a dozen Cup winners still on the Ducks as late as this series, there’s more than a core left. But if three or four of them go, as is likely, then you’re down to a minority of the starting lineup. What does that mean for that gut belief that you’re winners? When does the verb tense change from “we are” to “we were”?
In a very nuts-and-bolts way, there’s one more question the Ducks should ask. How much would it be worth to get some help in the face-off circle?
I’m not talking about a new player. Let’s say you’re keeping the guys you’ve got. So many times versus Detroit, the Ducks started out without the puck, chasing. So many offensive zone opportunities were lost, so many potential Chris Pronger slapshots never taken.
How much would it be worth paying someone to fix that? A couple of grand an hour for the right consultant? What if he could guarantee that they would up their percentage from the dismal forty-three that it was in this series to, even, fifty? Five grand an hour? And how many hours would it take?
There’s a guy that could do that, living a stone’s throw from Anaheim. He played in the league for over a decade. He was a number one draft choice. He’s smart and well-educated and he knows how to communicate.
I’m not going to tell you who this is, but if Anaheim calls, I’ll certainly tell them. If they’d give this guy a few hours with their youngsters, he could fix the few gaps that hurt this team versus Detroit, teaching the kids to play offense at all times the way his team used to, and making it more likely that that heritage that’s two years old wouldn’t fade into the past.
Think of it this way: of those three young superstars who play on Anaheim’s first line, two have rings, so you’re not building hopes into them. You’re tapping experience. All they need is a few loose edges tuned up.
Brian Kennedy’s new book, Living the Hockey Life, is out this fall. Watch Inside Hockey for more.