This time of year, it’s common to talk about four-point games—especially with the schedule canting towards conference play, and much of what goes on on the ice divisional games. That doesn’t work with the Wings and the Ducks, though, because neither are they in the same division, nor is there any chance of the Anaheim team catching the Michigan one.
But for the Ducks, Wednesday’s contest against Pavel Datsyuk and company could be read as a four-point game, if put in the right context.
That context? The Wings had beaten the Kings Monday, giving LA a two-point drop from where they might have been. If the Ducks could win against the Wings, then, they would pick up two. That would mean that rather than the Kings being at 76 and the Ducks 71 after each played Detroit, the Ducks would be just a point behind the Kings in the West.
Ironically enough, even that would not be enough to get the Ducks into the top eight. But Anaheim needed this game desperately to get back into the playoff mix.
The Ducks were artificially out front of where they should have been for much of this season because they had consistently been two or three games ahead of the pack in terms of games played. That has more or less righted itself (looking at the West now, it’s Calgary and Phoenix whose point totals are somewhat artificially inflated, because they have played two more games each than most of the people who are chasing them in the playoff race in the West). Now, the Ducks can honestly read the standings and get the measure of their chances to play on into mid-April.
One thing Anaheim couldn’t count on was getting the jump on a tired Wings’ team. So often this year, the two SoCal teams have gifted each other with a whipped opponent. Anaheim beats someone and sends them up the 5 freeway to take on LA the next night. The Kings crack heads and put a team on the bus down the 5 to play in the OC the next night.
Not this time, as the Wings had a day off between this game and the one up the road. That was Monday, when they smacked LA around, 74.
The Ducks, too, came into the night without any fatigue. Their last game was Sunday against the Avs, a 3-2 win. That doesn’t mean that they weren’t a little bit decimated. They still don’t have Jonas Hiller back. His vertigo (or not vertigo—the medical doctors haven’t decided, and nobody’s consulted the PHDs yet) has subsided, but apparently he can’t follow the play when it gets behind him. Instead, that induces feelings of panic.
Maybe he’s just channeling the spirit of the goaltender of old, who must have felt panic when Bobby Hull was bearing down on him and his bare face. Anyway, forget Hiller for now. The netminders are Dan Ellis and Ray Emery, while Saku Koivu was also out with a groin injury.
But new to the lineup is Brad Winchester, and giant of a man who plays left wing and who, according to media reports this week, is going to be used a lot. He’ll work his way in on the fourth line, then maybe, according to Randy Carlyle, play on the first as a linemate for Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. This, Carlyle said in the local press this week, will allow him to free Bobby Ryan up to play with other people.
He will also play on the power play, which he was doing some on Wednesday night. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Winchester has more than half a dozen fighting majors this year already. So he can also be seen as insurance on nights when Parros isn’t in the lineup, which was the case against Detroit.
Back to the matter of the power play—the idea is that he’ll park in front of the net. Oddly enough, that’s not usually a strategy this team employs—they would rather move the puck around and let sniper Lubomir Visnovsky or Teemu Selanne fire away on one-timers. But heck, if it works for Tomas Holmstrom, why not?
Wednesday night, it didn’t work. In fact, rather than contribute offense on the PP, Winchester took a bad penalty behind the Wings’ net–in the second period–which gave the visitors their first goal on the ensuing PP.
His fourth-line assignment, by the way, was with Sheldon Brookbank, a defenseman who plays forward at times, and Kyle Chipchura. Displaced with Winchester’s arrival was Maxim Lapierre, who had come over from Montreal earlier in the year and was traded to Vancouver on Monday.
Maybe, though the Ducks aren’t a club that necessarily is undersized, and they just added the grit of Jarko Ruutu a couple of weeks ago. He’s no giant, but he is 6-foot-1 and 204 pounds. Read between the lines to say that Lapierre just didn’t catch on for some reason. If not, then why not trade someone else, like Chipchura, who goes for spells when he does not dress, and never plays more than a handful of games at a time?
The game proceeded at an exciting pace belied by the scarcity of shots. Both of these teams can clog up the front of the net when they want to, and on this night, the pucks were zipping diagonally across the zone, missing the cage by inches on both ends. The first period saw the Wings outshoot the Ducks, 8-3. That is not to negate the saves made at both ends.
Ruutu and Marchant went down towards Jimmy Howard shothanded, 2-on-1. The puck came to Marchant, who tipped one in on Howard, but the Wings goalie made a great save to keep things scorless.
Despite letting in a goal which came from behind the net, Ducks Dan Ellis swallowed up a bunch of pucks in the middle stanza. He’s still a more mobile, active goalie than the Ducks have had for a while, so it’s hard to get used to the movement—both of body and of limbs—that sometimes marks his style. But it’s working, at least, better than in his debut game and the next one, where he let pucks get through his legs. There was just the one goal in the period, as mentioned, with the Wings on the power play, scored by Datsyuk.
Perry got a pass from Getzlaf earlier in the period that he grabbed on his backhand as he was going to his knees. Despite the awkward posture, he managed to get off a shot, and then a rebound. The latter went wide, but it was another masterpiece of netminding by Howard.
After the early disadvantage, the shots were even at tens by midway through the game. Late in the period, Detroit opened up a lead, 18-14. By the end of the second, it was all even at 18.
Anaheim tied the game early in the third when Jason Blake took a pass from Selanne deep in the slot and fired a one-timer past Howard to tie things up at 1-1.
The Ducks almost gave the single point away late when Andreas Lilja was unable to clear the puck out of his zone and then took a holding the stick penalty on the ensuing play. After that, Ducks’ GM Bob Murray went by my row in the press box, heading toward the bathroom. The words coming out of his mouth were not for the general audience.
The Ducks killed that one, then put too many men on the ice with 12.6 seconds to go and got nabbed again.
Four on three overtime, then, was a desperate struggle to keep the puck out of the net. Marchant played harder than any two men as he cleared puck after puck and won a key faceoff. In typical Marchant fashion, he gave the credit away.
“Penalty killing could have been the difference, probably was the difference,” Marchant said about the Ducks Penalty kill, which only allowed one goal on nine Red Wings’ power play opportunities.
Marchant’s key faceoff win in the third period kept the game tied.
“Even that one faceoff, I actually won it ahead, and Toni [Lydman] made a great play,” Marchant said. “He beat Holmstrom to the blueline and got the puck out. It’s a big play. It maybe doesn’t show up on stat sheets or highlights or stuff like that, but it’s a big play.”
The Ducks won, 2-1. But it wasn’t just any win. Getzlaf saw Ryan breaking across center behind the defense and fed him. He went in on net alone, with Ruslan Salei chasing. The former Duck hauled Ryan down, and a penalty shot was called just 2:50 into the OT session.
It was like the building would explode as Ryan skated toward the puck sitting on the center faceoff dot. He streaked down fast, took aim, and fired it past Howard to give the Ducks the 2-1 win.
“That shot seemed to work for me in the past couple of shootouts,” Ryan said about the game-winner. “He’s a different kind of goalie. He challenges well, and he gets those legs back and the arms out to the side pretty well.
“There wasn’t really any other game plan. If that didn’t work out, he was making the save. I just tried to close my eyes and put it in the right place.”
“The points are precious, especially in the last quarter of the season,” Carlyle said about the victory.
“We’re in a state where we’re trying to feel good about ourselves. The hard work that we put in tonight, that was displayed by our players, hopefully gives then a feeling of confidence. We’ve had our fair share of working hard and doing everything but getting the points.”
Nobody went home unhappy. Maybe the Wings crowd didn’t get a win, but they saw a fantastic game, and the team squeaked a point. Or maybe, they were denied one, and further, a pattern was set in Anaheim’s mind–they can win.