You’ve heard the one about the civil servant, right? The one that goes, “Why do government officials have two windows in their offices?” “One to look out all morning, and one to look out all afternoon.” The point of anyone who would tell such a cynical joke? It’s a good job, one where a person doesn’t actually have to do more than a few minutes’ work on a given day.
Randy Carlyle has that all figured out. He coaches the last few minutes of a game, well enough to get his team into overtime, and then he coaches like crazy for a dozen minutes in the extra frame, and his team wins.
At least, that’s what appeared to happen on Sunday afternoon. The Ducks were terrible for fifty-five minutes. In fact, for about fifty-seven. Case in point: with five minutes to go, Carlyle had Ryan Carter and Joe Motzko on the ice after having played a short bench most of the afternoon.
Who? The guys on the fourth line, along with Brad May, none of whom had seen much time until then, nor done much with the time they’d had. Why were they out there and not the big guns or the kid line? The only explanation is that Carlyle was looking out his “afternoon” window.
But as time wound down, he decided to put in a few minutes’ hard work, and made two decisions that turned the game in Anaheim’s favor. First, he bravely pulled his goalie with almost two minutes left, right at the start of the power play. The risk here, of course, is that with Detroit shorthanded, they could whip the puck down the ice all they wanted, taking chances at the empty net and not fearing icing. But the gamble worked, and the Ducks scored to tie the game at 1-1.
Why? Because they finally started to shoot the puck, and because a bit of a lucky redirect off Niklas Lidstrom’s stick fluttered by goalie Hasek.
Then, as overtime started, Carlyle did it again. His top line, which had been Selanne, McDonald, and Marchant, hadn’t done much all afternoon. (Backing up what has been a not-too-effective series, except for game four). But to generate some energy, the coach moved Brad May up from the end of the bench to the Selanne-McDonald unit, and before you know it, they, and the rest of the team, were producing offense.
Is this a surprise? Not if you’ve been reading what we’ve said here ever since Brad May showed up late in the season. He’s decently quick, brave, can handle the puck, and he’s not afraid to shoot. He generated a couple of chances, and just his presence seemed to lift Selanne and McDonald out of their doldrums.
Case in point: a minute or so into the OT, McDonald flipped a puck on net to a streaking Selanne. He didn’t quite get to it, but that’s the play which has electrified Honda Center crowds all year, and it has resulted in numerous goals.
Shortly after that, May got a shot on net off a pass from Ryan Getzlaf. Just later, another. And his energy started a surge which was caught by others on his team.
Pretty soon, the Ducks had generated eight shots, against just eighteen for the whole of the first three periods. And those eight included the one that went in. That play was due to McDonald’s diligence in chasing Andreas Lilja around his net and forcing him to turn the puck over. Selanne grabbed it, and his goal-scorer’s instincts took over.
Who’s better at guarding the low part of the net than Dominik Hasek? Maybe some kid playing in the juniors that you’ve never heard of, but certainly nobody in the NHL. So what did Selanne do?
In a millisecond, he read the scouting report, shifted the puck from forehand to backhand, and roofed the puck past Hasek to give the Ducks a 3-2 series lead. The two snipers were playing with energy and confidence that they hadn’t showed the whole rest of the game.
Say it however you like, and the Ducks’ players have done so all playoff. “We found a way to win.” Actually, they didn’t. Nor did they find a way not to lose. They just got motivated at the right time, partly due to the aforementioned supreme coaching effort at the end and the skills of one of the greatest players ever to handle a puck one-on-one in front of a goalie.
Is that the way they wanted to win? They probably don’t care, though it would be hard to imagine a team, and a coach, not realizing how lucky they were to snatch a game out of such a pile of rubble. Look for Carlyle to make a turnabout before Tuesday, adjust some lines, relegate the guys who really should be in the press box back there, and send his team out on the charge.
As for the Wings, they have to do absolutely nothing to get back even in Anaheim Tuesday night. They played better in all aspects of the game. But it almost seems that no matter what they do, it won’t matter, though the series could well go to seven games.
In short, say it like this, especially if you believe in the hockey gods: of course the Ducks won on Sunday. Of course they shouldn’t have. And that’s what should have the Red Wings scratching their heads.
What happens next? The hockey gods bring the Stanley Cup final to Anaheim if the Ducks show that they deserve to win at least one of the next two games.
Who wins that Cup? Canadians will be hoping for the Senators. Most Americans, including the tens of millions who live in California, won’t care. But the hardcore fans who support the Anaheim franchise will be watching, hoping, and screaming their heads off in a building which only seems to get louder with each passing contest.
Whatever happens, it’s going to be surprising, ironic, and nothing like any of us could possibly predict, at least if game five is any indication.