In retrospect, maybe Tuesday’s game one victory by the Ducks was too easy. The Wings didn’t, by their own admission, possess the puck they way they’re used to doing. The Ducks didn’t get their first line moving, at all. It didn’t matter, as they got goals from Nick Bonino off a Cam Fowler wrist shot and Teemu Selanne on a perfect one-timer on the power play. The won 3-1, but it looked like they were pulling away, the Wings were so off their game. The Detroit coach said that it was the way they’d played early in the season.
Detroit vowed that in game two, things would be different. They inserted Bertuzzi into the lineup in place of Jordin Tootoo. He would place fourth-line time, getting an eventual 7:14 on the night. But that wasn’t what they really needed. What would make them better, it would have seemed, was to get their first line away from the Anaheim checking line, which had not only contained Datsyuk and Zetterberg but also created some spectacular moments of offense themselves. And as the game went on Thursday night, they did that, but not by their own planning. The Ducks shifted lines like mad. Coach Babcock saw that as a product of what his team accomplished.
He said after, “They couldn’t sit with any matchups. When you get playing well, it doesn’t matter if you’re at home or on the road, you’re in control of the matchups. When you’re not playing well, they’re running your bench. That’s the way it always has been in hockey. We didn’t play well enough the other night to do anything, but tonight we got the good start.”
Scoring early goals makes your plans look very smart. The Wings did that, with their first coming at 48 seconds. The next followed closely, and with less than five minutes gone, they were up 2-0. The game was physical, chippy, with hard hits doled out on both sides. It was 16-8 in favor of the Ducks on that score after one period, though the score didn’t reflect that at 2-0 and shortly after the second started, 3-0. But what the physical stuff did was disrupt the Wings.
The Ducks did not sit back when behind. First Selanne came in on net and got in a shot from close. Then Perry forced Howard to make a glove save. The Ducks outshot the visitors 12-8 in period one. But still nothing went in, and the game was not going particularly their way. Selanne made a bad turnover that led to goal two, for instance. Anaheim also made a parade to the penalty box, ending with six minors.
The approach Boudreau began with was precisely what he’d done the other night in terms of guarding against the Wings’ top line. The one difference was that he had Selanne with Bonino and Beleskey (it was Selanne, Bonino, and Palmieri on Tuesday). But that all blew up early and by period two, he was mixing the lines as if pulling bingo numbers.
First, Bobby Ryan moved to the third line to play with Koivu and Cogliano in an obvious bid for speed. Then It was Ryan, Selanne, and Koivu. Cogliano went to the fourth line with Etem and Bonino. Palmieri came up from the second line to play with Perry and Getzlaf.
And you wonder what Babcock was talking about when he said he controlled the other side’s bench? What was also remarkable was that Boudreau tried speed-on-speed, with his top line of Perry, Ryan, and Getzlaf playing against the Zetterberg trio.
For the Ducks, nothing was working until the third period, when it’s hard to say whether they surged or the Wings fell apart. Suddenly, everything was going the home team’s way. They crashed the net. They controlled the zone. They were the ones who hogged the puck and wouldn’t let it go.
The period started with the Wings again scoring early, at 20 seconds, but then, with the Ducks on the PK again after Selanne crunched Abdelkader with a punch to the back of the head, Anaheim took over. Though they were shorthanded, they controlled the play in the Detroit end. The thing is, they were afflicted with don’t-shoot-itis. First Perry turned down a shot in favor of a pass. Then Getzlaf did, forcing a breakaway and angling toward the side, then passing to a guy covered by a backchecker. Down 4-1, he put the puck onto the defense’s stick.
And then the crowd took over. Babcock mentioned it, and so did Boudreau. The former said that he hated to call his timeout, explaining like this: “Kids. What are you going to do? You take your timeout late in the third period, the crowd gets into it, and they’re even more nervous. It’s hard to settle your team down, on the road, with kids, when the crowd’s going to get into it and make them more nervous,” he repeated.
Boudreau claimed similarly that his group felt the crowd’s energy, even when they were down 4-1, and that when they scored to make it 4-2 and he looked up to see more than twelve minutes left in the third, he knew they could come back.
But he added, “I didn’t want to go in to overtime. I wanted to get one more before the end. When Getzlaf had that two-on-one, I was really looking for him to shoot. When we scored the third, goal, even the second goal,” he said, “the crowd was dying to get into it. It livened up the bench, and when we scored the third goal, you could see that everybody was into it, for lack of a better term. I didn’t know we’d score the fourth goal, but I felt there was a good chance. I felt that we were coming on.”
This did not, by the way, mean that the Ducks were done line mixing. They had Selanne, Bonino, and Etem out once. Then Koivu with Getzlaf and Perry.
When Anaheim tied the game at with 2:22 left, it felt almost inevitable, and the Wings appeared like a team collapsed. Losing would surely end the series early.
Then, as the period was about to end and send the game to OT, Zetterberg passed to Datsyuk dead in front of the net. He had the open cage, and he shoveled a backhand. Hiller dove over from a crouch and stuck out his arms, and he made the save. 37.2 seconds showed on the clock, and the game was defined in that moment, but only briefly.
The Ducks took a penalty in the form of a Souray slash on the play, and so ended the period and began the next shorthanded. And that was the difference. Gustav Nyquist got the goal, describing it to IH this way: “We got a breakout pass. I tried to drive through the middle and around the D and push out on that. I missed it wide. I think Fil[ppula] made an unbelievable play and passed it over to me, and I had almost an empty net. I just tried to put it on net.”
He said there was no time to think, but in the situation, you know the goalie is going to be out of position, so you just try to put it on net.
Summing up, Coach Boudreau said that he was even more disappointed than he would have been had it happened another way. “When you come back to tie it, it’s probably more disappointing than if it got done before overtime.”
The Wings’ coach, by contrast, said it simply: “It’s a big win and the series is 1-1.” That was his first comment, somewhat snide, to a Detroit reporter. The only issue he mentioned was his team’s immaturity, but in the end, they overcame that. He now goes home with control over the last change, and he can figure out how to use that to get his top line away from the checking unit that has thus far stymied them. No Detroit goals came from that line after the first one. On the other hand, three of their five were on the power play, so as long as the Ducks keep putting themselves down a man, neither Babcock nor the Wings have a lot to complain about.
Babcock further commented, “We can talk about it all we want, the bottom line is we’re going to get up in the morning and fly home. It’s 1-1 and our fans are going to welcome us back and the series goes on.”
What neither said is that this is perhaps the best of the eight series currently on. It has been, at least, from an up-close point of view.
Ducks/Red Wings Notes
The teams will fly Friday and play Saturday in Detroit.
Danny Dekeyser of the Wings is done for the series and the season because of a broken thumb.
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