They all say that nothing that happened before the playoffs matters. Who’s they? Any coach who is hoping his team will find their way from eighth to the Stanley Cup, as the Kings did last year.
In Anaheim, the word is that the first part of the season didn’t matter for either the Detroit Red Wings or the Anaheim Ducks. The Wings weren’t good early, the Ducks perhaps too good. The result was that each team went kind of the opposite way late. The Wings had to win to get in, taking four straight. The Ducks slid into the final pole, not needing to win. They rested guys, including Teemu Selanne and Sheldon Souray. That’s why the word is “the playoffs are a new season; we forget what came before.” Well, sort of.
In fact, the Wings’ recent push showed, negatively, in game one of their series. And the Ducks’ recent cruise was on display. In the positive. Witness what Mike Babcock said of his team after the game: “I don’t know if it’s nerves or whatever,” in explaining their slow start. They had been in SoCal since Sunday preparing for the series.
He later said, “I think when our group sees it and looks at it [the game] tomorrow, they’ll see what they’re capable of doing. . . . My biggest concern tonight is that we looked exactly what we looked like in the first twenty or twenty-five games of the season where we couldn’t move the puck and weren’t a five-man unit, weren’t working at it in that way, weren’t relentless in the offensive zone because we came with speed.” He added that they need to spend less time in their zone than they did in game one.
Teemu Selanne made a comment that also talked about the last part of the Ducks’ season, when they rested him. “Personally, I got a couple of games off last week which really helped me. But if you can’t get high about the playoffs and excited about that, then you’re in the wrong place.”
Does that settle it? Heck no. It deepens the conundrum, because while everyone says the season doesn’t matter, their comments show that it does. So let’s just move on to what happened to the Wings.
Bobby Ryan claimed that the thing that most impressed him about the Wings was their puck possession, naming Zetterberg and Datysuk in particular, but on this evening, they were largely rendered ineffective, their puck possession skills more a matter of reputation than actual performance. The Ducks ended up taking the victory 3-1, with the last goal an empty netter shot all the way down the ice off a faceoff win by Getzlaf. All of the other three goals by both teams were on power plays.
The winning goal was Selanne’s scored on a power play. He replayed it after: “Usually I hold those a little. It came in my mind that if the puck came, I was going to shoot as fast as I can, short side.” It was his tenth career game-winner and 42nd overall. He had whipped a one-timer as he skated, backwards, through the left circle. It went in under the bar.
The truth is that doing that is much harder than he makes it sound. Bobby Ryan commented on the way that he made the release. “He shoots the puck differently than most guys do. It’s a twisting motion, and I shoot just like him. I think we’re the only two that I’ve seen. Most guys take the one-timer and it’s a different motion. He gets it away more quickly than anyone I’ve ever seen. It’s just a flick of the wrist and it’s powerful and accurate, and those two things together are deadly, especially when it’s coming off number eight’s stick.”
The Ducks didn’t dominate, but they were dangerous, and the Wings were a step back of them most of the night. So what were the keys? For one thing, the Ducks relentlessly matched their third line of Koivu, Winnik, and Cogliano against the top line of the Wings, which was Abdelkader, Datsyuk, and Zetterberg. When asked about that matchup, Babcock said that he wouldn’t try to replicate it when the series goes home to Detroit, but that he liked the fact that his group of Filppula, Franzen, and Cleary had matched well with the Perry line, by which he obviously means Perry, Getzlaf, and Ryan.
Coach Boudreau of the Ducks said about the three-versus-one pairing, “We don’t match up too much, but we did tonight. They had their chances, but that’s a tough line to contain for sixty minutes. I thought we did a pretty adequate job.”
And if the Ducks managed to contain the other side’s top line, neither was their own top unit the difference maker. That line got just seven of the team’s 27 shots on goal, with the captain, Getzlaf, getting none.
That said, the Ducks’ great strength was not on the Selanne line either. This unit had him paired with Bonino and Palmieri. That line got just five shots, and often, they looked out of synch. Selanne has nights when he’s not as fast as he once was. This was not one of them, but his mates were not always up on the play with him. His ability to turn the puck over and run with it depends on having someone to make an outlet pass to, and these guys weren’t available when he did that, nor did the line enter the offensive zone with conviction too many times.
So that leaves the Ducks’ aforementioned third unit as its strength, aside from the power play. Cogliano, in particular, created some speedy and dangerous chances. For instance, in period three, he carried the puck into the Detroit end and around the defense, streaking across the crease for a shot.
But the whole line was good. In the first period, Winnik passed a puck out from behind the net that went through the crease and behind Koivu. In period two, he put it to Cogliano, who took a wrist shot that went through the defense and forced Howard to make a save with his body. The line produced nine of the team’s shots. One-third of the offensive production. “That has been our season,” Selanne said, “the depth we get from different guys every night.”
They didn’t score, but they were dangerous, and afterwards, everyone who talked about them said the same thing, putting their performance into a much more grand point if view: “The third line played a big part in the Stanley Cup the Ducks won . . . .” In fact, Selanne himself mentioned that. “We know that every team’s first line is going to do their own damage, second, they’re expecting it also. But if you can get that from the third line, absolutely huge. I go back to our Stanley Cup year; our third line was many nights our best line.”
Winnik was asked about his line’s role in shutting down the other team’s top unit, and he said, “It went pretty good. They got some good chances and [Hiller] bailed us out pretty good. It’s expected; they’re going to get scoring chances. They’re just too good as players. They’re real crafty. You’ve got to be close to them and be aware of their sticks.”
Hiller did make some good stops, with the Wings throwing 22 shots at him. His best was with a toe on Filppula in period one, when the dangerous forward got a shot from dead range in front of the net. It was still tied at zero at that moment.
So the Wings go back to their hotel to regroup, hoping that their young players come out in game two less excited and their veterans find a way past the checking trio of the Ducks. The Ducks, meanwhile, will celebrate briefly, the puck-holder on the wall of the dressing room having one of sixteen empty holes now filled with a game puck. Then they will go to work themselves, with one goal being to help out Hiller. “He can’t continue making all those saves, even though he’s a great goaltender,” their coach said. “We just have to be a better team.”
With the voice of experience, Selanne put the game in perspective. “A good start, but nothing more than that,” he described it.