Ducks can’t continue to leave it to chances
Detroit forward Dan Cleary offered a simple summation of the Ducks’ strategy in the teams’ second-round playoff series.
“Strong push, and then they hold,” Cleary said.
It’s more like make a strong push and then leave Jonas Hiller to face more dangerous shots during crunch time than many goalies see in a week.
The Ducks have been outshot in each of their nine playoff games and by 375-249 overall, including 145-93 by Detroit. That they upset San Jose in six games and hold a 2-1 edge entering Game 4 tonight at the Honda Center is a tribute to Hiller, but the escalating quality of Detroit’s late shots makes the Ducks’ high-wire act appear ever more precarious.
The Red Wings believe the Ducks are due for a fall.
“When you’re shooting the puck and you’ve got people at the net, I’m a big believer over time you’re going to get a tip that goes in or you’re going to get a rebound that comes to you eventually,” Detroit Coach Mike Babcock said Wednesday.
“Right now that’s not happening, but it’s a process. Stay with it.”
Marian Hossa, whose apparent tying goal was disallowed during the Red Wings’ 18-shot third period Tuesday, credited the Ducks’ defense for limiting rebounds but said that won’t last forever. The Ducks have been outshot in the third period in eight of nine playoff games and in this series have been outshot, 80-34, after the second period.
“There’s lots of loose pucks and we have to keep after them,” Hossa said, “and sooner or later rebounds are going to come to us and we’re going to put it in.”
It could be sooner because the Ducks are likely to be without defenseman James Wisniewski tonight while he recovers from the lung contusion he suffered when he took a shot to the chest during the second period Tuesday.
Wisniewski has done a fine job killing penalties and beefing up the defense. Brendan Mikkelson is the likely candidate to replace him, having spent most of the second half of the season with the team before losing his job when Francois Beauchemin returned from knee surgery.
“There will be more asked of everybody, for sure,” defenseman Scott Niedermayer said.
Is it too much to ask that they limit the number of high-percentage chances Hiller faces in the third period?
Defenseman Ryan Whitney said the Ducks’ video session Wednesday focused on just that.
“They played well. They were putting everything on net. But we can’t leave Jonas out to dry,” he said. “He can’t play like that every game, I don’t think. So it’s important to not give up as many shots.”
As Niedermayer noted, the positive aspect of this cling-for-dear-life routine is that the Ducks have had leads to protect, like their 2-1 edge in Game 3.
“When you’re up and a team’s trailing you, you know they’re going to be aggressive and you’re going to take more offensive chances than you normally would,” he said. “But I don’t think we did our job as well defensively as we would like to. We feel we could have been better in that period, for sure.”
Hiller shrugged off the Red Wings’ siege as a product of their two power plays in the final period. He’s said he’s happy with the job his defense has done. “I was able to see most of the pucks and that makes it much easier to stop,” he said.
Stopping the Red Wings’ top line of Holmstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Hossa has helped the Ducks’ cause immeasurably. The trio has yet to score a goal in the series, unable to escape the speedy and tenacious checking of Drew Miller, Todd Marchant and Rob Niedermayer.
“All those guys need is one bounce. They get one bounce, look out,” Cleary said of the Datsyuk line.
The Ducks’ ability to prevent that might be the decisive factor in this series.
“We’re being tested right now,” Babcock said. “We’ve got to find out if we’re mentally hard enough and want it bad enough.”
The Ducks were consistently outshot by the Sharks but were rarely overwhelmed. Unlike the Sharks, the Red Wings actually have guts and persistence and won’t be chased from the slot.
Cleary also said the Red Wings took heart from their third-period period performance Tuesday.
“I think the higher quality of shots was because we were skating,” he said. “We were putting pressure on them. We were just always on the attack. We weren’t sitting back. We weren’t waiting for them to do something. We decided to initiate, and we’ve got to do that from the start.”
The Ducks said they’ll be ready for that. But the finish will count as much as the start.
“There’s no moral victories at this time of year. Plain and simple, you’ve got to win. You don’t win, you go home,” Babcock said.
“So it’s an important game for us. We like a lot of the things we’ve done but in the end we’ve got to score more goals than them. Scoring chances, shots, net presence, second chances . . . the puck’s got to go into the net for us.”