Ducks need to repeat Game 6
When you’re this tired, when you ache from blocking shots or bumping opponents off the puck or whaling away at each other, as happened after the Ducks pushed their second-round playoff series against Detroit to a Game 7 tonight at Joe Louis Arena, your mind can grasp only one concept.
Don’t let this end. Not today. Not yet.
The Ducks, mired in 12th in the West before a flurry of trades replenished the scrappiness and speed they’d lost through age and attrition, played the late-charging Red Wings on Tuesday as if they weren’t ready for their season to be over.
“I don’t think you ever really are,” Scott Niedermayer said.
Especially if it had ended on the same note as their ugly losses in Games 4 and 5, performances they didn’t want to stand as the theme of their season.
The Ducks are here, vying for a berth in the conference finals against the Chicago Blackhawks, because in their 2-1 victory Tuesday they did many of the things they’ve done right in upsetting the top-seeded San Jose Sharks and pushing the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings to their own moment of truth.
They can’t match Detroit’s depth but they can ride on the shoulders of Niedermayer, Ryan Getzlaf and Jonas Hiller to a performance that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
On Tuesday they gave themselves a chance to keep going, to postpone the end of their season. For how long? We’ll find out tonight in the always exhilarating atmosphere at the Joe.
“Most players, I’ll guarantee you, will have shivers up their spine,” Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle said of his team’s anticipation of the game.
“That’s the adrenaline flow that comes from an athlete. As a coach, you’re a little nervous. You want to make sure you don’t screw up.”
Toward that end, he said he would take a “regular game-day approach,” though this is anything but a regular game.
“Everybody understands that if you win you go on and if you lose, you go home. So there is enough pressure,” he said. “I don’t think you should put a lot of pressure on the players for anything too tactical.”
Other than twice getting caught with too many men on the ice, the Ducks don’t need to change much from what they did Tuesday to earn this return trip to Detroit, where they split the first two games and lost Game 5.
The Ducks were one for five on the power play Tuesday, increasing their success to 31.8% (seven for 22) in the series. They cleared the slot so Hiller could save 38 of the shots that came at him, a dramatic turnaround from his previous two performances.
Chris Pronger, infamous for poor impulse control and goonery in past playoffs, again stayed out of the penalty box and was strong and sure as part of a five-man unit with Niedermayer, Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry.
The Ducks also got the Red Wings, who prefer to think of themselves as cool and skillful, to lose their collective tempers. And that might be the Ducks’ biggest accomplishment of all.
That’s not to endorse Tuesday’s post-buzzer shenanigans, which led to 10 minutes in penalties for the Red Wings and 36 minutes for the Ducks. Niedermayer, as he admitted, is no fighter. Nor is his sparring partner, Pavel Datsyuk, a three-time winner of the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play.
But Niedermayer felt he had taken too many jabs to the head and Datsyuk took exception to an elbow from Niedermayer and there they went.
The Niedermayer-Datsyuk tussle might have been a release of frustration for Datsyuk, who led the Red Wings in scoring this season and is a finalist for the Selke (best defensive forward) and Hart (most valuable player) trophies but hasn’t scored a goal in this series.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Datsyuk said of his fight. “It’s not my, like, style to talk about.”
Detroit winger Dan Cleary claimed the Ducks “took liberties on certain players that aren’t known to fight,” specifically Datsyuk and defenseman Brian Rafalski. The Ducks felt the Red Wings took liberties with Niedermayer, who has absorbed more than a few cross-checks to the back of the neck and his face.
Asked if the emotions will carry over to today’s game, Cleary hedged. “We’ll see,” he said. “We’ve got to be aggressive on them, got to force them to play good defense, got to be physical on Niedermayer, Getzlaf, Perry, these guys. We’ve got to be hard on them, got to hit them.”
First, they have to catch them. The Ducks’ style is to play an up-tempo game with emotion. Passion alone won’t be enough for them to overcome the Red Wings’ superior skill, but it has given them another chance to prolong a season that appeared nearly dead two months ago.
“Those guys are competitors,” Cleary said. “It’s playoffs. We’re trying to battle for every inch of the ice. You’ve just got to want it more Thursday, that’s all.”