ANAHEIM, Calif. – Facing playoff elimination, Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle decided to get creative as the Ducks prepare for Tuesday’s Game 6 against the Detroit Red Wings.
As the Ducks took the ice for practice Monday, Carlyle had his players reverse the way in which they normally hold their hockey sticks. Righties became lefties and vice versa as multiple pucks where thrown into play for a series of scrimmages around the rink.
“I didn’t think it was a day where you want to come to work and drag your knuckles and say here we go again,” explained Carlyle, a Norris Trophy winning defenceman during his 18-year NHL career.
The plan was to take some playoff tension out of the air.
“You can see a lot of smiles on faces and a much lighter approach to practice,” said Carlyle. “Turn the page and you start to feel good about being at the rink.”
The Ducks certainly would like to forget about the last two games of the series as the defending champion Red Wings out scored Anaheim 10-4 and built a 78-45 shot advantage.
Detroit can now advance to the conference finals for the third consecutive season with one more win. The powerhouse Red Wings have been able to close out eight consecutive playoff series on the road.
“I think we play maybe more relaxed than the other team, we know its their last chance and take advantage of that,” Detroit centre Henrik Zetterberg said.
But the Ducks also have shown an ability to handle pressure games in the playoffs.
Anaheim fought back from a 3-2 series deficit to take a Game 7 win over Calgary in 2006 and avoided home-ice elimination with a Game 5 victory against Dallas last season.
“This group has shown it can handle these type of situations,” Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller said. “At the end of the regular season we pretty much had to win every game to make the playoffs. We are used to the situation.”
One of the most pressing challenges for Hiller and the Ducks will be shutting down Red Wings forward Johan Franzen, who has become a prolific goal scorer in the post-season.
Franzen leads the Red Wings with seven playoff goals, including three in the last two games. He had 13 playoff goals last year.
“Playoff hockey fits me maybe a little better than the regular season,” Franzen said. “I can use my size a little bit more to get to the hard areas where you find loose pucks.”
Although the Red Wings have peppered Hiller with considerable pressure throughout the series, Detroit’s current advantage followed two very brief defensive lapses by Anaheim in the last two games.
Marian Hossa scored twice during a 3:02 span in the second period of Game 4 and Franzen and Jiri Hudler each scored within a 39-second span of the second period in Game 5.
“We’re optimistic we can play a better game of hockey,” Ducks centre Todd Marchant said. “We won two games in this series for a reason. We have to get back to things we did in those games to be successful.”
Aside from momentum in the series and a demonstrated history of being able to close out opponents on the road, Detroit could also have the added boost of defenseman Brian Rafalski returning to the lineup Tuesday.
Rafalski practised with the Red Wings Monday afternoon after initially skating on Sunday. He has been sidelined throughout the series with an “upper body” injury.
“Obviously if the coaches and myself feel I can contribute in any way, there’s a good chance I’ll play,” Rafalski said after the Red Wings practised Monday.
“He looked good skating around the rink,” Zetterberg said. “For sure that would be a help if he could come back and play.”
While Rafalski maybe returning, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock indicated that centre Kris Draper will not be available for Game 6.