ANAHEIM, Calif. – A theatrical playoff series gets an appropriately grand finale when Anaheim hosts Detroit in Game 7 on Sunday night.
Although the Ducks and Red Wings could be stressed by this test, most are treating it as an opportunity and a reward for nearly two weeks of exhausting work.
After all, somebody gets to be the hero.
“If you can’t enjoy it, then you’re in the wrong sport,” Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf said Saturday. “These are situations that many of us have been in, but they’re fun. You reach back on those things, and then just remember to embrace the moment and be ready to play.”
After four overtime games, several clutch goals and plenty of wild momentum swings, the second-seeded Ducks have one last chance to finish off the resilient Red Wings, who have one final opportunity to nudge past the talented Pacific Division champions.
Detroit has stayed in this series with three overtime victories, including Game 6 on Friday night, although Anaheim had to rally late just to force two of those overtimes.
Every game has been in the balance in the third period, so both teams know what they’ll face in the deciding game at a frenzied Honda Center.
“We were talking about that on the plane (after Game 6),” Anaheim’s Corey Perry said. “When you’re a kid, you go into the streets and you’re playing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. That’s the fun part of hockey. You dream about Game 7, and to be the guy to step up is special.”
Ducks defenceman Cam Fowler has learned a bit about playoff pressure in his first three NHL seasons, and he watched the Red Wings in countless big games while growing up in the Detroit suburbs. The 21-year-old is looking forward to his first taste of the toughest situation any team can face.
“It’s more exciting than anything,” Fowler said. “We’re familiar with them, and they know us, so it’s about harnessing your emotions and playing. I’m looking forward to it. No butterflies, just excitement.”
The teams have alternated wins throughout the series, with Anaheim taking a one-game lead three times, only to watch the Red Wings catch up.
The Ducks would be preparing for a tantalizing second-round matchup with Los Angeles this weekend if they hadn’t allowed three overtime goals by the Red Wings, who will face Chicago in the second round if they hang on.
The Ducks are playing the fifth Game 7 in the franchise’s two-decade history, but just the second at home. Anaheim’s most recent Game 7 was in 2009 at Detroit, where the Red Wings eliminated the eighth-seeded Ducks.
Detroit is playing Game 7 for the 23rd time in its much longer franchise history, but nearly all of those decisive games were at home. The Wings are just 2-4 in a Game 7 on the road.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to win some Game 7’s and lose some,” said Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who coached the Ducks in their Game 7 loss to New Jersey in the 2003 Stanley Cup finals.
“I’ve lost at home and on the road, and won that way, too. So it’s just a big game. … We’re excited. We said all along, the shorter we could make the series, advantage us. You can’t make it any shorter than this.”
Although Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau would rather be playing in a Game 7 than watching it from the bench, he hopes his players embrace their opportunity to create a post-season reputation that could last their lifetimes.
Boudreau has already more than his share of Game 7 heartache in his NHL coaching career: His Washington Capitals went to a seventh game in each of his first four playoff series with the club, and the Caps lost three of them.
“It’s a lot easier to play. You just play,” Boudreau said. “Game 7 playing is a tremendous amount of fun. Game 7 coaching is not so much.”
Boudreau’s night could be much more comfortable if Perry emerges from his series-long goal drought. Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg finally got his first goals of the series in Game 6, pushing the Wings to the win—but the Ducks are still waiting for their first goal from Perry, the former Richard Trophy winner during his 50-goal season two years ago.
“I assume that at one point, Corey Perry is going to break out,” Boudreau said Saturday. “He always has, and he always will. Let’s just hope it’s tomorrow.”
Perry has been active and aggressive, but hasn’t converted any chances into goals. Detroit has done solid work against the Ducks’ top line, but few defences can contain Perry for such a significant length of time, and the former MVP is feeling urgency.
“My job is to go out and score goals and do those offensive things, but it hasn’t been coming,” Perry said. “Hopefully you just try to do something different if things aren’t going your way, but I’m not putting any more pressure on myself than anybody else is. I’m not going out there and squeezing my stick any tighter. I’ve had my chances, and I’m shooting the puck, I’m going to the net. One puck has got to go in—off me, off somebody. Something has got to break.”
Boudreau believes stopping Pavel Datsyuk and Zetterberg are the Ducks’ biggest challenges in the finale.
Both veterans have ample experience in big playoff games, including four previous Game 7 appearances, while the Ducks have won just one playoff round since their Stanley Cup victory in 2007.
The Red Wings aren’t content with just pushing the higher-seeded Ducks to the brink in what was looking like a rebuilding season for a team with 22 straight playoff appearances.
With one more pressure-packed win, Detroit can keep rolling into another series against a touted opponent.
“It just seems when our backs are against the wall, that’s when we play our best,” Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard said. “The urgency was there from the drop of the puck (in Game 6). There can’t be any let up. We’ve got to have this right into Sunday night.”