All right, so we’re standing around chewing the fat before the second round series between the Detroit Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks. One of us says, “You know, I predict Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom will score zero goals between them and Detroit will win the series.”
All right, maybe it’s not such a preposterous notion. After all, Datsyuk had probably the best series in NHL history by a player who didn’t score a goal. And because the Red Wings have as much depth as they have star talent, they’ve become the first Stanley Cup champion in seven years to get beyond the second round of the playoffs.
Make no mistake, in Game 7 it was the Red Wings organizational depth that carried them to a controversial 4-3 win and propelled them into the Western Conference final. Detroit’s scorers in the pivotal game were Jiri Hudler, Darren Helm, Mikael Samuelsson and Dan Cleary, the last one by Cleary coming with three minutes left in regulation time. Not a Hossa, Zetterberg, Lidstrom, Franzen or Datsyuk among them.
It was shocking, actually, what little impact Hossa had on this series. He scored only two goals and at times looked completely ineffective against the Ducks. Holmstrom was a complete non-factor throughout the series and while his play was valiant, gritty and inspired, Datsyuk simply could not find the back of the net.
Not to worry, though, for a Red Wings team that received all it could handle from the Ducks and might have gone to overtime in Game 7 had the officials decided to call goaltender interference on Cleary rather than award him a goal. It would have been a very difficult, very gutsy call to make and undoubtedly the Ducks will be grousing about it in the coming days. But the puck was loose and this time the referee did not lose sight of it, the way Brad Watson did in Game 3 when Hossa scored what should have been the tying goal late in the third period.
But the Ducks deserve all the props they’re going to get for extending the Red Wings as far as they did. Much was made of how well Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller played, as it should. The Red Wings outshot the Ducks in each game and averaged a mind-boggling 15 more shots per game than the Ducks, but Hiller managed to stand tall in all but one of the games.
But part of the reason why the Red Wings didn’t dismantle the Ducks in four or five games, despite the huge disparity in shots, was that Anaheim’s defense – led by Chris Pronger and not Scott Niedermayer – was masterful in pushing the Red Wings to areas where they couldn’t be dangerous. Ironically, though, it was Pronger’s decision to leave Cleary uncovered in front of the Ducks net to go after Zetterberg that led to the series-winning goal.
Speaking of the Ducks, it will be interesting to see how this team moves going forward. There have been constant rumors that Pronger will be dealt in the summer to make room to re-sign Niedermayer, a move that could prove to be fatal for the Ducks. Niedermayer, though, has not decided on his future and may retire – for real this time – over the summer or sign somewhere else. You also have to wonder whether we haven’t just seen the last game of Teemu Selanne’s brilliant NHL career.
But now on to the immediate future. The Western Conference final will feature two Original Six teams, one of them young, brash, fast and physical; the other with a championship pedigree, tons of skill and lots of patience. It will also feature arguably the two best U.S. markets in the NHL right now, which should make the suits at the league’s Manhattan headquarters do a happy dance.
Can’t wait to get it started.
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Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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