The Detroit Red Wings finally burst Jonas Hiller’s bubble – and Marian Hossa burst out in a big way, too.
Hossa, with his third and fourth of the playoffs, scored twice on Hiller in a three-minute span late in the second period to spot the desperate Red Wings a 4-2 lead they wouldn’t relinquish en route to a 6-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks. The Western Conference semifinal series is now tied at two games apiece; falling behind 3-1 would’ve been deadly for Detroit, but the Wings played like true defending Stanley Cup champions, shaking off an early goal by Corey Perry – on a perfect low, stick-side shot that beat Chris Osgood just 42 seconds in – and carried the play throughout the night.
Detroit outshot Anaheim 40-28 and outchanced the Ducks by at least a 2-to-1 margin, with a line switch by Wings coach Mike Babcock midway through the first period serving as the catalyst for a quick comeback after Perry’s goal – and might prove to be a turning point in the series. Babcock opted to reunite Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg for the first time in the series, along with battlehorse winger Tomas Holmstrom. And the trio played pretty well, but didn’t show up on the scoresheet until Zetterberg’s empty-netter with 2:33 left in the third (the Ducks pulled Jean-Sebastien Giguere with about three minutes left).
The brilliance of Babcock’s move manifested itself in the form of the second line, featuring Hossa, Johan Franzen and young-ish center Valtteri ‘Spellcheck’ Filppula, 25. Franzen, quite simply, was a force all night and a major factor on Detroit’s first four goals. He scored the first two, in the first period, including in the final minute to give the Wings a 2-1 lead heading into intermission. Then, he set up Hossa’s first goal, at 16:02 of the second to give Detroit a 3-2 edge (Perry scored his second of the game at 11:03). Then, he planted his mule-esque frame in front of Hiller so Hossa could wrist another one in at 19:04. Franzen, who had 13 goals in 16 playoff games last season, has six in eight games this post-season, and Hiller – or Giguere, but probably Hiller – should be very, very afraid. Franzen seems to come alive at playoff time and surely Babcock will keep the unit together for Game 5 in Detroit.
For Hiller, the end came when Mikael Samuelsson’s seeing-eye snap shot sailed into the top left corner at 2:46 of the third. The Ducks sophomore goalie, a playoff revelation who skated into the game with a 1.74 GAA and .955 save percentage, skated off the ice and into the hallway behind the bench, no doubt pondering the five pucks that beat him on 33 shots. While none of the goals were particularly bad, the fact Hiller showed his human side – as Holmstrom and Franzen were showing him their (respective?) backsides – has to be encouraging for the Wings.
At the other end (no pun intended…seriously…I just want it to stop at this point), Osgood did what he needed to do. The early Perry goal was tough, but it was in the dead zone, that low, stick-side soft spot. After that, Osgood was solid when called upon and the Wings never trailed after Franzen restored the lead. What looked like a goaltending duel midway through the second period all changed in Hossa’s quick hands and Osgood’s good work in shutting the door. The Ducks made it 5-3 with a quick power play goal by Scott Niedermayer midway through the third, but it was academic at that point. The Wings weren’t going to blow the lead and Osgood made sure of it with a nice deflection save with about five minutes remaining.
For Anaheim, it wasn’t an optimistic evening. Their hotshot young goalie was chased and they didn’t scare the Wings with a lot of scoring opportunities. The Ducks did manage to generate some chances when Ryan Getzlaf and Perry were on the ice, but Anaheim couldn’t get much going with any of its other three lines. Ducks coach Randy Carlyle replaced Bobby Ryan with Ryan Carter on the top unit early in the second period, hoping to spark Teemu Selanne and Andrew Ebbett (and Ryan) on the second line, but to no avail. Getzlaf, meanwhile, went into the boards awkwardly after a collision with Filppula in the second period and played less than four minutes in the third. Whether it was a factor of being injured, or of limited ice time due to the fact the Ducks were down by two or three goals in the third, remains to be seen. Keep an eye on the big Ducks center early in Game 5.
In fact, keep an eye on all the Ducks in Game 5. Because if they don’t figure out a way to contain Detroit’s top two lines – Datsyuk and Zetterberg and the next one’s bursting to score, you just watch – it might be your second-last chance to see the Ducks play this season. Detroit came out the stronger team in Game 4, as they were in Game 3. Difference is, they won this time and in convincing fashion. The Wings look like a team that’s picking up steam, while Anaheim appears confused and shaken. Maybe it was a one-off bad performance for Hiller, or maybe the Wings are creating traffic and shooting five-hole for a reason. In any case, it’s a far cry from where the two teams were after Game 3, with Anaheim sitting pretty and the Wings needing a gut-check effort to crawl back into the series.
The Wings got it. And as a bonus, they also got their star sniper untracked and their goalie in a groove. Look out.
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