Two important games will be played Tuesday tonight. Not that they aren’t all important in the playoffs; but having wrested home ice advantage from their opponents, Chicago and Anaheim now have a chance to set themselves up for a trip to Round 3.
Historically, nearly 71 percent of NHL teams up 2-1 in a seven-game series move on and a little more than 64 percent of teams that take Game 3 win the series. And you have to expect the Hawks and Ducks to come out flying at home.
For Chicago, the key to the game will be, simply, more of the same. Not falling behind by two or three goals early and staying out of the box would be nice, but out-shooting the Canucks, taking advantage of their best chances against Roberto Luongo and continuing to physically annoy their opponents is the best plan.
In Vancouver, things are a little different. First and foremost, the Canucks must find a way to score 5-on-5. Vancouver has just nine even-strength goals through six post-season contests, easily the fewest of the remaining teams. The power play has been humming along at 25 percent overall and a cool 29 percent in the Hawks series, but Chicago has shown through two games that no lead is safe – and if you can’t score 5-on-5, that trend becomes ever more troublesome.
Also troubling for Vancouver is mounting injury woes. Defenseman Sami Salo – he of three goals, six points, two game-winners and 20-plus minutes of effective play through five games so far – has been ruled out for Tuesday night’s game with an undisclosed lower body injury; Ossi Vaananen is likely to take his place. Right winger Pavol Demitra is also questionable for Game 3 with an unknown ailment.
Most importantly, the Canucks will have to figure out a way to play a full 60 minutes after blowing a two-goal lead through the first period in Game 2 and coughing up a three-goal lead in Game 1, before potting the game-winner with just more than a minute to play.
In Anaheim, the Ducks and Red Wings will renew acquaintances in Tuesday’s late game. Coming off Sunday’s dramatic and draining triple-overtime affair, the question is who will have the most jump when the game begins?
Like Vancouver, Detroit is also dealing with injury problems. No. 2 blueliner Brian Rafalski remains sidelined with an upper body injury, as does checking center Kris Draper. But thus far the series has been all about Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller; he has made 93 saves through two games, allowing just six pucks to get past him. In overtime alone on Sunday, Hiller made 29 stops.
Staying away from needless penalties will be key as well. Both teams’ power plays have been lethal all post-season – Nos. 1 and 2 overall – and especially this series, with Detroit clicking at 33 percent and Anaheim at 43.
It’s fair to say the Red Wings have outplayed the Ducks in the first two games of the series. But, on the flip side, Anaheim’s best players have out-dueled Detroit’s; Ryan Getzlaf has been a force up front – with neither Pavel Datsyuk nor Henrik Zetterberg being able to shut him down – while Scott Niedermayer has seemingly played every position other than goaltender and Chris Pronger has been as mean and nasty as ever.
For Detroit to win Tuesday’s game and, eventually, the series, those things will have to change. If not, the Ducks – who are possibly the best No. 8 seed in NHL playoff history – will prevail.
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