The more you watch the Anaheim Ducks in this year’s playoff tournament, the more difficult it is to fathom this is the same team that stumbled through much of the regular season.
The Ducks continued to amaze Tuesday night with a 2-1 win in Game 3 and now have the defending Stanley Cup champions playing catch-up for the first time in the playoffs. They’ve achieved this with the tried-and-true methods of playoff success – incredible, game-stealing goaltending, timely scoring and almost flawless penalty killing.
The Red Wings, on the other hand, must be wondering what the heck is going on. Going into this playoff series, they controlled their opponents largely because they had the puck almost all the time. In this series, the Ducks have figured out a way to take a physical toll on the Wings and control the puck long enough to generate enough offense to win games.
The fact that referee Brad Watson made a horrendous call that cost the Red Wings a goal in the final minute of the game certainly helped. What has to make it even more exasperating for the Red Wings was that Watson blew his whistle clearly after the puck crossed the goal line. But that was a judgment call that could not be reviewed and the Red Wings can hardly blame all their problems on Watson’s quick whistle. It also helped that the Ducks have been able to carry the puck out of their own zone almost every time without any kind of sustained pressure from the Red Wings.
But what has helped the Ducks more than anything in this series is the lack of production from the Red Wings’ best players. Pavel Datsyuk was absolutely dynamic at times during the game, but had nothing to show for his efforts – in part because Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller continued to be otherworldly and in part because so many of his shots were from areas of the ice that weren’t dangerous.
You do have to give their opponent a lot of credit in that regard. The Ducks have been able to keep the Red Wings to the outside very well and if the Red Wings don’t find a way to charge their way to the net and make life a little more challenging for Hiller, they’re going to be in trouble.
They’re going to be in even bigger trouble if Marian Hossa (zero points in this series), Datsyuk (one assist), and Tomas Holmstrom (zero points) don’t start outscoring Chris Osgood. It’s all well and good that Johan Franzen and Nicklas Lidstrom have been producing for the Red Wings, but the defending champions are going nowhere unless their top offensive players begin to produce.
And that’s not easy. Chris Pronger wasn’t voted one of the dirtiest players in the league for nothing. Going to the front of the net when Pronger and Co., are occupying that part of the ice is not exactly the most enticing prospect. But that is where the Red Wings are going to have to go – come on, Hossa, you’re a very large man and you can take it.
It’s clear the Red Wings can still win this series if they start moving their feet, begin going to the net with more reckless abandon and establish a forecheck that challenges the Ducks.
Anaheim, meanwhile, can topple the Red Wings, but all the games will be ugly.
It will be interesting to see how the Red Wings respond to the adversity they faced in Game 3, particularly the fact that they were clearly robbed of a goal in the last minute. It could be a series changing moment if the Red Wings allow it to be one. But the defending champions will have to show their championship pedigree on a number of fronts if they want to win this series.
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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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