The recently concluded Penguins-Capitals showdown earned a lot of the hype heaped on it before a single second of the second round playoff series had elapsed. But the way it ended – with a giant egg laid by the Caps in Game 7 – much of the series’ sheen was sapped.
The semifinal pitting Anaheim and Detroit wasn’t quite so anticipated, yet it peaked in a manner far superior to the Washington/Pittsburgh battle – a roller-coaster Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena that ended with the Red Wings beating the Ducks 4-3 to move on and face Chicago in the Western Conference final.
Once again, Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller was the difference in Anaheim keeping the score so close; he stopped 16 of 17 Detroit shots in the first period and 14 of 15 in the final frame, but was let down by his teammates.
Chief among them was Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf, who finished his final game of the year with no points, two penalties – one of which led to Detroit’s first goal – and only six of 16 faceoff wins. (Meanwhile, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit’s main men, combined for three points and 20 of 31 faceoff wins.)
Chris Pronger also let Hiller down on the game-winning goal, which came at the 17-minute mark of the third period and was hotly disputed (to no avail) by Hiller afterward.
Pronger was battling for position with Dan Cleary in front of Anaheim’s net, but he left to chase Zetterberg in the corner, thus freeing Cleary to take a pass from Zetterberg, shoot it at Hiller and jab at it once or twice until the puck (which Hiller never had control over and thus didn’t deserve a whistle to stop play) dribbled across the goal line.
Even if you accept the argument that Cleary deserved a goalie interference penalty rather than a goal, you also in fairness have to accept that the only reason the game was tied at three goals apiece was because the Ducks were the beneficiaries of a blown call that led to Anaheim’s second (and only power-play) goal of the night.
Twenty-six seconds before Cory Perry scored that second goal, the Wings were assessed a two-minute minor for goalie interference. Why? Because Pronger shoved Jiri Hudler into Hiller, then held up his glove with a face full of outrage while looking at the officials for a penalty. That he got one is a testament to the power of Pronger’s scowl.
Even with those breaks, it was all Anaheim could do just to keep up with Detroit. There should be much tipping of many hats at Ducks GM Bob Murray and his organization for such a gutsy post-season showing, but as the sequence that ended with the Wings’ third goal of Game 7 demonstrated, the more talented team deserved to move on and did move on.
That sequence – which was a thing of hockey beauty and required eye-popping moves from three Detroit players to have a remote shot of converting a scoring opportunity into a goal – began when Valtteri Filppula outlasted Anaheim’s Scott Niedermayer and Drew Miller in a zig-zagging race for the puck into the Ducks’ zone, then passed it to Pavel Datsyuk.
Datsyuk followed up a shot on Hiller by making a dazzling backwards pass from behind the net – and doing it while knowing he was about to be drilled into the end boards – to teammate Mikael Samuelsson, who blasted it into the Ducks’ net.
For a second, it looked like the Harlem Globetrotters at breakneck speed. That isn’t a slight on Anaheim at all; instead, it is an acknowledgment that the Red Wings’ dominance and doggedness, even against a former championship team like the Ducks, does not bode well for the three other conference finalists.
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Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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