As if trying to dethrone the defending champions isn’t enough pressure, the Anaheim Ducks are also operating under a bit of a time crunch.
With a 2-1 series lead over the Detroit Red Wings, Anaheim has put themselves in a position to knock off the No. 2 seed in the West after bumping the No. 1-ranked Sharks in the opening round.
But if they are to ruin the Red Wings’ spring, the Ducks best not dawdle. The longer it takes to potentially upset Detroit, the less likely Anaheim has enough left to win another round.
Despite playing in one of the league’s sunniest destinations, Anaheim has about the nastiest disposition around. The Ducks’ physical approach serves them very well in the intense atmosphere of playoff hockey. However, taking it to people also takes its toll on you.
Obviously Anaheim can’t and shouldn’t change its aggressive tactics, but smashing into people all over the ice doesn’t lend itself well to a series of long series.
It took six games for the Ducks to dispatch San Jose in Round 1, which is pretty darn good considering they weren’t supposed to win the series at all. But if Anaheim is to repeat its Cup run of 2007, it needs a soft-touch series along the way to preserve some juice.
The Wings, a soft touch you say? OK, before there’s a movement afoot to remove my name from The Hockey News brand based on delirious remarks, let me clarify: Detroit is clearly tough enough to beat any team in the league, as it showed last year. However, the Wings will never be confused with the Broad Street Bullies and if Anaheim can find a way to expedite the upset process, it will have beaten a very good – but not physically punishing – team en route to the conference final.
No crew chasing down a championship is anxious to play extra games, but efficiency is more crucial in Anaheim for a number of reasons.
First, as mentioned, they play a rough-and-tumble style that’s really hard to maintain for two months. When the Webbed Warriors took the big prize two years ago, they played a total of 10 games through the first two rounds, KO’d Detroit in six in the West final, then smashed Ottawa in five. That means it took a fairly paltry 21 games to win it all.
Let’s go ahead and assume a proud, talented Detroit team will win Game 5 of its current series with the Ducks at Joe Louis Arena. That means Anaheim has to win Game 4 if they hope to close things out in six, bringing their two-round total to 12 games.
And what looms in the final West showdown? Probably a cast of gritty Vancouver Canucks, whose tough play also happens to be backed by the world’s best goalie.
That’s got seven blood-smeared games all over it.
Anaheim also relies heavily on a handful of players for its success and two of them, despite play that belies how many birthdays they’ve had, aren’t getting any younger.
Chris Pronger, 34, leads all NHLers in average playoff ice time with 27:35 per game. Scott Niedermayer, 35, is No. 2 at 27:08.
Of the first 24 players in that category only one is a forward. That would be, at No. 12, Anaheim beast Ryan Getzlaf, who’s using 25:26 of ice time per game to lead the post-season scoring derby with 14 points in nine games. The Ducks center plays almost three more minutes per contest than the next closest forward, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin.
Now, burnout potential aside, add the outstanding goaltending of Jonas Hillier into the mix with those three guys and it’s easy to see why Anaheim has a real shot at its second Cup in three years.
Pronger is the poster boy for playoff hockey. It’s basically like he was molded from miserable clay to excel at this time of year.
Watch Niedermayer play and you almost get mad at him for contemplating retirement and potentially robbing us of his majestic skating stride.
Then consider both those guys are behind Hiller and Getzlaf in the Conn Smythe race and it’s pretty clear the Ducks are headed in the right direction.
They just can’t waste any time getting there.
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Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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