Cross Checks: Anaheim Ducks
DALLAS -- This didn’t really have the makings of any sort of miracle on Texas ice for the Anaheim Ducks.
They were down two goals with a little more than two minutes left in Game 6 against the Dallas Stars, a deficit that had to seem much larger. The Stars had dictated play behind a raucous sellout crowd, and the Ducks had already replaced starting goalie Frederik Andersen with Jonas Hiller. Game 7 on Tuesday night was already on everyone's calendars.
Then everything changed.
"I wasn't expecting it to happen," Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said.
No one was, Bruce.
The first person Boudreau thanked for his team’s three-goal barrage in the final five minutes of game time -- two goals in the last 2:10 of regulation and the winner 2:47 into overtime that gave Anaheim the unlikely 5-4 win -- was Patrick Roy.
Roy? Yep. The Hall of Fame-goalie-turned-coach-of-the-Colorado Avalanche started pulling his netminder earlier than conventional hockey wisdom allowed this season and got results. Perhaps now Roy’s way will become conventional wisdom. Boudreau is surely a convert now. When the Ducks found themselves down two goals with just under three minutes left, the coach was watching the ice and waiting for a chance to pull Hiller.
"I knew if we got one, then anything could happen," Boudreau said. "We’ve had a year that everything like this has happened to us. You’re always hopeful and you believe and you’re talking on the bench to believe, but deep down you don’t really think it’s going to happen."
But it did. Nick Bonino scored with 2:10 left in the game with the extra attacker on the ice. You could sense the Ducks bench getting lots of life from it.
"No one was done," Bonino said. "We felt we could come back, considering we have done it all year."
That was the key goal. Because it happened with so much time left, it gave the Ducks a chance to ready themselves for one last burst to tie it.
"It makes a heck of a difference when that happens," Boudreau said. "Two goals and you’re thinking, ‘Yeah, maybe we got a chance,’ and you talk about it, but I don’t know if there’s a lot of belief in it. But when he scored that goal and you looked up at the clock and there’s still two-plus minutes, you go, ‘Hey, we’ve still got an opportunity here.’ That’s when everybody started to get pretty excited, and they probably went, ‘Uh-oh, we better defend and defend,’ and I think we just kept coming and they were nervous about the whole situation."
It made the Ducks the aggressors again. Boudreau pulled Hiller again to put additional pressure on Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen. As the seconds ticked by with half a minute left, bodies started piling up in front of the net. Lehtonen’s stick slid by, ending up where he couldn’t reach it. The goalie tried to cover the net but couldn’t as the puck squirted to Devante Smith-Pelly, who flicked it high over a sprawled Lehtonen.
Tie game. The goal left the sellout crowd of more than 19,000 stunned. It zapped all of the momentum the Stars had worked so hard to obtain. All that was left for Stars coach Lindy Ruff was a pep talk before overtime.
"I told them what I’ve been telling them all year: Refocus. Get ready to play," Ruff said. "The room was upbeat. I told them, 'Pick your heads up and get ready to go.'"
But it was the Ducks who got the best chance early in overtime and buried it. The Stars looked a bit dazed as they skated to shake hands at center ice. Heck, the Ducks looked a little bewildered, too.
"It’s a tough one to swallow," said Stars defenseman Trevor Daley, who was two minutes away from earning the club’s cowboy hat for MVP of the game and joining his teammates for another flight out west. "We felt there were a good three games that we probably had opportunities to win. It wasn’t just tonight. You want to learn from it. We’ve got a young team. We’ve got to move forward."
Lehtonen talked to the media and then sat at his locker, not moving an inch with his pads still on, staring at nothing in particular. Perhaps he was replaying the final three goals that altered the series, hoping for another chance to skate and try to make a save.
For the Stars, Sunday’s late collapse means the season ends earlier than they wanted, though perhaps not earlier than many expected. That won’t make anyone in the organization feel any better for the next few days, maybe months.
"We had it right there at 4-2 with two minutes left, but it’s a cruel way," Ruff said. "Sometimes hockey is cruel. It was cruel, really cruel to a group of guys that worked as hard as they possibly could."
For the Ducks, the win means they put last year’s disappointment behind them. Then, they skated into Detroit with a 3-2 series lead and lost in overtime only to come back home for Game 7 and lose by a goal. It was an early exit after a solid regular season.
Dallas was a few minutes away from those doubts maybe getting into the heads of the Ducks as they prepared for a Game 7. Instead, Anaheim gets a dramatic victory it can use as a building block for a second-round series against Pacific Division rival Los Angeles or San Jose.
The Stars, meanwhile, must use their first playoff appearance in six seasons as a learning experience.
"That’s not the way you want to go through it," Daley said. "With two minutes there, you think you’re going back to Anaheim. But it’s a learning lesson. We learn from it. We learn as a team. There’s a lot of young guys on this team that will be back next year. The playoffs isn’t given to you. It’s tough to get in the playoffs. When you do get the chance, you’ve got to take advantage of it, and we feel like we blew a great opportunity."
The Ducks took advantage and move on in a most unexpected way. It might be a good time for Boudreau to send Roy a thank-you text.
DALLAS -- The Anaheim Ducks are moving on to the second round of the playoffs after coming back to beat the Dallas Stars in Game 6 in Dallas on Sunday, 5-4.
How it happened: The Stars scored three goals in the first period to take control early. Dallas scored its first power play goal since Game 2 and Ryan Garbutt's goal with 59 seconds left in the period gave the Stars a two-goal cushion. For the second straight game in Dallas, Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen watched the end from the bench. He was pulled midway through the second period (he was pulled in the third period of Game 4 in Dallas) and replaced by Jonas Hiller for the remainder of the game. Daley's second goal of the game, at 10:33 of the second period, put the Stars up by two goals for the second time. It stayed that way until Nick Bonino scored with Hiller on the bench in favor of an extra skater with 2:10 left in the game. Anaheim pulled Hiller again in the final minute and off a huge scrum in front of the Stars' net, goalie Kari Lehtonen lost his stick and moments later lost sight of the puck. Devante Smith-Pelly found it just outside the crease and floated it top shelf to tie the score with 22 seconds left.
What it means: Anaheim wins the series, 4-2, scoring three unanswered goals to do it. They went through a goalie change, seemingly little momentum and a loud road and found a way to get it done. It also avoids any thoughts of last season, when they lost to Detroit in Game 6 and then fell at home in Game 7 in the first round.
Players of the game: Jonas Hiller and Nick Bonino. He came in midway through the second period and didn't let anything by him. Despite a bunch of scoring chances and play going on in front of him, Hiller kept the Ducks within range and they used some late third-period heroics to get the game to OT. Without Hiller's steady play in substitute duty, the Ducks aren't in the game to win it in overtime. Bonino scored the third goal of the game to get the Ducks within one and then deposited the game-winner in overtime.
Stat of the game: Three goals were scored in the final five minutes of the game by the Ducks to win it. The Ducks were relentless down the stretch. They pulled the goalie twice to score the tying goals and then Anaheim got the one shot it needed to win the series.
What's next: Anaheim moves on to the second round and awaits the winner of the San Jose-Los Angeles series. The Sharks and Kings played Game 6 on Monday.
DALLAS -- This wasn’t supposed to happen.
Not like this. Not to the top seed in the Western Conference, who skated into Dallas with a 2-0 lead in the series and an opportunity to seize full control.
Sure, the pesky and young Dallas Stars won Game 3. Hey, it was their first playoff game in six seasons. The crowd was fired up and the Stars played desperate. That was to be expected.
But in Game 4, the Ducks came out ready to set a different tone. They were physical. They hit anything on skates. They were aggressive and dictated tempo. They blocked shots and took advantage of scoring opportunities. And they did it all without their captain even in the building. Anaheim left the ice after the first period up 2-0. The Ducks were 40 minutes away from a 3-1 series lead.
Then in 27 seconds, the momentum was gone. With Ryan Getzlaf back in Anaheim getting treatment for a re-aggravated upper-body injury, the Stars’ captain made his presence felt. Jamie Benn won a faceoff just outside the offensive zone, pushed the puck forward and then fired a wrist shot past goalie Frederik Andersen.
The entire tenor of the game and possibly the series changed in that moment. The Dallas decibel level soared inside American Airlines Center and so did the Stars. It was Dallas’ speed that made the Ducks look so slow. And that speed created numerous chances.
“It’s been probably one of our biggest assets the whole year,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “When we’re skating, we’re a tough team to play against.”
The pressure left the Ducks’ defense wobbly and Andersen unsure. The Stars peppered the 24-year-old goalie with pucks and got one to go in on the short side, a shot from Vernon Fiddler that Andersen has to stop.
“I was expecting the pass,” Andersen said. “They had a couple of guys coming in toward the net over there. I wasn’t able to trust my D-men there and that’s my fault. That’s one I’ve got to have.”
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau saw it that way too and told backup goalie Jonas Hiller to get ready. But by the time Boudreau made the goalie change, the Stars had added two more goals in the first 7:44 of the third period and had a 4-2 lead, effectively ending the game.
“I really feel like we’re in a playoff series now,” Ruff said. “The first couple of games didn’t really feel like it; now we feel we’ve got a playoff series.”
That wasn’t the Ducks’ plan. They didn’t want the Stars feeling like they were in the series at all. The Stars team that squinted in the bright playoff lights in the first 40 minutes of Game 1 looks like it's enjoying itself now, perhaps wearing sunglasses to cut down on the glare. And Dallas has put all the pressure back on the Ducks, who now have some big questions to answer.
Will Getzlaf be ready for Game 5? Who will be the goaltender?
Those are questions you don't want to have to answer in a 2-2 series. But that’s where things stand now.
Getzlaf went back early with the intent to get treatment and do all he could to be ready for Game 5 on Friday. In typical playoff brinkmanship, Boudreau wouldn’t answer anything directly about the injury. But the Ducks clearly aren’t the same team without their scoring leader -- and team leader -- on the ice. So where is he missed the most?
“Everywhere,” Boudreau said. “He’s one of the elite players in the NHL. You miss him in the offensive zone. You miss him on the boards. You miss him as a leader. You miss him in a lot of ways.”
On the power play, too. The Ducks haven’t scored a goal with the man-advantage in a week, going back to Game 1.
As for the goalie, Boudreau said he’d talk about it with his coaching staff and general manager and decide Thursday. Don’t be surprised to see Hiller in Game 5.
Anaheim had a terrific opportunity to push the Stars to the edge of elimination. Now, the Ducks need to hope that returning home is a key in retrieving some lost momentum. Because there’s no doubt the Stars stole that on Wednesday and will take it with them to California.
Ruff’s right. It’s a playoff series now.
How it happened: Dallas controlled the final 40 minutes, scoring four unanswered goals -- two in the second and two in the third -- to turn a 2-0 deficit into a two-goal advantage. Cody Eakin scored on the rush early in the period, firing a wrist shot over Frederik Andersen to give the Stars their first lead of the game. Minutes later, Vernon Fiddler made a terrific backhand pass to Alex Goligoski, who didn't miss. That was all Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau needed to see of Andersen as Jonas Hiller replaced him midway through the final period.
The Ducks dominated the first period, holding the Stars without a shot for the final 9:21 of the period and getting two goals to take a 2-0 lead into the dressing room. But the Stars owned the second period. It took Stars captain Jamie Benn 27 seconds to get his team on the board, pushing the puck forward off a faceoff win and snapping one past Andersen. About six minutes later, Fiddler squeezed one over Andersen's shoulder on the short side to tie it.
What it means: Dallas has turned this into a best-of-three series by protecting their home ice in Games 3 and 4. The Ducks still get two of those three games in Anaheim, but the Stars will fly out on Thursday with the momentum.
Player of the game: The Stars' role players were the difference on Wednesday, led by Fiddler. He attacked the net, was physical when he needed to be, won some key faceoffs, blocked three shots and had a goal and an assist. That's a full game and a good one.
Stat of the game: 16-3. That was the shots on goal advantage for the Stars in the second period, when the momentum shifted. Shots can be a misleading stat, but the Stars just peppered the Anaheim net. They kept the puck in the offensive zone and the Ducks couldn't seem to get it out. The game went the Stars' direction from that point forward.
No captain: Ryan Getzlaf was scratched with an upper-body injury and flew back to Anaheim on Wednesday afternoon to get treatment. Rickard Rakell was inserted in Getzlaf's place. The Ducks listed Getzlaf as day-to-day and, by flying back and getting treatment, they are hopeful he will play in Game 5 on Friday.
What's next: Game 5 is Friday at 10:30 p.m. ET in Anaheim. And the Stars' win guarantees they'll be a Game 6 back in Dallas on Sunday.
DALLAS – Whether Kari Lehtonen wants to admit it or not, no one was under more pressure when Game 3 began than the 30-year-old goaltender.
The Dallas Stars, newcomers to the playoffs after a six-year hiatus, lost both games in Anaheim and desperately needed a victory on Wednesday to keep hopes alive for a longer postseason stay. And Lehtonen didn’t have a single playoff win on his resume.
Right away, the Ducks tested Lehtonen. Saku Koivu found the puck on his stick in close against Lehtonen and fired, only to have it smack off Lehtonen’s pads. It was Lehtonen’s body language after the save that had Stars goalie coach Mike Valley expecting a phenomenal night from his netminder.
“He got that shot and some others early and I could see a little swagger,” Valley said. “He relaxed and played his game. Having him as long as I’ve had him, I know everything about him it seems like. You just know how he moves and you can see when he’s feeling it and when his mind is in the right spot. You could tell early on that he was there.”
The Ducks could tell, too. They tried to get pucks through him any way possible. But he closed off the 5-hole, blocked enough of the net to watch top-shelf attempts hit the glass behind him. He got his long legs and skates out to keep wraparound attempts away and he stoned point-blank opportunities.
“We had probably, I think, the most chances we’ve had in the series before but we couldn’t beat him,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That’s what Lehtonen does. I’ve coached against him for many years and have seen him play games like that and he can do it, but we’ve got to find ways to score. We had chances to score. We just didn’t get it done.”
Lehtonen simply wouldn’t allow it. He made 37 saves, some of them stops that looked destined to flutter the netting behind him. Koivu had a few. Nick Bonino had one in the slot that Lehtonen blocked and Corey Perry took several whacks with traffic in front and still, Lehtonen didn’t let anything by him.
He donned a Stars cowboy hat after the game, worn by the MVP of the game as voted on by the team, and didn’t try to hide his smile.
"At the age of 30, it was about to get that first one," Lehtonen said. "It was nice to be able to be back there and help the team out."
While there are a bunch of new faces on the ice and in the front office, it’s easy to forget that Lehtonen is Joe Nieuwendyk's greatest legacy to this Stars team as the general manager. He traded for Lehtonen when he was an extra goalie in Atlanta dealing with a balky back and helped build him up into a solid starting goaltender. J.J. McQueen and Brad Jelllis got him in better shape and Valley put him through the mental and physical paces to improve him on and off the ice.
“He’s changed a lot since he got here,” Valley said. “He’s playing a style that suits him now. He’s a big goalie, so he’s letting the game come to him. He has unbelievable athleticism, but it’s a balance of being fundamentally sound and using that athleticism when you need to.
“I think just as important, he’s matured as a person. Goaltending is so much mental and being able to deal with different situations, being able to deal with pressure, being able to have a short memory and when you let in a goal, move on to the next one. If you have a bad or great game, move on. He’s early learned to do that and that’s maturity and experience. He doesn’t dwell on things. He learns from them and moves on.”
Lehtonen played like a true No. 1 goalie this season. He was a big reason this team ended its playoff drought. But the value of a goalie is determined in the playoffs. Things get tougher. Players get more physical. Traffic in front of the net rivals rush hour on the 405 in Los Angeles or 635 in Dallas.
Teams spend much of their time trying to make life as uncomfortable as possible for the goalie. Lehtonen pushed through all of it in a must-win game for the Stars.
“It’s an extra layer of confidence,” Valley said. “Any time you can accomplish something you haven’t done before, which is a playoff win for him, that’s huge. That’s a big stepping stone. Hopefully, it will create a lot more stepping stones.”
Now Lehtonen must prepare to do it all again on Wednesday, when the Ducks are liable to push even harder to get Lehtonen off his game. It will be yet another test for the goalie, who passed his toughest exam yet in Game 3.
DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars earned their first playoff victory since 2008, beating the Anaheim Ducks, 3-0. It was the Stars' first home game of the series, played in front of a sellout crowd of 19,120.
Some quick thoughts:
How it happened: The Stars got goals late in both the first and second periods. Jamie Benn, the Stars' second-leading goal scorer in the regular season, scored after Shawn Horcoff's shot from the left circle hit the pads of Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen and came right out to Benn on the right circle and he deposited it in the net. The goal was scored with 35 seconds left in the first period, allowing Dallas to take some momentum into the dressing room.
The teams were physical in the second period and both had some scoring chances. But it wasn't until the clock got under three minutes left that the Stars expanded their lead. Tyler Seguin's speed and puck-handling created the opportunity. He skated into the zone and left it for Valeri Nichuskin, who managed to get the puck through Andersen.
Dallas added another insurance goal midway through the third period.
What it means: The Stars earned their first shutout since April 10, 2008, at Anaheim in Game 1 of the first-round and in the process are back in the series. It was an opportunity lost for the Ducks to take a stranglehold in the series. The result also guarantees that the series will go back to Anaheim for Game 5 on Friday.
Player of the game: Kari Lehtonen was terrific when it mattered most. He made several key saves on some point-blank chances, including Saku Koivu and Nick Bonino early in the second period. That kept it a 1-0 game and the Stars were able to add to it later in the period. Lehtonen was in a good rhythm and not afraid to come out and challenge shots. And he saw a lot of them. The Ducks vastly outshot the Stars, but just couldn't get anything past Lehtonen, even when they got some traffic in front of him. He made 37 saves, earned his first playoff victory and did so in a shutout.
Stat of the game: The Stars' penalty kill was 5-for-5 and became a big momentum-booster for Stars goals late in the first and second periods. The Stars didn't allow rebound chances, blocked shots and Lehtonen was able to keep everything out. The Ducks haven't had a power-play goal since Game 1.
Injured defenseman: Stephane Robidas fractured his right leg early in the second period after getting tangled up with Ryan Garbutt in front of the Ducks' net. It's the same leg Robidas fractured in November when he was with Dallas, causing him to miss four months.
What's next: Game 4 is Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET at American Airlines Center before the series shifts back to Anaheim for Game 5 on Friday.
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Before these playoffs began, there was a conversation between the previous Anaheim Ducks captain and the current Ducks captain. Scott Niedermayer, now coaching for the Ducks, passed on a bit of advice to Ryan Getzlaf.
“Control what I could control, and don’t let anybody stand in our way,” Getzlaf said following the Ducks' 3-2 overtime win over the Red Wings in Game 5 on Wednesday night. “That’s the message we relay throughout our locker room every game and every period. It’s got to stay the same way, the same course, the whole time.”
It’s a level-headedness that Getzlaf has preached nonstop to his younger teammates during the Ducks' first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings, one in which they hold a 3-2 lead. It was a message he repeated before another overtime session between these two teams.
“He stepped up and settled all the guys down and made us confident that it was our game and we were going to go out [there] and play our best,” said Kyle Palmieri, whose first-period goal through a mass of bodies erased an early Red Wings lead. “It was an incredible game and it was a lot of fun to be part of.”
And Getzlaf was the best player on the ice for the entire game. His calm isn’t just in the dressing room or on the bench; he has the same poise when he’s carrying the puck. No goal was bigger than his power-play goal at the end of the second period that followed his team successfully killing off a portion of Daniel Winnik’s boarding major.
Getzlaf took a pass from Francois Beauchemin, calmly skated through the neutral zone and worked his way to the middle of the ice in front of Jimmy Howard. Sensing there was no pressure coming from the back, he waited and waited before blistering a wrister past Howard. Like that, the game was tied.
It was every bit as big as his goal in Game 3, when he converted a Damien Brunner turnover into a two-goal lead in that Ducks win. If the Ducks make a run this spring, these are going to be the moments people remember.
“To watch that guy -- the way he plays, the way he battles, the way he carries himself, he’s won before and it’s showing in these games,” Ducks defenseman Bryan Allen said. “His composure and leadership are great.”
He’s taking Niedermayer’s words to heart. Don’t let anybody stand in your way. It showed on a play Getzlaf had in overtime when he met 6-foot-4 Jonathan Ericsson in the corner for a fight for the puck, won the battle and then fed Allen with a pass that could have ended the game if he had been able to find the net.
It didn’t matter; a minute later, Nick Bonino’s goal ended it. But it was clear Getzlaf wasn’t done making plays until this thing was over.
“He backhand-passes between that guy's legs and right on my tape; I don’t know how I didn’t score,” Allen said, marveling at the skill and leadership shown by his captain. “He’s a special player and he’s showing it in this series.”
DETROIT -- It would have been worse if nobody mentioned it. Detroit Red Wings forward Damien Brunner didn’t sleep much on Saturday night after Ryan Getzlaf picked him clean in front of Jimmy Howard to score a back-breaking goal in the Anaheim Ducks’ Game 3 win.
Brunner momentarily laid on his stomach as Getzlaf celebrated in an excruciating moment for a young player still learning how to win in the playoffs.
When Brunner showed up at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday, it wasn’t awkward silences or teammates avoiding him.
Instead, it was guys giving him a hard time.
“[Pavel Datsyuk] was razzing him a little bit,” said defenseman Brendan Smith, who also jumped in with his own comments.
“I kind of threw a little chirp in there, ‘I heard you made the highlight reels,’” Smith said, smiling. “If he’s down, you have to get in there and help him out and get it over with.”
The best joke came from Brunner’s friends back home in Switzerland. One told him that he should call the league and make sure he got an assist on Getzlaf’s goal. That’s pretty good.
Some teammates preferred a tap on the shoulder or other small gesture to show they were still with him. That they knew exactly how he felt.
"It made me feel needed for the next game,” Brunner said.
That next game was Monday night. It was a crucial game the Red Wings had to win to send this series back to Anaheim in any kind of competitive form. And because it’s the playoffs, and this is how hockey goes, the guy who is crushed for a momentary lapse of judgement in one game can totally redeem himself in the next.
That moment came with less than five minutes remaining in overtime of Game 4. Red Wings rookie forward Gustav Nyquist raced toward Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller with the puck in front of him. Hiller came out for a poke check, and all Brunner saw was the back of two Ducks players as he trailed the play and skated straight to an opening in front of the net. The puck arrived at about the same time.
“It came out perfectly, and I just had to lift it over [Hiller’s] pad there,” Brunner said.
Brunner had the game winner, a 3-2 overtime win for the Red Wings, one that evened the series 2-2.
Nyquist didn’t see the goal because after racing toward Hiller, he went to the corner of the ice. A moment later he turned, and there was Brunner.
“Brunner is standing there [with] a big smile on his face,” Nyquist said. “I guess he put it in.”
It was another overtime goal by one of the Red Wings' newest forwards, as Detroit’s young players continue to keep this series interesting. Of course, it was Datsyuk who tied the game with a third-period laser, but that kind of greatness is expected from Datsyuk.
It’s the contributions from guys like Brunner and Smith, who scored his first career playoff goal in the third period, that this Detroit team relies on to keep up with the deeper, more experienced Ducks.
The veterans on the Red Wings consistently told the younger players that they needed to make this a best-of-three series. They needed this one win to do it.
Brunner’s goal of redemption made it happen. The Getzlaf turnover is already a fading memory.
ANAHEIM -- The Detroit Red Wings jumped out to a two-goal lead just five minutes into Game 2, then Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau called a timeout to gather his team and deliver a message.
Stay with it.
For the most part, Anaheim had carried the play, but the Ducks were burned by an ugly turnover from Teemu Selanne that set up Damien Brunner’s first NHL playoff goal, one that followed a goal from Justin Abdelkader 48 seconds into the game when he found a corner on Jonas Hiller, screened by a defenseman.
Even when the Red Wings went into the first intermission with that same lead, Boudreau reminded his players that winning each of the next two periods by one goal would be enough to wrestle this game back.
Even as Detroit opened a three-goal lead, Boudreau and the Ducks kept pushing.
“They were always talking about, Get one and we can get two,” Boudreau said. “Get one and we can get two.”
By the time Bobby Ryan tied the game late in the third period, it felt like an inevitability. The push from the Ducks got stronger and stronger as the game went on as Detroit mistakenly tried to sit on a lead against one of the biggest offensive powerhouses in the playoffs.
“They just kept coming at us, coming at us. In the playoffs, you can’t really take your foot off the gas,” Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said. “That includes all of us.”
But Detroit hung on in this one, and the 5-4 overtime win taught us something about each one of these teams. First there’s no lead safe against the relentless Ducks. And the young, skilled Red Wings still have enough veteran presence to regroup while learning on the fly in the playoffs.
It sets up the making of what could end up being an incredible series.
Johan Franzen did what he does during the playoffs, scoring twice. But it was 23-year-old Gustav Nuquist who won it in overtime. A mix of Red Wings old and new sending this series back to Detroit tied 1-1.
“We’re going to learn from this experience,” Franzen said. “We’re a young team, a lot of new players this year. We’re probably going to come up stronger from playing this game.”
It was a game that marked the arrival of Detroit’s greenest players. Brunner, who had been slumping offensively, had a three-point night. Nyquist showed his high-end skill, in popping in the game winner. And defenseman Danny DeKeyser continued to show his incredible cool. When Selanne took a swing at the back of his head, then followed it up with a shove, the defenseman who was in college classes a few months ago just skated away.
The win was exactly the formula the Red Wings need moving forward in this series. Contributions from the kids mixed it with the expected production from the veterans, such as Pavel Datsyuk (two assists), Henrik Zetterberg and Franzen.
Boudreau wanted this thing to end in regulation. When the Ducks tied it on Ryan’s goal, he saw Detroit reeling. He saw Howard struggling in goal. He saw an opportunity he knew would disappear with the third period.
It did. The Red Wings regrouped and capitalized on a overtime power play. The goal capped a game in which the competition level, physical play and scoring improved dramatically from Game 1. For both teams.
It only gets more interesting from here.
“We know it’s going to be tight,” Franzen said. “They have a skilled group, a hard playing group like us. It’s going to be fun.”
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It was the most valuable hockey card in 9-year-old Ben Lovejoy’s collection, so he remembers it well. A 1991-92 Upper Deck Teemu Selanne rookie card, worth $4.
“Through having that card, I became a fan of his,” Lovejoy told ESPN The Magazine following the Anaheim Ducks' 3-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings in Game 1 of their first-round series.
So, yeah, it was pretty cool to be the guy setting up Selanne on a power-play goal early in the third period that ended up being the game-winner.
Lovejoy’s job on the power play is fairly simple: shoot the puck and make sure the Ducks don’t get scored on. Moments before setting up Selanne, he had a shot blocked by Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser.
When he got the puck again at the point, he now had a little more space to operate.
“I think that I got a little respect that second play. I looked [Sheldon Souray] off and passed it to the legend,” Lovejoy, who came over from the Penguins in a February trade, said. “I’ve played with some good players so far in my career. I’ve learned that you pass to people who are better than you.”
It’s a pretty solid strategy, and a moment later the Ducks had the lead. One they wouldn’t surrender.
It was playoff goal No. 42 for the 42-year-old Selanne, and those goals never get old. Not for those witnessing or for the legend himself.
“Absolutely,” he said. “When you have a passion for [scoring] goals it doesn’t matter how old you are. Maybe the celebrations go down a little, but inside it’s [the] same feeling.”
The Ducks had one of the best power plays in the league this season, finishing No. 4 overall at 21.5 percent, and scored twice with an advantage against the Red Wings; this might signal a matchup Anaheim can expose in this series. Detroit’s penalty kill struggled early on this season and dramatically improved as the season progressed, finishing at No. 12 in the league during the regular season. But the Anaheim power play was the reason the Ducks have jumped out to a 1-0 lead in this series and has the talent to continue that success moving forward.
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau has all kinds of skill at his disposal on the two units, including a mix of talent at the point in guys like Cam Fowler and Souray, along with high-end offensive producers like Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Nick Bonino and his puck-retrieving prowess make it all work.
And, of course, there’s the legend Selanne, who can change a game with one shot like he did when he beat Jimmy Howard short side. Like he’s been doing for years, going all the way back to that kid on the hockey card.
“This is the best time for the hockey player -- every shift, every shot, every goal matters,” Selanne said. “That’s why it’s so special.”
Tuesday: Flyers at Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET
The third game in a mighty 12-game homestand for the Lightning, and they host the league’s best team (at least for our money). Tampa Bay could pull within two points of Philly for the top spot the Eastern Conference.
Prediction: The Bolts start the post-All-Star weekend schedule with their third straight win.
Tuesday: Canucks at Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Stars will be hoping to avenge their 7-1 loss in Vancouver shortly before the break. We wonder if the Canucks will be spending a few nights in Big D before the game as the Stars did in Vancouver? Probably not. Still, this should be a good tilt between two division leaders.
Prediction: The Stars will even the score at home.
Wednesday: Sharks at Ducks, 10 p.m. ET
The Ducks have won seven of their past 10 games and continue to impress. Goalie Jonas Hiller was solid in the All-Star Game, and he’ll have to keep up his strong play against a Sharks team that would like to create some breathing room for itself in the playoff bracket. San Jose is 4-0-1 in its past five contests.
Prediction: The Ducks will continue their strong play and defeat the streaky Sharks.
Thursday: Wild at Avalanche, 9 p.m. ET
The Avs hit the break tied with San Jose for the last playoff berth, while the Wild were just one point back and have come on strong in recent weeks. This is the kind of game that’s going to hurt for the loser.
Prediction: The Avs will get their game going.
Friday: Sabres at Penguins, 7 p.m. ET
The Sabres have some ground to make up if they want to revisit the playoff tournament in April, and they’ll visit a Penguins team still missing Sidney Crosby even though the Pittsburgh captain has been given clearance to begin light workouts. There’s a better chance Evgeni Malkin will be on the ice, but either way, these are the types of games the Sabres have to win.
Prediction: Crosby or no Crosby, the Pens will be too tough for the Sabres.
Last week: 3-2.
Saku Koivu has imagined what his return to Montreal will be like Saturday night.
He figures it'll hit him the most when he's standing on the ice during the national anthems. With the memories flashing in his mind and his heart pumping a little more than normal, he'll have the urge to stop a tear.
Koivu's unique relationship with the fans in Montreal will always be highlighted by their emotional support when the former Habs captain battled back from cancer in spring 2002.
"My relationship and the bond with the people in Montreal was kind of special and doesn't happen very often," Koivu said this week. "Obviously, that off-the-ice battle I went through, plus injuries I came back from, I always felt the fans are really knowledgeable there and respected and appreciated guys that gave whatever they had and guys that fought through things. I have nothing but great memories from those years, and I hope that the people there feel the same way."
An introspective Koivu spent some time after Wednesday's practice in Toronto with me and Marc Antoine Godin of Montreal's La Presse. There was absolutely no bitterness over the Canadiens letting Koivu walk in the summer of 2009, only positive memories of his 13 seasons wearing the famed Montreal uniform. It's clear that the time between his last season in Montreal and his time with the Anaheim Ducks since then has been a nice buffer to let the dust settle.
Koivu admitted the nerves were beginning to build up as Saturday approached.
"I'm a little bit nervous, in a good way," he said. "A lot of emotions involved there. I was there for so long, and so many things happened throughout those years. I haven't been back in Montreal, at all, since the playoffs ended two years ago. It's been a while."
His winning goal in Game 3 against Boston in the 2002 playoffs after his return from cancer still resonates. The Bruins were heavily favored, but they had no chance with the wave of emotion the underdog Habs were channeling through their courageous captain.
"The excitement of the fans in Montreal, especially in the playoffs, I don't think you can get that anywhere else," Koivu recalled when asked about that spring of 2002. "For a hockey player, I kind of wish everyone could go through that and experience what it is to play there. It's very unique. That spring when I came back, there were so many things ... that feeling that we could overcome anything. Myself coming back and beating Boston in the playoffs, that was such a special feeling."
Godin, who covers the Habs, asked Koivu a question that made the forward pause: If he could go back and rewrite any part of his time in Montreal, what would it be? At first, Koivu said he has wished the team had had more playoff success. Then, he added the big-time kicker.
"And perhaps be fluent in French," Koivu said with a bit of a smile. Or was it a smirk?
His inability (or unwillingness?) to speak French was an on-again-off-again topic in his time in Montreal. Some Habs fans (and media) believed the captain should have spoken Quebec's No. 1 language. Personally, and I say this as a proud French-Canadian, I got tired of the subject.
"I totally understand the point they were coming from," Koivu said of the French debate. "I was there long enough to learn, but hopefully now that's behind me and we don't have to go back there."
Indeed, let's move on.
When asked about what he believed was his Montreal legacy, Koivu thought for a few seconds and didn't give a hockey answer.
"Probably, for myself, the proudest thing I was able to accomplish was the cancer foundation we set up there and we got the PET scan," Koivu said.
The PET/CT scan machine Koivu helped bring to Montreal General Hospital is "a sophisticated piece of equipment used in diagnosing and treating various illnesses [including cancers] with what is known as Positron Emission Tomography," according to the hospital's website.
"When I think about hockey, it's just a game with goals and assists. When you retire, that disappears," Koivu said. "But when you walk in that hospital and you see your name there and you see the people that go through the machine, it's something that stays with us for a long time. People I've never spoken to are benefitting from that, and that's a legacy I'd like people to remember for me."
You talk about athletes giving back. Koivu didn't miss.
On the ice, Koivu interestingly never attained "love affair" status like Alexei Kovalev did in his time in Montreal. They are two different types of players; Habs fans love a flashy player. But the respect Montreal fans had for Koivu was never in question.
"As a player, if you get the respect that you deserve, that's what you're looking for," Koivu said. "Being loved? That might be too strong a word between fans and a player. But yeah, I've never considered myself a flashy player. I'm not talented enough to toe-drag. You have to put the hard work into your game, and that's how I see myself as a player, and I think that's how the people in Montreal saw it, as well.
"I think respect is a good word."
[I found a neat Koivu career retrospective on YouTube if you want to take a look.]
Pittsburgh Penguins (29-14-4) at New Jersey Devils (13-29-3), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-0 Pittsburgh
Starting goaltenders: Brent Johnson (8-3-2, 2.04 GAA) vs. Martin Brodeur (8-18-2, 2.97 GAA)
Preview: The Penguins take the ice without both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the first time since Malkin came into the league, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Reports out of Pittsburgh indicate Malkin is day to day with a sore knee, while Crosby is still recovering from a concussion. Pens coach Dan Bylsma will put Dustin Jeffrey on the top line with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. With a win tonight, Bylsma will tie Scotty Bowman for third place on the Penguins' all-time coaching wins list with 95.
Anaheim Ducks (26-19-4) at Toronto Maple Leafs (18-22-5), 7 p.m. ETStarting goaltenders: Jonas Hiller (23-15-3, 2.45 GAA) vs. Jean-Sebastien Giguere (8-7-3, 2.73 GAA)
Preview: Jean-Sebastien Giguere will face his former team for the first time since being traded to Toronto. Giguere helped the Ducks to two Stanley Cup finals appearances, winning it all in 2007. Giguere is also the Ducks franchise leader among goalies for games played (447) and wins (206). The struggling Leafs are coming off a 7-0 loss to the Rangers on Wednesday night. Giguere said Wednesday morning that he would consider waiving his no-trade clause if the team asked.
New York Rangers (27-18-3) at Carolina Hurricanes (22-18-6), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-1
Starting goaltenders: Henrik Lundqvist (20-14-3, 2.21 GAA) vs. Cam Ward (19-14-5, 2.72 GAA)
Preview: The Rangers are coming off a 7-0 win on Wednesday night, but they are an impressive 10-2-0 this season when playing the second game of back-to-back games and haven't allowed more than three goals in the second games. The Hurricanes are sitting in ninth place in the East and trying to fight into the playoff picture, but have lost three of their past four.
Washington Capitals (25-14-8) at New York Islanders (14-23-7), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-0 Washington
Starting goaltenders: Braden Holtby (2-2-1, 3.84 GAA) vs. Rick DiPietro (7-6-4, 3.43 GAA)
Preview: Looking the beat the Islanders for the ninth time in their past 10 meetings, the Capitals turn to Braden Holtby in net. Recalled from the Hershey Bears on Wednesday with both of Washington's two top goalies injured, Holtby will be making his fifth NHL start of the season. The Capitals have been held to three goals or fewer in 11 straight games and have one win in their past five games.
Ottawa Senators (17-23-7) at Philadelphia Flyers (30-11-5), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-0 Philadelphia
Starting goaltenders: Brian Elliott (12-16-6, 2.01 GAA) vs. Sergei Bobrovsky (18-6-3, 2.50 GAA)
Preview: Already leading the Eastern Conference, the Flyers now get to add top defenseman Chris Pronger back to the lineup. Pronger missed 13 games with a broken foot, but the Flyers went 9-4-0 in his absence and had the highest offensive production in the NHL at 3.46 goals per game. While Philadelphia is vying for the best record in the league, the Senators are tied with the Maple Leafs at the bottom of the Northeast due to a 1-6-3 stretch.
Tampa Bay Lightning (27-15-5) at Atlanta Thrashers (23-18-7), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 4-0 Tampa Bay
Starting goaltenders: Dwayne Roloson (4-3-0, 2.92 GAA) vs. Ondrej Pavelec (16-11-5, 2.49 GAA)
Preview: With the Capitals struggling this season, the Southeast Division is wide open and the Lightning are taking advantage. Steven Stamkos has reclaimed the league goal-scoring lead with 35 goals after scoring in his past three games. Also, Stamkos has a point in seven of eight career games against the Thrashers with six goals and six assists.
Detroit Red Wings (28-12-6) at St. Louis Blues (22-17-6), 8 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-1 Detroit
Starting goaltenders: Jimmy Howard (22-7-4, 2.83 GAA) vs. Jaroslav Halak (17-14-4, 2.50 GAA)
Preview: The injury-riddled Red Wings will welcome back Jimmy Howard as they try to avoid a season-worst fourth consecutive road loss. Howard missed two games after bruising his right knee. And with Chris Osgood sidelined by a hernia, the Wings are in talks to sign goalie Evgeni Nabokov, a source confirmed to ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun on Thursday.
San Jose Sharks (23-19-5) at Vancouver Canucks (29-10-7), 10 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-0 Vancouver
Starting goaltenders: Antti Niemi (11-13-2, 2.79 GAA) vs. Roberto Luongo (21-8-5, 2.38 GAA)
Preview: After earning at least one point in a 17 straight games, the Canucks are just 1-2-1 in their past four games. The Canucks now return home from a five-game road trip with a three-point advantage for the Western Conference lead. Vancouver has outscored San Jose 10-4 in two meetings this season, but the Sharks come into the game on a two-game winning streak.