Quite a difference in Games 3 & 4 at the Honda Center between the Ducks and Red Wings in the Semifinals of the Western Conference. The winner of this series plays for the Stanley Cup vs. the Buffalo/Ottawa winner.
The Red Wings had everything going for them. They totally outplayed the Ducks and took advantage of the lopsided penalty calls. The Wings had 6 more power plays including a major one in the second period. The referees Brad Watson and especially Bill McCreary took over the game. Granted the Ducks didn’t play well and starting Goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere was pulled in the second period after yielding 3 goals, but for crying out loud, let the teams play. The refs called the game so closely and there were some very questionable calls. I remember in the past where there would be 1-2 penalties called during a whole playoff game. The Wings deserve credit as Dominik Hasek was dominator this game smothering everything. After a great game 2 win in Overtime by Scott Niedemayer assisted by his brother Rob, the Ducks were confident. That was until Detroit jumped on 2 late first period goals and continued the rampage in the second period. Zetterberg, Lidstrom, and Holmstrom controlled their positions while the Wings got key contributions from Franzen, Filppula and Samuelsson who all figured in the scoring. The Ducks got more bad news after game 2’s victory learning the first line left winger Chris Kunitz will be lost for the season with a broken right hand. Brad May replaced him and the lines were shuffled but it didn’t matter on this night as the Wings won 5-0.
The Ducks again started with some terrible news that Star Defender Chris Pronger would be suspended for his hit (let’s call it a hard check) that drew blood on Holmstrom in Game 3. He gets under your skin and does his fair share of hitting and interfering in front of the net himself. Somebody has got to do something with these decisions. To suspend a player because of a hard hit in the playoffs is ridiculous. If it caused the player a bad injury or he was unable to continue, that is a different story. However Holmstrom continued and got an assist in the 3rd period after Pronger’s hit.
So the Ducks were shorthanded but they came out on fire. They played with much more energy, fresher legs and were very inspired. They scored early with Corey Perry netting one unassisted in the second minute of play before the Wings tied it up on Dan Cleary’s first goal. Ric Jackman, who took Pronger’s place in the lineup beat Hasek on a great drop pass from Ryan Getzlaf to give the Ducks the lead. Then Teemu Selanne got his first goal of the series after a scramble to put the Ducks up 3-1 in the first period. The crowd was much more into this game and helped will the Ducks to keep up their great play. Period 2 started and then it happened again. The refs got too involved calling some very questionable calls (Especially for a Playoff Game). The Cleary/ Todd Bertuzzi connection took over and the Wings scored 2 power play goals to tie the score going to the 3rd period. Rob Niedermayer got a cross checking penalty 2 seconds into the third and it looked like the tide was turning. Anaheim killed that 5 on 3 power play and then Player of the Game, Getzlaf, beat Hasek after waiting till he was screened and fired a shot high up into the net on their own power play to give the Ducks a one goal lead. The team hung in there and Giguere made some key saves to keep them in front. Rob Niedermayer capped the evening with an empty net goal to put away the Wings and tie up the series at 2-2 heading back to Detroit for Game 5 on Sunday afternoon. A win would put them in position to close out the series on Tuesday May 22 and head to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The keys to the game were the following: The home crowd started early and boosted the Ducks to play with great emotion and energy. They got in front of Hasek to make it difficult for one of the game’s best netminders. They didn’t give up and played fearless hockey as their big name players such as Selanne and Getzlaf were on top of their game.
Keys to the rest of the series- The Ducks must stay out of the penalty box. Since they know the refs are calling it close, they must be more patient and disciplined, even if some of the Detroit players get under their skin. The best way to hurt the Wings is to play smart hockey and not take bad penalties. If they knock out the Wings, that will hurt much more than some retaliation hit or bad penalty. All they have to do is keep their composure. They must continue to get in front of Hasek as he is too good if not screened. They need to utilize their speed against Chelios who is a Hall of Famer but 45 yrs. old. Andy McDonald needs to come alive and Selanne and some of their other big scorers need to shoot more aggresively. Having Pronger back will be a huge key and if Giguere can come up big, the Ducks chances are very good.
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