The Ducks did it! They overcame the tough Red Wings and the officials to take out Detroit 4-3 in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. They now advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the second time and will play the Ottawa Senators starting Monday, May 28, 2007 at the Honda Center in Anaheim. JS Giguere was spectacular in goal coming up big time and time again especially late in the game when the Ducks were shorthanded a common occurrence throughout the series. Rob Niedermayer opened the scoring shorthanded as he deflected a shot from Chris Pronger to give the Ducks a 1-0 lead in front of a frenzy sell out crowd. Cory Perry made it 2-0 in the second period picking up a rebound that Dominik Hasek apparently thought he had covered. The Ducks took a 3 goal lead when Ryan Getzlaf scored a power play goal near the end of the second period. Getzlaf has been playing like a man possessed in the post season . In this series he neutralized the Wings forwards by playing great defense for a winger, and has come up huge scoring and creating multiple chances on offense.
I interviewed him after the game and he was very gracious and satisfied with the series win overcoming some rough obstacles and when asked about the officiating he replied, “What can we do? We just have to do the best we can and not yell at the refs while we keep our composure”. Two late penalty calls almost cost the Ducks the win. Coming from an unbiased opinion, it is tough to see one team get substantially more penalties called against them than the other. Most sports spectators like to see the game played and decided by the players, not the refs. To have a player out because of injury or suspension takes away some of the gratification if you are neutral and just enjoy watching the sport. I can relate this to the terrible suspension handed out without leniency by the NBA against the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference playoffs series agains the San Antonio Spurs.
In my opinion, they would have won the series if two of their better players had not been suspended for the crucial game 5 they lost at home. Take nothing away from San Antonio but in the end, Phoenix got shafted. Bending the rules a little bit especially in the playoffs to give each team the best chance to win is what fans want. Back to hockey now. To suspend Pronger for game 4 was entirely inappropriate and to be calling penalties that are questionable at best with a few minutes left in a critical game 6 is outlandish. Let the Players decide the game! Detroit got badly outplayed but two power play goals in the 3rd period pulled them within a goal and they actually had another power play with about 3 minutes to play but fell short. The Ducks battled all the way and even with many sportscasters such as Brett Hull saying the Wings were a much better team- well, they were wrong. The Ducks were the better team. They won despite playing much of the series shorthanded with penalties against them and a suspension to their best defenseman. Not to be redundant, but what happened to the good old days when the refs sometimes didn’t call more than 2-3 penalties in the whole game. I can see if there are too many men on the ice or it is blatant or a goal scoring threat, but many calls in this series were away from the play in the middle of the ice.
I have got to give more credit to some of the Duck players such as Todd Marchant. He was moved to the first line in game 6 and contributed with his gritty play, assisting on Getzlaf’s 5th goal of the playoffs. He also endured a bad cut to his nose which caused a bit of bleeding but came back after getting some first aid without missing a shift! This guy is a battler and you want him on your team. Perhaps the biggest class act is veteran Teemu Selanne. This Finnish sniper has been around a while and was truly a gentleman during interviews. This will be his first Stanley Cup final after 15 seasons and has been a big part of this team and season. He led the team in goals but none one was bigger than game five’s overtime goal that he lifted high over Hasek to finish off the Wings. Selanne was very modest and stayed even keel during the interviews. I asked him how he felt and he said he was happy but it was obvious he had such deep emotion inside despite his calm demenor in the locker room. I also asked him what he thought of Ottawa in the finals and he was one of the only players to comment about them saying he has watched many of their playoff games. He mentioned they were very skilled offensively and had an overall deep and great team.
Most everyone else I asked about the finals didn’t want to talk about it, rightfully so, as they wanted to enjoy the moment and not think ahead. However, this Ducks team knows it is not fully satisfied yet. They entered this season on a mission to win the Stanley Cup, not just get close to it. Many experts predicted they would win, including Barry Melrose. Their team chemistry is unmatched but the finals will be extremely difficult as Ottawa is a tough customer. I actually thought Ottawa may be the Indianapolis Colts of hockey before the playoffs began. The Colts and Senators each have been picked many times the last 10 years to perform well in the playoffs and get to the finals if not win it. They both kept underachieving with disappointing losses that kept mounting up. The Senators were picked quite a few times to go all the way, but kept getting knocked out in the first round. Even Hasek went over there to see if he could get them over the hump a few years back but that didn’t work out. Ray Emery is now their starting goalie and has been playing great, but he is not as experienced nor as talented as Giguere. The Senators have a deep team and perhaps the best first line in the NHL lead by Snipers Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley. Heatley, who scored 50 points this year has been a scoring phenom his whole career and has played with the Atlanta Thrashers. He seemed to be at home there but a tragic car accident that killed a teammate Dan Snyder with Heatley responsible negligently at the wheel turned his world upside down. Besides losing a great friend, his days were numbered in Atlanta. They shipped him to Ottawa two years ago for Marion Hossa, also a great scorer but Heatley has been more consistent and a better fit with the team. Their defense is led by veterans Wade Redden and Chris Phillips, so this team is pretty solid at every position. The Ducks will have Pronger or Scott Niedermayer, if not both, play against that first line as much as possible. If the Ducks can stay out of the penalty box and continue their strong play on all ends of the ice, I give them the nod over the Senators to capture their first Stanley Cup. Both teams, however, are playing at a high level and both are extremely confident right now.
The first twogames of the series at Anaheim on May 28th and May 30th will be carried on the Versus channel, with the remaining games on NBC. All games will start at 5pm (PST) with game 3 on June 2nd and Game 4 on June 4th in Ottawa, back for game 5 in Anaheim on June 6th, game 6 on June 9th in Ottawa and a game 7 would be on June 11th in Anaheim (of course the last 3 games are If Necessary). You can find complete information about the teams, players and more at www.nhl.com