Done With the First Four, On To the Next Two (Three?)

Gregory Shamus

The first four games of this series have provided us with plenty to think about, and when all is said and done, plenty to remember. But right now, it's the next couple games that matter.

In Game One, the Ducks and Red Wings both showed up and played the type of game we all expected for a series opener between these two rivals. It was physical and defensive, but it wasn't nasty — not yet. It's easy to look back on that game and say the Ducks won it on the power play, but to say that would be to ignore the effort that went into containing the Red Wings' attack, particularly when that attack wore 13 or 40 on its back. Holding those two off the scoresheet went a long way toward preserving the lead that came off of Teemu Selanne's stick. After that goal, the game turned into a nail-biter, and it stayed that way until Francois Beauchemin licked the envelope with an empty net goal.

If Game One was a nail-biter, Game Two was a hand-eater. This one belongs right up there in the rivalry's history with Game One in 2003, Game Five in 2007, and Game Seven in 2009, not in terms of overall significance, but of pure entertainment value. If the Penguins and Flyers had played a game like this, you would see it every summer on NHL Network when they show the old classics because there isn't anything else to show. We all briefly, but not seriously, considered shutting the TV off when Johan Franzen scored twenty seconds into the third period to make it 4-1. We all inadvertently woke up at least a couple of neighbors when Bobby Ryan knotted it up. And we all stayed awake staring at the ceiling after we went to bed. This is the game that convinced us we were in for a long series. It is also the game that convinced us that if the Ducks could stay out of the penalty box, they should win this series.

Penalty killing was the story of Game Three. Penalty killing and Ryan Getzlaf. The Ducks gave Detroit the same amount of man advantages that they did in Game Two, six, but surrendered three fewer power play goals. Red Wings fans seem to think the five minute major to Justin Abdelkader determined the outcome of this game. The scoreboard at the end of that power play says otherwise. The Ducks won this game in the third, on the strength of a shorthanded goal, an even strength goal, and another power play goal.

Game Four was just ugly. The Ducks played worse in this one than the Red Wings had played in Game Three, and don't let the scoreboard tell you otherwise. Pavel Datsyuk looked like a video game hockey player, skating circles around his opponents. Jonas Hiller dragged his team into overtime, but the players in front of him couldn't get anything going once they got there.

So what does this tell us? Allow me to point out the obvious: the team that works the hardest will win. On paper, the Ducks are the deeper team this year, but it sure didn't look like that in Game Four. The two games at the Joe made it clear not only that either team could win this series, but also that either team could dominate in the remaining games.

Going into this series, the Ducks had won each of the last five playoff overtime games between these clubs, dating back to 2003. In Game Two, the Ducks never made it to even strength overtime, but in Game Four, they looked like they were trying to hold on long enough to go to a shootout. If this series sees overtime action again — and I'm inclined to think it will — you can bet Bruce Boudreau is going to demand more aggressive play from his charges.

This series has turned into a best of three, and we are sure to see some lineup before it is over. The most obvious of these is the return of Abdelkader in Game Six. But the Ducks have some changes to think about as well. I would be surprised — I think we would all be surprised — if the same six defenseman that dressed in Game Four dress again in Game Five. Beauchemin, Ben Lovejoy, and Cam Fowler are safe. Toni Lydman did not practice on Tuesday, and will probably miss at least another game. After sitting out Game Three in large part because of the costly penalties he took in Game Two, Sheldon Souray played in Game Four, and probably earned a spot in Game Five's lineup, not because he played a great game, but because didn't play as poorly as Bryan Allen or Luca Sbisa. Boudreau could drop either one of those two and replace him with Sami Vatanen, in the hopes that the young Finn can inject some offense into the back end. Personally, I would love to see Vatanen in for Sbisa, and I don't think I'm alone on that.

Forward lines are a little trickier. There are as many possible combinations as there are fans calling for them, and with the possible exception of the Koivu line, none of the combinations will stay the same throughout the rest of the series, or in all likelihood the next game. Should Boudreau do the unthinkable and separate the Twins? Perhaps a change of centerman scenery would give Corey Perry a long overdue spark? Should Emerson Etem be given an audition to play alongside Getzlaf? Have we seen the last of Radek Dvorak, or does anyone else think that maybe, just maybe, his goalscoring salvo was the result of experience instead of luck, and perhaps he deserves a spot in the lineup?

Bruce Boudreau has a lot to consider going into the back nine of this series. The players that have been in the lineup so far can win, but that doesn't mean that they will. A timely Sami Vatanen slapshot could go a long way toward making that happen.

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