Alright folks, enjoy the games tonight. Big-time Penguins/Capitals coverage on Saturday. Thanks for reading ... now grab your No. 2 pencils for our previews of the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs' second round, featuring an academic format and the sort of useless knowledge you'd otherwise expect from a pop quiz.
Can the Detroit Red Wings vs. the Anaheim Ducks be considered one of the NHL's best current rivalries? Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News wonders:
The teams have met four times in the playoffs, with the Wings claiming 4-0 sweeps in 1997 and '99. But the most recent series haven't been kind to them: the Ducks won 4-0 in 2003 and 4-2 in '07, when it won the Stanley Cup. Wings coach Mike Babcock also coached the Ducks from 2002-04.
Those factors should make their Western Conference semifinals, beginning Friday at Joe Louis Arena, wildly entertaining. "They're a championship team, they've been there, and they know what it takes," Dan Cleary said. "They proved that in the first round."
Not sure if you can elevate this thing to Wings/Avalanche quite yet; heck, it doesn't even have the heat Sharks/Ducks had in their series. But the potential is there for this to become an instant rivalry if it's as physical as the Ducks want it to be and if Anaheim makes this their second upset bid in a row.
What does our buddy Steve Dangle think?
The top sports headlines of the day
He seems to know his Wings and Ducks ... do you? Pop quiz, hot shots.
Detroit Red Wings (2) vs. Anaheim Ducks (8)
Friday, May 1 at Detroit, 7:00 p.m. VERSUS, CBC
Sunday, May 3 at Detroit, 2:00 p.m. NBC, TSN
Tuesday, May 5 at Anaheim, 10:30 p.m. VERSUS, TSN
Thursday, May 7 at Anaheim, 10:30 p.m. VERSUS, TSN
*Sunday, May 10 at Detroit, 5:00 p.m. TSN
*Tuesday, May 12 at Anaheim, TBD VERSUS, TSN
*Thursday, May 14 at Detroit, TBD VERSUS, TSN
1. The Detroit Red Wings might have the advantage at forward because:
A. They have Kirk Maltby. Next!
B. OK, allow us to elaborate. They also have this Pavel Datsyuk fellow, who may be the most complete player in hockey. That the Wings were able to blow through the Columbus Blue Jackets with just a goal and an assist from their Hart Trophy finalist speaks to the firepower on this team. Playing on a line with Tomas Holmstrom and Marian Hossa, that point total will soar as the playoffs roll on and Datsyuk starts "dancing rock-n-roll with a puck." (Ah, the Russian wit.)
C. Like a fat guy descending into Grand Canyon, the Mule shouldered an impressive load for the Red Wings in Round 1. Johan Franzen had two goals, four assists and the series-clincher in Game 4, scoring in every game of the series. He's got 24 points and is a plus-17 in his last 20 playoff games. Henrik Zetterberg (three goals) and Dan Cleary (two goals, three assists) form a formidable second unit.
D. The Wings' skill players can dominate at both ends of the rink, and Detroit's sandpaper guys can match Anaheim grit-for-grit. This series is going to be as much about guys like Jiri Hudler, Valtteri Filppula, Mikael Samuelsson and Maltby as it is about Marian Hossa. Because if the plan is to wear down the Ducks defense, it's these players doing the wearing.
2. The Anaheim Ducks might have the advantage at forward because:
A. In case you haven't picked up on it yet, we're sort of impressed with the Ducks' top line. Consider that Ryan Getzlaf (23:19) and Corey Perry (21:30) had comparable average ice times as forwards to the Sharks' second defensive pairing of Rob Blake and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Consider that Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan accounted for 33 percent of the total points scored by the Ducks in the series. Consider that Getzlaf had as many points on the power play (3) as Devin Setoguchi or Patrick Marleau had in the entire series. Consider this line pretty damn good.
B. Teemu Selanne finally put a goal on the board in Game 6, and the hope is that one of the team's streakiest scorers will start getting on a tear in a series where the Ducks desperately need secondary scoring. Selanne has 68 points in 98 playoff games; we don't want to say he's old, but he's still using MySpace. Probably with his Prodigy dial-up service.
C. Dee-fence. The collapse of the Ducks' heralded checking line earlier this season was a pisser, leading to Sami Paulsson's trade to Chicago. Well, the line of Drew Miller, Todd Marchant and Rob Niedermayer is doing just dandy, thanks for asking. Marchant has a higher faceoff winning percentage (56.6) than Paulsson (53.3) this postseason. Line matching against the Wings is pretty much pointless because of their depth, but Marchant's going to be a key in slowing Detroit's power play.
D. Unless the Erik Christensen/Andrew Ebbett/Selanne line catches a little fire, the Ducks are perilously close to being a one-line team. Which is OK when your one line is that good, but not so OK when you're playing the Detroit Red Wings. Goals need to arrive from other forwards and the defense for this to be a series.
3. The Detroit Red Wings might have the advantage on defense because:
A. Nicklas Lidstrom (one goal, three assists, all on the power play) has fulfilled every one of Gary Bettman's public relations obligations lately, and thus should be able to start Game 1 without fear of quasi-suspension. He and Brian Rafalski were a combined plus-9 against Columbus.
B. Brad Stuart can bring the wallop. Dude hit R.J. Umberger so hard in the first round that Brian Campbell felt it.
C. In Game 1, 77-year-old Chris Chelios gets the call; expect him to tell Bobby Ryan to get off his lawn by the middle of the first.
D. The fact that Derek Meech and Chelios are in reserve is a tribute to this unit's depth. Lidstrom was a shutdown guy against the Rick Nash line when Mike Babcock had the change; Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart had the assignment at times on the road. In either case, Detroit's in capable heads against any high-octane line. Rafalski's health after missing Game 1 with an "upper body injury" is a legit concern, however -- he's important.
4. The Anaheim Ducks might have the advantage on defense because:
A. Scott Niedermayer (one goal, four assists playing 25:33 per game) was awesome in the first round, playing energetic and smart hockey to help shut down the Sharks. The Wings are rather unlucky that they catch Niedermayer now, about one round before the 25 pounds of salt-and-pepper facial hair begins to weigh him down.
B. Chris Pronger had four points, was a plus-6 and second in average ice time (24:42) in round one. More importantly, the fragile truce between his brain and his elbows appears intact.
C. The additions of Francois Beauchemin (back from injury), Ryan Whitney and James Wisniewski over the last few months reestablished this unit as one of the best defenses in hockey. Even if Whitney has more fights as a Duck than goals.
D. Much like the Wings can roll out any forward line with confidence, Coach Randy Carlyle can skate out either of his top two defensive pairings knowing they'd be a top pairing anywhere other than Detroit and Boston. The Ducks' defense played remarkably well against San Jose; a repeat of that physical, savvy and gritty performance could significantly slow the Red Wings' attack. The battles in front of Hiller between players like Pronger and Holmstrom could be on an epic scale.
5. Which one of these is NOT actual advice for throwing an octopus on the ice during a Red Wings game?
A. "Grab the octopus around the middle of the tentacles, with the head down near the back of the thrower's knee, and swings with an overarm motion, as though lobbing a grenade."
B. "Do not swing the octopus by the tentacle tips, only to have it's head break off during the windup."
C. "Saran-wrapping the octopus to your body is a sure-fire way to smuggle it into enemy arenas."
D. "Make sure the octopus is nice and slimy, so the gunk freezes on the ice for hazardous skating conditions or hits an opposing player in the eye to partially blind him; additionally, scream the word ‘BETTMAN!' while tossing it, for a more dramatic effect."
6. (True or False) Despite Sports Illustrated's emphatic claim to the contrary, Ryan Getzlaf looks absolutely nothing like handsome actor Josh Duhamel from "Transformers." Especially from overhead.
7. The Anaheim Ducks might have the advantage in goal because:
A. Jonas Hiller has been brilliant for, oh, pretty much the last two months. Has he been flawless? No, as his Game 3 loss would reinforce. But two first-round shutouts, a 1.65 GAA and a .957 save percentage were legit; he made saves in key situations and his rebound control -- not always a strong point in his game -- was excellent when the Sharks were circling.
B. Should Hiller falter, there's this Jean-Sebastien Giguere fellow who has a bit of playoff experience. This was the genius of starting with Hiller: If he flakes, you've got a Stanley Cup winning, Conn Smythe goalie with a little experience in overcoming long odds in the postseason. True, he's been terrible at times during the regular season. But a Red Wings fan claiming that a goalie who struggles in the regular season can't turn it around when the playoff spotlight's on is a bit hypocritical, no? Speaking of which:
C. We're not totally sold on Chris Osgood yet. His incredibly effective play in the first three games against the Columbus Blue Jackets (3-0, 2 goals allowed) had us tossing out his regular season stats. After he surrendered five in Game 4, we went dumpster diving for them. Osgood said he battled through a left leg and/or hip injury at the end of Round 1, but expects to be fine for the Ducks.
D. Is it OK if, like a healthy majority in the province of Alberta, we're still a little weary of Ty Conklin in the postseason?
8. Match the player with the corresponding fun fact:
1. Rob Niedermayer
A. Has his own clothing line, featuring a T-shirt that reads "My Sister Can Skate Better Than You."
B. Allowed the Stanley Cup to be used as a baptismal font in the same year a toddler dropped a deuce in it.
3. James Wisniewski
C. Once wore a wig, beard and sunglasses to punk Marian Gaborik.
4. Brett Lebda
D. Made poor, sweet Lindsay Soto of Versus feel self-conscious by leering at her jugs.
5. Tomas Holmstrom
E. Has been correctly described as "Porntacular" in the past.
6. Marian Hossa
F. Once drank celebratory booze off of a local sports anchor's tie.
9. The Detroit Red Wings have an advantage over Anaheim Ducks on special teams because:
A. As good as the Ducks' power play as been, it's not the Wings'. Detroit is hitting at a 31.8 percent clip this postseason after leading the League at 25.5 in the regular season.
B. Rafalski's injury aside, the Wings have a collection of power-play snipers that's unparalleled in the NHL.
C. While Detroit's penalty killed was maligned in the regular season (it's since improved, somewhat), the Ducks weren't all that much better. Both teams were middling in the first round. Getting Kris Draper back at sometime would help the Wings.
D. The Ducks are known to take a penalty or two that they shouldn't take.
10. The correct Getty Images caption on this photo is:
A. In a great moment in Red Wings history, Tomas Holmstrom invents a way to obstruct an opponent and play offense at the same time.
B. Tomas Holmstrom desperately attempts to play the puck after realizing his massive backside had anchored him to the ice, rendering his movements to that of a Weeble-Wobble.
C. Come to think of it, Loui Eriksson never did thank Tomas Holmstrom for the reach-around.
D. Left wing Loui Eriksson #21 of the Dallas Stars skates the puck against Tomas Holmstrom #96 of the Detroit Red Wings in the second period at the American Airlines Center on December 12, 2008 in Dallas, Texas.
11. (True or False) Along with giving the Wings an advantage behind the bench in this series, Mike Babcock is also unintentionally hilarious when expressing his frustration with garbage interference calls in the playoffs.
(The answer key is here, in case you actually needed one.)
Final Essay: Why the Detroit Red Wings will win in seven games.
The Rafalski injury throws a little intrigue into this series; suddenly, Jonathan Ericsson is playing with Lidstrom and both special teams units are affected. But injuries happen, and the Wings are one of the deepest teams in the League.
Why the Red Wings? First, it should be said that the Ducks played a magnificent series against the Sharks; but they were also fortunate that they matched up very well with them. The Getzlaf line outplays and neutralizes the Thornton line. The defense contains the secondary scoring. Their veteran savvy showed up in key situations while San Jose's was limited to Dan Boyle giving 150 percent.
Detroit's the anti-San Jose. They have depth offensively beyond the top line. Their power play won't fall into quicksand. They're the defending champs, so confidence isn't going to be lacking in any situation.
Many pundits see this series boiled down to the Ducks' physicality vs. Detroit's offensive players. What that really asks is whether Detroit can pay the price to win the necessary battles in the corners and in front of Hiller take the series; I believe they can.
Hiller's no fraud; if he needed to be lifted, Giggy's return to the lineup could be an emotional boon for the Ducks. On the other side, we've seen a healthy Osgood already look like the best goalie in the postseason in three games. The question is whether there's another junk game lurking in that crease.
The Ducks have so much momentum coming out of the first round that it's hard to see this thing not being a competitive, physically demanding series. Detroit has too much firepower, and Anaheim too little down its lineup, for the Wings not to advance. But it's not going to be easy.
Detroit in seven. Please discuss in 500 words or less, citing specific examples to back up your claims, and leave your completed quiz on Mr. Leahy's desk ...