Five Reasons Why Detroit Was Able to Cook and Serve Some Peking Duck
It was almost like yesterday. All of my friends were ready to break out their balloons and make fun of me as the Red Wings were going to miss the playoffs for the first time in about, well, ever. However, the home stretch came and they won their last four games of the regular season, catapulting them into the seventh seed and playing the team I knew they could beat from day one: the Anaheim Ducks.
I thought I was a maniacal genius, but nearly everyone I spoke to was nuts. “If the Red Wings play the Blackhawks or the Ducks in the first round, they’re toast.”
They weren’t, and in one of the most entertaining first round series that I have personally seen in a long time, here are five reasons why Detroit ultimately came out on top:
- Jimmy Howard
This one is a given. Though by no means did he outplay Jonas Hiller at the other end, Jimmy Howard proved once again that the team wearing red plays well in front of him. Howard’s save percentage in the series was a very respectable .911 and a GAA of 2.74. While the Ducks were probably up in arms about which goalie to put in net (or at least, while they had a choice), the Red Wings only had Howard. Lose Howard, and the Red Wings are probably done for until he gets back, which in the playoffs, is too late. Howard also came up big in key situations, making timely saves in overtime as well as stepping up his game during game seven. Given the fact that other than Niklas Kronwall, the Red Wings’ defensive corps are by far not what they used to be, and they will have to undergo some rehabilitation before they become pristine once again, having Howard in the net is very reassuring for players, coaches, and fans alike.
- Grittiness around the boards and winning puck battles
The Red Wings absolutely dominated along the boards, and dictated the play using them for nearly the entire series. With a few key exceptions, the Wings were using the boards to run cycles on nearly every single line and, to their advantage, out muscled Anaheim at nearly every opportunity to play the puck. It is clearly evident based on the fact that we saw plenty of times where the Ducks would dump in and all of the sudden the Wings were on the breakout. Unlike a lot of goaltenders who leave their nets to slow the puck down and hand it off to the nearest defenseman, Howard stays put, meaning the Wings were able to break out using the boards to their advantage, make key passes using the boards through the neutral zone, and keeping the puck in Zetterberg’s office behind the net to set up some very nice scoring chances.
- Overtime Luck
Luck may not be the best word, but it’s fairly safe to say that if Nyqvist, Brunner, and Zetterberg don’t score those OT goals, the series ends much sooner. Overtime wins are a double edged sword. Both teams are usually tired at the end, one feels elated, and the other feels utterly dejected. In a series where four games went to overtime, the Red Wings managed to find the back of the net three times, two less than two minutes into the Overtime period. That stifles Anaheim because there really isn’t any feeling worse than feeling like you didn’t even get a chance to establish your presence. What really did it in was the fact that Jonas Hiller seemed rattled after the final two losses, and the wear and tear on a goalie who is as fragile as he is finally showed in game seven. It may not have been luck, but you have to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good, and the Red Wings flew in overtime.
- Mike Babcock
When this season began, many Red Wings fans were worried that the signature stone cold face of Mike Babcock would show up multiple times per game. The man really did not have to coach his heart out these last few years as the team really took care of itself. However, at the beginning of this year, it was clear that Babcock, the coach who has been in nearly every pressure situation possible in the National Hockey League, was going to have to work some magic, and boy did he ever. When Danny DeKeyser went down after game two, it was already an important loss to the D, something that Babcock filled with Coliaccovo and Smith. He juggled a lot of strange circumstances, including a suspension to a first line winger, and let’s not forget, this series involved the most travel of any series in the first round. It takes a special personality and wit to keep a team calm when all it really wants to do is sleep. While a lot of his strategies were what most people would call “typical Babcock,” it really became evident in game seven that he truthfully was the better coach in the series. Babcock decided to split up Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk onto separate lines, originally to spice things up and confuse Boudreau’s matchups, but he actually left it in tact for the whole game. Weirdest of all, it worked. Zetterberg scored in the opening minutes of the game to set the tone, and Boudreau didn’t have an adequate response until it was too late in the game. Babcock also really shortened his bench in game seven, as Kronwall and Ericsson were on the ice for nearly half the game while Sammy barely saw the light of day. Both teams rolled all four lines for the large part of the series, but Babcock played his players where he felt they would produce. The man went from having the easiest job in the NHL to arguably the hardest, and he deserves some major recognition for that.
- Timely production from star players
Henrik Zetterberg did not have a goal entering game six of the series. He became captain clutch very quickly, scoring a powerplay goal and the overtime winner in game six, and the opening goal in game seven. Pavel Datsyuk also showed up at very key times, producing his famed magic to score some of the finest goals that one can lay eyes upon. Great players are made in the playoffs. It is one thing to produce in the regular season, but it is another thing to earn your paycheck or lack thereof (players don’t get paid in the playoffs) and produce when it truly matters. This is especially important because Anaheim’s big three didn’t even come close to the production of Zetterberg, Abdelkader, or Datsyuk’s at all, regardless of where Detroit’s de facto first line was playing. Corey Perry forgot how to score, Getzlaf got frustrated, and Bobby Ryan had to be more than he truly was to even give the Ducks a flying chance, scoring two clutch goals to bring Anaheim at least to overtime. When you sign the big contract, you are expected to produce. Corey Perry did not do much of anything at all. In fact, the former Hart Trophy winner didn’t even score a goal in this series. It is one thing to have secondary scoring, but it has to come in conjunction with your star players and a hot defensive team. Detroit found their groove late, but Anaheim sat back, wore black, and attended their own funeral in game seven.
If there is one thing that this series clearly showed, it is that both teams have very bright futures ahead with fresh personnel. Red Wings fans, do not let any members of other fan bases trash talk you and spit in your faces. Stand your ground, because in all likelihood, with the exception of Chicago, those fan bases are looking at your team in the second round while theirs rot away on the golf cart. The Hockey Gods all but had a Detroit-Chicago Western Conference finale planned, and we should all enjoy it before we make the trip towards the Atlantic next season.