The Detroit Red Wings just can't have it easy can they? First, despite finishing with the best record in the Western Conference, they were paired with the Calgary Flames in Round One, a team which had recently upset them in the playoffs, and a team with both a solid goaltender and a young, hungry team led by one of the NHL's best young stars in Jarome Iginla. Having finished the Flames off, exercising their first round demons, the Wings then had to face the San Jose Sharks, a team many thought was going to the Stanley Cup Finals. And they were on the verge of falling behind 3 games to 1 when Robert Lang saved them with a goal with 30 seconds to go in the third period of Game Four. Two games later, the Detroit Red Wings are in the Western Conference Finals readying themselves for a battle with the Anaheim (don't call them Mighty) Ducks which starts Friday night.
And they have won both series despite a series of injuries. Niklas Kronwall broke his hip before the playoffs began, Mathieu Schneider broke his arm against San Jose is done for the playoffs, and both Brett Lebda and Thomas Holmstrom have missed time in the past few weeks. But, with Lebda and Holmstrom back, and with the full understanding that the playoffs are a war of attrition, the Red Wings are ready to face the Ducks.
And it will not be an easy series. Should the Red Wings win, and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, nobody can say they didn't earn it. They have had to face some very tough teams in the playoffs, the Ducks are chief among them. Just a few years removed from almost winning the Stanley Cup Finals (taking the New Jersey Devils to seven games in 2004) the Ducks have the talent to test the Wings even more then the Flames and Sharks already have. And just as they did with Miikka Kiprusoff in the Flames series, the Wings will have to overcome a familiar foe when they face Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere. It was in 2003 when Guguere became a household name (or as much of one as you can become in hockey) when his standout goaltending helped the Ducks, the 7th seed in the Western Conference, sweep the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs. The Wings scored only six goals in those four games, never more then 2 in any one game, and Giguere continued his hot play all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. And the coach of that Ducks team, of course? The Red Wings own Mike Babcock.
Well, Giguere is back, and is on top of his game once again, despite a scary situation with his family which caused him to miss part of the Ducks opening round series. As ESPN's George Johnson explains, it was an easy call for Giguere to miss the post-season to be with his family.
Just before the start of these NHL playoffs, doctors discovered that Giguere's infant son, Maxime, had been born with a deformed right eye. There were fears that more damage would be found in the left eye. That he might be blind. A specialist at UCLA Medical Center was consulted.
The news on Maxime is encouraging. And dad? Well, he's gone from strength to strength. Giguere is once more the go-to guy in Anaheim. The Ducks will travel only as far as he can carry them. The same plotline as in 2003, when Anaheim reached the Cup finals.
With his son's situation settled, Giguere did what he does best in the Ducks semi-finals series against Vancouver, stand on his head in net. He didn't allow more than two goals in any game against Vancouver (sound familiar?) and he has a ridiculously low 1.28 goals-against-average in the playoffs, which even bests Dominik Hasek's 1.51 (and Hasek has been incredible this post-season).
And it's not as if the Ducks rely solely on their goaltending either. The Ducks have plenty of veteran leadership, and plenty of scary (and familiar) faces across the board. Defenseman Chris Pronger, who frustrated the Red Wings for years while a member of the St. Louis Blues, is leading the Ducks in points in the post-season with 11, which is tied with Pavel Datsuyk and Nick Lidstrom for the lead among Western Conference playoff performers. And then there's also Scott Niedermayer to worry about on defense and the Teemu Selanne knows at 37 this may be his last chance to win a Stanley Cup. Plus the Ducks have young talent too, like Andy McDonald and Ryan Getzlaf. This is a very talented team all around.
Yet, still, I remain optimistic about the Red Wings' chances. Dominik Hasek, as previously mentioned, has been spectacular in the playoffs, and if he continues to play as he has in the first two series, the Wings have very little to worry about. And with Thomas Holmstrom back after being cut above his eye (forcing him to miss part of the San Jose series) the Wings front line of Datsuyk-Zetterberg-Holmstrom is reeally humming right now. Datsuyk leads all Western Conference players in goals (5) and Zetterberg is close behind with 4 tallies of his own. Add in 10 assists between the two (and another 4 total points from Holmstrom) and it's easy to see why that line is so critical to the Wings chances. And if Nick Lidstrom continues to make plays like he did in the San Jose series, diving in front of an empty net to stop San Jose from tying the game, the Wings are in great shape.
History also is on the Wings side. Even though they were swept by the Ducks in 2003, they overcame a similar previous-years defeat against Calgary in the first round, and with the Wings, the playoffs are a boom or bust proposition. Either they get eliminated in the first or second round, or they win the Stanley Cup. And this year, the Wings are in the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2002, when they won the Stanley Cup. While planning the parade may be a bit premature, and I expect the Ducks to give the Wings all they can handle (though, I did say the same thing about the Detroit Pistons-Chicago Bulls series and so far, that hasn't held true) I still see a Red Wings series victory. Take the Detroit Red Wings in Six over the Ducks.
Looking for anlaysis from the enemy? There are plenty of great Anaheim Ducks blogs. Here are just a few of the ones I've found (and if you have a Ducks blog, and want to exchange links, please E-Mail Me.
On The Pond
Girl With A Puck
Anaheim Duck Fan
And of course there's all of the great Detroit Red Wings coverage at the usual sources (with a link list I'm shamelessly stealing from Matt's great OnTheWings Detroit Red Wings blog:
Behind the Jersey
No Pun Intended.