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Adam Brady is the Director of Publications & New Media for the Anaheim Ducks and Honda Center. Email him by CLICKING HERE.

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Updated May 28 at 4:09 p.m.

Most of the league probably didn't notice it, but the 2008-09 Ducks looked just a little bit better last night -- without having played a game.

That's because the Detroit Red Wings team the Ducks took to the very edge of Game 7 of the conference semifinals, again showed how good they are by dumping the Chicago Blackhawks in last night's Game 5. And their 2-1 overtime victory was the second straight win they pulled off despite missing two of their best to injury -- winger Pavel Datsyuk and defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. Regardless, they easily dismissed a Blackhawks team that up until this series had looked phenomenal. But Detroit mostly dismantled them, just like they did in the first round against Columbus. The only series in which they even came close to elimination was against the Ducks, and only a gag-me goal late in Game 7 allowed them to avoid that fate. (Although, the Blackhawks did look very good in defeat last night.)

So the Red Wings are one step closer to becoming the first team to repeat as champions since ... the Red Wings (in 1997 and 98).  They take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final for (yawn) the second straight season. And thanks to some scheduling maintenance, we won't have to wait to begin that series as long as we originally thought. Games 1 and 2 will now be played this Saturday and Sunday, which is great for those of us who were lamenting a more-than-week-long wait to get this thing going. But it's bad for those who see back-to-backs in the playoffs as some sort of catastrophe.

It's the first time in 16 years that two Stanley Cup Final games will be played on consecutive nights, since the 1993 Final between Montreal and Los Angeles. (Yes, so long ago the Kings were in the Final, let alone the playoffs.) Although, some are reporting it's the first back-to-backs in the Final since 1955. I don't have the energy, nor do I care enough, to double-check.

This time the back-to-backs are scheduled so that NBC can squeeze Games 1 and 2 into the weekend. NBC allegedly had no interest in airing a possible Game 2 during the early part of next week, especially because it would cut into their primetime programming plans. Plus, an overtime game televised on the East Coast might (God forbid) run into next week's debut of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien at 11:30 p.m. So, Games 3 and 4 will be on Versus.

The earlier start than previously planned -- not to mention the back-to-back games -- has some Detroit fans screaming conspiracy because of the way their two banged-up stars won't have much time to recover. And those people are seemingly under the impression the league favors Sidney Crosby and the Penguins winning the title rather than a second straight Wings triumph (okay, maybe that's not all that far-fetched).

Wings coach Mike Babock, normally a guy who really holds back his opinions, didn't sound all that please when he said, "Normally when you win in five games you get this little break. I don't know if we're making up for lost time in the previous three series by jamming this all in 10 days or whatever we're doing.''

Yeah, you normally get a little break, unless the other series only goes four games. Since the Pens swept the Hurricanes on Tuesday, we're not waiting for that one to end. And despite the quick turnaround, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said Thursday that Lidstrom should be ready for Game 1 and the status of Datsyuk is to be determined.

Detroit d-man Brad Stuart had this perspective: "It's a little odd, but it's better than waiting until next weekend,'' Brad Stuart said. "We want to get at it and pick up where we left off. I don't think any of us would have been looking forward to seven or eight days of practicing.''

But the back-to-back games are another story, at least according to Old Man Chelios. "You don't want my opinion on that,'' Chelios said.

You know what, Cheli? You're right. We really don't.

In fact, all of you complaining about the back-to-backs, get over yourself. Frankly, the whining is more than a little tiresome. Back-to-backs happen all the time during the season (the Ducks, for example, had 18 this year) and usually the two games come in two different cities. These two will both be in Detroit. From a fan's perspective, it's a great thing not having to wait a day between the first two games of the Final. Two weekend evenings of Stanley Cup Final hockey? Not such a bad thing. Even if it is a snorer of a rematch between these same two teams.

Anyway, here is the complete schedule (all times Pacific):

Saturday, May 30   Pittsburgh at Detroit  5 p.m. 
Sunday, May 31     Pittsburgh at Detroit,   TBD  NBC
Tuesday, June 2     Detroit at Pittsburgh 5 p.m.  VERSUS
Thursday, June 4    Detroit at Pittsburgh  5 p.m.   VERSUS
* Saturday, June 6  Pittsburgh at Detroit  5 p.m.   NBC
* Tuesday, June 9   Detroit at Pittsburgh  5 p.m.   NBC
* Friday, June 12    Pittsburgh at Detroit  5 p.m.   NBC

If you're still interested in this Final, who do you root for? I'll probably instinctively take the Pens, just so we don't see the hated Wings repeat. Not only that, I never liked the move Marian Hossa made in the offseason, signing a one-year deal with the Red Wings. He said at the time he signed with Detroit because "I want to have a best chance to win the Stanley Cup" even though his Pens got all the way to Game 6 of the Final. Meanwhile, he turned down several lucrative multi-year offers (including one from Pittsburgh) that will probably won't be offered to him again in this economy and with the salary cap probably dipping next year. By all accounts, Hossa appears to be a nice guy. That being said, I'd hate to have his strategy of going to the Wings just to win a Cup pan out.

Also, that would mean the Wings win another Cup, which alone is a tough one to swallow. Even if it does make our guys look just a little bit better.

Updated May 27 at 3:01 p.m.

After their 4-1 win to sweep the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins decided to give a giant middle finger to the hockey gods.

Defying a longtime hockey superstition, the Penguins held up the Prince of Wales Trophy given to the Eastern Conference champions. Tradition maintains that players don't touch any trophy unless it's the one they're ultimately playing for. In other words, the Stanley Cu...

Okay, you probably got that.

But Crosby explained that he and his mates were looking for a little reverse juju. “We didn’t touch it last year, and things didn’t go the way we wanted,” he said of a Penguins team that lost in six games to Detroit in the Final. “We just wanted to change things up

The folks at ESPN.com did a little research and found that the superstition has been stomped on a few times with positive results for the team having the gall to do it. That includes the 1991 Penguins and the 1997 Red Wings.

This year's Wings have a chance to finish off the Blackhawks in Game 5 in a couple of hours. You can bet that if and when the Wings advance in that series, the Campbell Trophy will get ignored like a fat kid when dodgeball teams are picked. 

- - -
In today's edition of Oh My God I'm Old, remember how sexy Kelly McGillis was in Top Gun? Well, here's what she looks like now

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to put my teeth in and shoo some kids off my lawn.

Updated May 26 at 5:06 p.m.

As if the rest of the Stanley Cup Playoffs isn't disappointing enough without the Ducks still in it, we could be in store for some serious doldrums.

The Penguins battle the Hurricanes in Game 4 in a few minutes, with Pittsburgh looking to sweep that series. Meanwhile, the Red Wings, coming off a 6-1 trouncing of Chicago in Game 4, look to finish off the Blackhawks tomorrow night in Game 5 in Detroit.

We've already learned that Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final -- which most assuredly will be Detroit-Pittsburgh -- won't start until Friday. That's a week from Friday, June 5. That means that if both the Pens and Wings conclude their series in these next games, there will be no hockey for niiiiiinnnnnne days. (It helps if you pronounce those last two words in the Principal Rooney voice.)

But at least you won't have to wait long between Games 1 and 2, since they will be played on back-to-back nights. That is the way the schedule looks right now, but there apparently has been talk behind the scenes at NHL headquarters about an alternate schedule that would allow Games 1 and 2 of the Final to be played this Saturday and Sunday. That is, if both series are finished by this Wednesday night.

Much of the scheduling headaches have to do with the NBC broadcast schedule and an effort to avoid conflicts with other events like the NBA Finals. Personally, I'd rather see the NBA Finals have to adjust its schedule to accomodate the NHL, but I think I might be in the minority on that one. (Not the North America minority, but certainly the U.S.)

Speaking of television, the rampant wailing over all that is Versus has extended to the executive director of the NHL Players Association, Paul Kelly. He was speaking at a Sports Lawyers Association event (undoubtedly a room full of upstanding gentlemen) when he commended Versus for its growth in the last few years, but lamented its limitations.

"It is not ESPN," Kelly said, reaching a solid 9.5 on the Goes-Without-Saying Scale. "It doesn't have a sports highlight show. It doesn't have a lot of properties people want to tune in to, unless you are a hunter or a fisherman or you like turtle wrestling."

To which the president of Versus responded, "Wait a minute, turtle wrestling? Do we have that? If not, let's set a meeting right now."

Actually, Versus President Jamie Davis did make a good point when he retorted that his channel "has televised significantly more hours of hockey coverage per night in the first two rounds of the playoffs this year than ESPN did in the same time span during the last several years of their deal." And it should be pointed out that viewership on the network has increased by 20 percent over last year.

But there have been frustrations for hockey fans trying to watch the playoffs on the channel. You might remember that viewers across the country couldn't watch most of the Boston-Carolina Game 7 because Versus was airing the Ducks-Wings Game 7 instead (not that we out here cared much about that).

And it's even affecting the players, as Detroit goalie Chris Osgood remarked to reporters the other day that he couldn't watch the Pens-Hurricanes game because "the hotel we were in doesn't have Versus. I saw a bit of the last game in a restaurant from a distance, but that was it. I put it on my phone live and try to get the updates as it goes along."

The Versus deal with the NHL, by the way, lasts through next season.

Here's what I think: Versus has been getting much better in covering the game in both quality and quantity, but there is something to be said about having hockey back on ESPN. Significantly more viewers get ESPN on their cable/satellite systems than get Versus and you're much more likely to pass ESPN when you're scrolling through your channel guide and come across a hockey game. Meanwhile, the ESPN brand has Sportscenter and other highlight shows that can promote upcoming games much better than can Versus, which doesn't have a highlight show other than its hockey postgame broadcast.

With Versus, you get hockey fans watching the games. With ESPN, you get sports fans watching the games. 

- - -

Blackhawks Joel Quenneville was fined a cool $10,000 for remarks he made after his team was crushed 6-1 by the Red Wings in Game 4. Commenting on a roughing call against Matt Walker at the end of the first period that set up a Detroit power play goal that gave the Wings a 3-0 lead, Quenneville decided to complain about the officials to deflect attention away from his team's poor play. 

“I think we witnessed probably the worst call in the history of sports today at the end of the (first) period there, nothing play,” Quenneville said. “You know, they score, it's 3-0, they ruin a good hockey game. They absolutely destroyed what was going on on the ice."

Worst call in the history of sports? He obviously didn't watch Ducks-Red Wings Game 3.    

- - - 

Word is that the Ducks have given Scott Niedermayer a deadline of June 14 to make his decision on whether he wants to come back or not, giving them some time to maneuver before the June 26-27 draft.

But there is speculation that even if Niedermayer decides to come back, it might not be with Anaheim. On TSN's website, a panel of Ray Ferraro, Bob McKenzie and Darren Pang discussed the future of both Niedermayer brothers. Said Ferraro, "I think they're going to go to Vancouver for a couple of reasons. The Canucks have a need and there is a definite fit there for Scott. Anaheim has salary cap problems and it may be simpler if the Niedermayers walk and end up in Vancouver."

Simpler maybe. Desirable? Um, not.

Pang, meanwhile, said he didn't know where Scott will play, but that Rob might be hanging them up. "I think the brothers will be apart next season," he said. "I think Rob Niedermayer has played his last game. He's been banged up all year long and really struggled with his health. I think Scott will play but I don't know where."

Ah, it's starting already.

Updated May 22 at 12:33 p.m.

Took a little break this week. Back with more next week.

Updated May 19 at 12:54 p.m.

Cue the fond memories, the sappy tears and Green Day's "Time of Your Life."

The Honda Center ice is gone for the summer.

And yet, somehow there is still hockey being played in this country, as the Red Wings are taking on the Blackhawks (Game 2 is tonight) and the Penguins are battling the Hurricanes (Game 1 was last night, a Pittsburgh victory).

Just like last year around this time, I've so far resisted watching much of the conference finals. I only checked the highlights of Wings-Hawks Game 1 and I caught about 20 minutes of the end of Penguins-Hurricanes. Not to rehash an old line, but watching playoff hockey right now is kind of like watching your ex-girlfriend make out with another guy. It's just too soon.

Oh sure, I'll probably end up watching the inevitable and incredibly uninteresting matchup of the Wings and Pens in the Final for the second straight year. But then again, maybe I won't.

As frustrating as it was to see the Ducks get edged by the Wings in Game 7, it's even more agonizing to consider what would have laid ahead of them. Chicago put up very little fight in getting drummed 5-2 by the Wings in Game 1 in Detroit, as the Blackhawks gave the guys in red so much room in the attacking zone, you would have thought there was an outbreak of swine flu in the Detroit locker room. It was a stark contrast to a Ducks-Wings series in which space was at a dramatic minimum in all seven games. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are riding on a goalie -- Nikolai Khabibulin -- who had a decent season, but let's not forget they tried to put him on waivers back in September and not one team claimed him.

As much of a cliche as it is that you need to have a hot goalie to have playoff success, the Puck Stops Here blog points out that there are no elite netminders left in the postseason's final four. In fact, goalies with the top three playoff save percentages -- Jonas HIller, Tim Thomas of Boston and Martin Brodeur of New Jersey -- are all at home right now.

It's been mentioned several times around here that if the Ducks could have just broken through in Game 7 in Detroit, their road ahead would have been leaps and bounds smoother than the trail they left behind. Chicago? Seemingly no problem. And if Anaheim made the Final? Well, it's the Eastern Conference. The Cup could have quite conceivably come back to Anaheim.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to bang my head against the wall 15 times.

Okay, done.

But there's little point in dwelling on it. Lord knows, I've done it enough in the past few days and even more when I caught a glimpse of these conference final games. The question is, who as a hockey fan do you root for now? Detroit, because that would mean the Ducks would have lost to the champs? Chicago, because they would have upset Detroit, we like Sammy Pahlsson and it's a great story for a young group and a town newly enlivened about its hockey team? Pittsburgh, because we like Chris Kunitz and Sid the Kid winning a title is good for the game? Or Carolina, because ... actually, I can't think of a reason to root for Carolina.

Let's take a good ol' fashioned poll and see what you think, America.

- - -

You can listen to the season's last edition of Ducks Weekly on XM Satellite Radio, with guest Bob Murray, by clicking here. Among other topics in the interview, Murray addressed Anaheim's goaltending situation. “We have a very excellent situation here in goal,” he said. “I don’t know how long it’s going to last.”

Repeating a label for his goalies Randy Carlyle likes to use, Murray added, “I would probably be comfortable with a 1 and a 1A,” . But I think I’m in a minority here and it’s something we’re going to have to … talk out here. Jiggy’s a No.1 and Jonas wants to be and proves he’s earned a right to be a No.1. So there’s legitimate arguments on both sides. It’s something that has to be talked about. I don’t think they’ll both be happy if they’re not 1s. If that’s the case, you have the possibility for problems. I’ll be straight - it’s a concern of mine at the moment.”

Thanks go out to the XM/Sirius people for airing that show all season. It was a great way to hear the voices of Ducks players, coaches and executives on a national stage, and we hope to see it brought back next season.
Listen to all of the archived shows from this season by clicking here.
- - -
One of my favorite writers, ESPN.com's Bill Simmons, has a great article on how the great sport of hockey lured him back after years of disinterest. Among the reasons, Simmons calls hockey:

... a sport in which players police the ice themselves and happily jump into the boards after scoring a goal. In hockey, it's okay to settle differences like men, and websites like hockeyfights.com thrive. It's always business, never personal. I can't believe I'm saying this, but the NBA could learn something from the NHL ... The sport is breathtaking to watch. The players are more brilliant than ever; games look gorgeous in HD. And like old times, all scores are settled on the ice.

- - -

I came across this photo from Game 7 in Detroit, and all I can think of when I look at it is that Drew Miller is talking to Scott Niedermayer out of the side of his mouth and saying, "They say this Grecian Formula stuff is pretty good. Do you think we should give it a try?"


Updated May 18 at 2:32 p.m.

It's always a bit of a gloomy scene around here when the players have their end-of-the-season meetings, clean out their locker stalls, talk with the media and head out the doors of Honda Center for probably the last time until the fall. It's all part of the symbolic shift of moving on from what transpired over the last eight months and focusing on next season, which right now seems a light year away.

It wouldn't be a Ducks offseason without plenty of question marks going forward, and many of those were addressed when the team passed through here last Saturday afternoon. You can watch eight different player interviews on video posted to the site that day, but here is the gist of all of it:

I'm just going to go ahead and cut and paste what I could have written each of the past two summers before this one: No indication yet on whether Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne are coming back.

Opposite of the past two offseasons, it's actually Selanne who is under contract and Niedermayer who is the free agent. Teemu reiterated again on Saturday, “I want to see what’s going on here. Talking with Murph, he has a pretty good picture of what’s going to happen. He’s very positive about it. That’s always a good sign. His plan is good, but still, it’s too early to say anything more than that.”

Selanne did indicate that his desire to return was enhanced all the more by what the Ducks did this postseason. "Most of the guys feel like there is some unfinished business here," he said. "That's always a good sign. I think all the tools are here, so that's the best thing about this whole situation."

You can't see it on the video, but Teemu came in wearing a brown t-shirt with nothing on it but a six-inch high silhouette of a naked woman standing with her underwear around her ankles. Teemu's fashion sense never ceases to amaze. I attended a charity event once where he was wearing a silver belt buckle with a giant No. 8 on it. And faithful readers will remember the Hasselhoff "Baywatch" jacket he wore in this photo.

On Saturday, Niedermayer's salt-and-pepper beard (reminding me of the depressing fact that he's three days younger than me) was not yet shaven and he was wearing a pair of tiny wire-framed glasses, making him look like a college history professor. (Or as one female friend just remarked to me, Steve Spielberg.) And just like with my real college history professors, I didn't gain a lot from what he said about his status. "There’s really not much to figure out,” Niedermayer said. “I kind of know where I stand. I know why I’d like to keep playing. I know why I’d like to maybe step back. Ultimately, I just have to make a decision on which way to go.”

Niedermayer was also asked if he would be willing to take less money next season, so the Ducks could afford him and still stay under the salary cap with the other free agents they hope to re-sign. “I guess you could say I took less money to come here when I did,” Niedermayer said, reminding us that he might have gotten more than the four years, $27 million he got from the Ducks in the summer of 2005. As far as whether he would be willing to take a "hometown discount" this time around, he took some time to think about it and said, “I think there are decisions that probably have to be made before I even get to considering that. Each individual will definitely make his own decision as to what’s important. I’ll do what I feel is right for myself. There will be lots of things to consider. If I do make a decision to come back to play, then there’ll be more things to consider.”

In other words ... no, I probably wouldn't.

Both Selanne and Niedermayer indicated Saturday that they would let Bob Murray know their decisions by the draft, which will be June 26-27 in Montreal. So, that means we'll hear something official probably a day before that, if history is a guide.

But those two aren't the only two free agents the Ducks have this offseason, as Rob Niedermayer, Todd Marchant and Francois Beauchemin addressed their status on Saturday.

“My first priority would be to come back here,” Niedermayer said. “It’s a great group of guys and I love playing here.”

Marchant, who was just coming out of a meeting with Murray, told reporters that the GM “expressed interest in bringing me back, and I told him I’m interested. Now it’s a question of sitting down and talking specifics. I’m confident the Ducks and us can get something done.”

Both players would likely have to be paid less than they made over the past few seasons in Anaheim if they want to stay here. Marchant took in just more than $2.5 million, while Niedermayer made $2 million. "Each individual has to make a decision based on his own personal situation. I’m in a different situation than Francois Beauchemin. We’re all in different situations,” Marchant said. “At the end of the day, it’s your decision as a player. It’s your decision with your family to make the decision you feel is best for your career and for your family.”

Speaking of Beauchemin, you have to feel there is a strong chance he might not be back here if the Ducks get back Niedermayer and they are still paying the big contracts of fellow defensemen like Chris Pronger and Ryan Whitney. Beauchemin indicated he will test the free agent market, and he did himself a huge favor in that respect by bouncing back relatively quickly from ACL surgery and helping the Ducks in the postseason.

Beauchemin acknowledged the Ducks have told him they have to wait and see what Scott Niedermayer is going to do before they can focus on his situation, and said, "We’re going to go home, think about what we want to do as a family, see what’s in front of us and go from there. I’ve had four great seasons here. We like the city. We like the team. They have decisions to make, and we’ll live with it. We’ll see what they want to do.”

As far as another veteran Ducks defenseman's status, he was hesitant to announce anything yet, but all signs point to Bret Hedican retiring.

Bobby Ryan indicated that he will stick around Anaheim to undergo another summer of rigorous offseason training, like he did last year. He also revealed, as Bob Murray indicated last week, that against Detroit he was bothered by a hip pointer he suffered in the San Jose series, which only started to feel better the last couple games of the series. "It certainly didn't feel great out there every game," Ryan said. "But that time of year you put those things away, come to work every day and shut up about it." 

There is, and will continue to be, some uncertainty surrounding what the Ducks are going to do about J.S. Giguere. With the combination of his struggles this season, his $6 million salary and the emergence of Jonas Hiller, things are getting a little complicated. “Right now, I just kind of want to step away and go as far as possible from the game of hockey, just think about something else,” Giguere said. “Maybe focus on spending quality time with my family, and re-energize and re-focus for next year.”

Giguere, it's been noted, signed a no-trade clause when he re-upped with the Ducks following the Cup season in the summer of '07. “I signed a no-move for a reason,” Giguere said. “I really like playing here. Right now, this is what my heart is telling me, to stay here and try to find a way. Now if the team and Bob Murray feel like it’s better for them to move me, I’ll see. But at this point, I have no intention of going anywhere.”

Near the end of the interview, Giguere was awkwardly asked if he would be willing to take a No. 2 goalie role next season.

"No," he grimly said. "No."

I've said it before and I'll say it again: It's never boring around here. This summer will be no exception.

Updated May 15 at 12:34 p.m.

They never stopped fighting.

Not when the Ducks' chances of simply making the playoffs were dire, not when they were thought to be overmatched by their first and second round opponents and certainly not during last night’s stomach-twisting 4-3 loss in Game 7.

The Red Wings jumped out to a 2-0 lead early in the second period. The Ducks fought back to pull within a goal. The Red Wings went up 3-1 later in the period. The Ducks fought back to tie it. 

But Dan Cleary's unsightly goal with three minutes left finally buried the Ducks, who simply ran out of time and ran out of gas as they tried to come back one more time.

"We deserved," Teemu Selanne said, "a better end."

Indeed they did. And watching it on TV, hearing that final horn, seeing the Red Wings gather around their goal and the Ducks hang their heads, it hardly seemed real that it could all be over. Not after the way the Ducks clawed their way back into the game when they appeared finished on a number of occasions.

For the Ducks to be put in a 2-0 hole was surprising considering the way they came out at the start of the game, and 5 1/2 minutes into it they had a grand opportunity with 1:10 of 5-on-3 time following two Detroit penalties. But the Ducks got a little too cute on the power play and couldn't convert.
“You know that right there is big,” Scott Niedermayer said. “We just didn’t run it as smoothly as we wanted."

That seemed to turn the tide of the period, as the Wings outshot the Ducks 17-2 from that point on, and Jiri Hudler had a nice redirect on the power play to give Detroit a 1-0 lead. Of course, that power play came after a pretty ticky-tac slashing call on Ryan Getzlaf, who kind of gave a love tap with the stick to the back of Johan Franzen's leg, and Franzen went down like he'd been shot. “It seems like every time somebody goes down, they call it,” Getzlaf said. “That was the frustrating part. We’re all out there competing and the officials have a tough job, but that’s not the way I play the game.”

Darren Helm's speedy breakaway goal just 1:17 into the second off a Selanne turnover was a big one, but the Ducks simply refused to quit. Selanne made up for his mistake with 5:10 left in the second, deftly tucking the puck inside the post from behind the net. But Ducks fans' buzz from the sudden new life was quickly killed, when Mikael Samuelsson scored less than two minutes later. The goal was even tougher to take than normal, since most of the focus was on a nasty hit into the glass Todd Marchant gave Pavel Datsyuk. But Datsyuk somehow managed to send the puck back to Samuelsson just before the hit, and Samuelsson hammered it home.

But again, the Ducks kept the fight alive. Perry got one back with a rebound goal on a power play that was set up by Jiri Hudler's penalty for goaltender interference. That, admitedly, was a pretty bad call, since Chris Pronger clearly cross-checked Hudler from behind and sent him sprawling into Hiller, who was pretty shaken up on the play and thankfully recovered.

The Ducks' conversion on that power play made that call sting even more for the Red Wings, and Perry again had a hand in Anaheim coming all the way back with 12:23 left in the third. Perry made a gorgeous crossing pass that Bobby Ryan one-timed into the back of the net for a goal that was a long time coming for the kid. After four goals in round 1, he had zero to that point, as questions lingered over whether he was nursing an injury.

His goal made it 3-3 and severely turned the tide of a game that had for so long belonged to the Red Menace. “You felt it in the building,” Wisniewski said. “We were taking it to them. It was 2-1, then 3-2, then 3-3 pretty quickly and I thought we held the momentum the rest of the game.”

But similar to Game 1, a contest that appeared headed to overtime (maybe several overtimes) was abruptly ended by a late Detroit goal. This one came when Henrik Zetterberg, under pressure from Chris Pronger, flipped the puck from behind the extended goal line on net. It could have been caught out of the air by Hiller, but Getzlaf got a piece of it with his stick to knock it near Hiller's feet. That's when Cleary pushed it through, though there were some who thought he pushed Hiller's leg pad more than the puck.

"He didn't even try to hit the puck. He was going for my pad," Hiller said of a play that looked tragically similar to the Patrick Marleau goal that won Game 5 in the San Jose series. "I can’t really do anything if I’m down on the ice and he’s just going to push me in. Those are the kinds of situations that it’s tough for the referee to decide if it’s a goal or not.”

Truly it was a call that could have gone either way, and there was no way the officials were going to wave that one off. Not in the Joe. Not after what happened at the end of Game 3.

Getzlaf diplomatically said it was "a tough call, not something they can go and review. It's a tough bounce but I'm not going to fault the officiating for anything." He added, "You can't take anything away from Detroit."

Still, with three minutes left to tie it, it was hard to stomach that this thing was anywhere near over. And I don't think I'm the only one who had a split-second flashback to Game 5 in '07 when Scott Niedermayer had room in the high slot to fire a shot with six seconds left on the clock. Osgood somehow batted that puck away, despite the fact he made the unorthodox move of reaching across his body to make a stick save.

Right after that, the Ducks won a faceoff in the Detroit zone with 6.4 left and the puck momentarily bounced in front of the Detroit net. It wasn't until it bounded toward center ice, with Pronger futilely chasing it down, that we were finally faced with the harsh reality that it was all over. Pronger lifted the puck with his stick, tapped it on the blade a couple of times and held it in his hand, nothing left to do but shake some Detroit hands and think about what might have been.

Hand it to the Red Wings, who gutted out this series despite Datsyuk not having a single goal and Tomas Holmstrom not getting a single point. If they're not the Stanley Cup champions again this year, I don't know who is. In fact, that's what makes the Ducks' loss in Game 7 even harder to swallow. There is little doubt their road to the Cup (which would have been continued against a young Chicago team) would have been a relative walk in the park compared to what Anaheim endured in the first two rounds.

"We took them right to the end," said a worn-out Perry. "A lot of people didn't expect us to get through San Jose and take Detroit to seven games. There's a lot of character in here and everybody showed that again tonight."

If you watch the end of these highlights, you hear VERSUS play-by-play guy Dave Strader utter a pretty poignant thought. "You wish this was a best of 9 or a best of 11, so these two teams could keep going at it," he says. "But I don’t know that anybody on either side has anything left to give."

And no one took the loss harder than Hiller, the guy who may be the single biggest reason the Ducks were here in the first place. Hiller was near tears as he headed through the handshake line, and these photos show how he had to be consoled on the bench by J.S. Giguere and Wisniewski and later on the ice by Getzlaf.

After it was all over, Detroit coach Mike Babcock called it “the best series I’ve been in since I’ve been in the league. For sure, the hardest series, most even, the least room.”

Later, he added, “What made this series so hard, what people don’t understand, is the people that have won know what it takes to win and they don’t give in."

And that's exactly what you can say about the Anaheim Ducks the past two months, a thrill ride that has us all in disbelief that it's come to a seemingly sudden end. I watched the game last night in a Newport Beach sports bar with about 30 fellow staffers, and there was a mix of reactions when that final horn sounded on the season. Some gazed at the TVs in disbelief. Some stared at their feet. A couple of the girls even cried. All of us felt sick to our stomachs. "Well," a friend of mine said somewhat crudely, "at least we didn't go down like [expletive]s." (And by the way, he and several of his fellow Ducks ticket sales guys shaved their playoff beards into mustaches and took this photo today.)

It's pretty ironic that we're heartbroken the Ducks didn't make the conference finals, when not too long ago we didn't even think we'd be here at all. But this team teased us by never quitting. They teased us by charging into the playoffs, knocking off the top seed and fighting to the finish in a Game 7 against what is probably the best team in the league. To come that far and to come that close only made the elimination that much more heartbreaking. But, you know what? We wouldn't want it any other way. Sure the ending was harsh, but my what a great ride.

“When you’re that close, when you’re tied with a few minutes left, it’s a tough way to lose," Niedermayer said. "There are no easy ways to lose, I guess. It’s pretty disappointing, and you always think you can do more, but you look around the room, how some of these guys battled. There are a lot of guys who worked extremely hard. So I’m proud of a lot of guys, for sure.”

I think we all are.

Updated May 14 at 11:26 a.m.

The obituary for the 2008-09 Anaheim Ducks has been half-written a number of times in the last eight months.

It was started when the Ducks lost five of its first six to begin the season, when they lost six of eight going into the All-Star break (including defeats to Tampa Bay and the Islanders), when they traded away three players from their Stanley Cup team, when they were in 12th place in the West in mid-March. It was nearly finished when they were paired against the mighty Sharks to begin the playoffs, again when they earned a second-round date with the beloved Red Wings, yet again when they lost Game 1, and one more time when they fell into a 3-games-to-2 hole.

And now here they are. Game 7 in Detroit. One win away from cheating death yet again. One away from moving on to the conference final, one step closer to the ultimate goal. One away from making history, as no eighth seed has ever knocked off No. 1 and No. 2.

“Think about it,” Todd Marchant said. “You’ve played nine preseason games, 82 regular season games, 12 playoff games, and your season rides on one 60-minute game. That’s what it comes down to. It could be one play. It could be one power play. It could be one penalty-kill, one save. It could be one lucky bounce.

“In Game 7, it can be anything, anyone.”

Seriously, how do you not love that guy?

But he and the rest of the Ducks charge into this Game 7 as dark horses yet again, and why not? It's the juggernaut Red Wings. In their building. In front of their fans. On a sheet of ice where the Ducks didn't look so good last time they were there. Underdogs and underappreciated. But that's just fine with them.

"Nobody expected us to beat San Jose either," Marchant said. "We're trying to ride the unexpected. Hopefully, we can pull another one off."

"Everyone," Ryan Getzlaf said, "is believing we can beat this team."

But for the Ducks to do it, they need more of the same of what got them into this Game 7 and that starts with Getzlaf himself. Slowed by an illness that still has him at a self-described "75 to 80 percent" of his normal self, Getzlaf was the catalyst for a stellar top line performance in Anaheim's 2-1 Game 6 victory. He had a goal and an assist, Corey Perry had a goal and Bobby Ryan had five shots at one. The Ducks will need that kind of impact yet again tonight, and they will need the opposite from their Detroit counterparts.

Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger did a tremendous job of holding down the second line of Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula and Marian Hossa, while Francois Beauchemin and James Wisniewski did pretty much the same thing against Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, who after a 97-point regular season still is without a goal in this series.

To continue to limit those guys' chances, the Ducks need to once again limit their own mistakes. Not including the free-for-all after the horn, the Ducks took five penalties in Game 6, including an out-of-character two for too many men on the ice. Keep doing that tonight and it could be very dangerous. But then again, the Red Wings are thinking the same thing. They too took five minors in Game 6, and the Ducks have scored at least one power play goal in every game of this series.

And one more thing: Jonas Hiller needs to keep being Jonas Hiller.

“At this stage of the game, our stars need to outshine theirs,” Chris Pronger said. “I think there are two pretty evenly matched teams here that are starting to get to know one another pretty well. In Game 7, anything can happen. We’ve won in here before. It’s up to us now to put together one game. That’s all that really matters. It’s best-of-one.”

And it's one game with just a little more passion packed into it after what happened at the end of Game 6. Consequently, Detroit goes into this one ticked off. Anaheim goes into it shrugging their shoulders, their heads held high even as harsh words continue to be thrown at them regarding their style of play.

"I think the feelings and emotions," Zetterberg said, "will carry over to Game 7."

That just makes this Game 7 -- between the last two Stanley Cup champions, two teams that can't stand the sight of each other -- all the more compelling.

"Most players, I'll guarantee you," Carlyle said, "will have shivers up their spine."

And not just the players.

I'll leave you with this:

Great moments are born from great opportunity. And that's what you have here, tonight, boys. That's what you've earned here tonight. One game. If we played 'em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can. Tonight, WE are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players. Every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It's over. I'm sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team [they] have. Screw 'em. This is your time.

Now go out there and take it.

Updated May 13 at 12:42 p.m.

Something epic happened in last night's Game 6 between the Ducks and Red Wings at Honda Center.

That's right, Scott Niedermayer fought.

And oh, I almost forgot, the Ducks won an intense 2-1 game to force a Game 7 in Detroit tomorrow.

That Game 7 will be packed with even more emotion that it already would have had, after what happened after the final horn last night. Actually, let's go back a couple of seconds prior to that, when the Ducks were seemingly running out the clock on a 2-1 victory with the puck in the corner of their own zone and the Detroit net empty. Instead of dragging the puck behind his net, Ryan Getzlaf tried to sling it over everyone to the other side of the rink with five seconds left, but couldn't get it high enough. It ended up on the stick of Marian Hossa, and he quickly got it to Pavel Datsyuk, who whipped a shot from the slot that Jonas Hiller just barely knocked away with the blocker. It was an enormous, game-rescuing stop that quickly got overshadowed by what transpired immediately afterward (watch the whole thing on video).

As Hossa tried to chase the puck toward the wall, Getzlaf hooked him from behind, leading Hossa to turn and shove back.

And that's pretty much when all hell broke loose.

Niedermayer tried to jump in on the Getzlaf-Hossa exchange and was promptly pulled away by Datsyuk. Meanwhile, away from the action, Corey Perry and Brian Rafalski started tangling, with Perry landing about 8 to 10 blows on a hardly-fighting-back Rafalski. At around the same time, Niedermayer had enough of Datsyuk grabbing him and threw an elbow at Datsyuk's head. That was pretty eye-opening, but not as eye-opening as what occurred next, as Niedermayer and Datsyuk (two guys who never fight) started raining punches on each other. Niedermayer didn't drop his gloves, or his stick for that matter, at the outset of the fight, but it quickly all fell to the ice among the rest of the scattered equipment and orange towels thrown by fans.

Speaking of the fans, the photo to the right is as interesting for what's going on behind the glass as it is for what's developing in the rink. Take a look at the guy on the far left, an orange towel draped over his head as he's throwing rights along with the players. Meanwhile, the woman next to him seems quite amused, but she's not nearly as into it as the blonde pounding the glass with her thumbs up. And they say women don't like violence.

Even more ironic is seeing No. 25 actually trying to keep the peace.

When the dust was cleared, eight penalties totaling 36 minutes were given to the two teams (including the hook on Getzlaf, which seemed pretty minor in comparison to the others). Somewhere in the fray, Todd Marchant was given a game misconduct (possibly for attempting to be the third man in on the Niedermayer-Datsyuk tangle).

“There was a lot going on. I don’t know how it all started," said Niedermayer, maybe not exactly telling the whole truth. "Next thing you know, I don’t know, my gloves are off. I took a couple shots. I didn’t even know who it was at first. A couple punches to the face, and I guess after a couple, I figured I’ll try a couple myself.”

Said Niedermayer of his decision to fight, "That doesn’t happen too often. You can probably tell why."

Watch this fight from years ago when Niedermayer was in New Jersey and you can definitely tell why.

No word yet on whether any punishment is being handed down by the league, but it would be very surprising if there is any.

Nicklas Lidstrom was diplomatic when he was asked about it afterwards, saying, “I don’t really know what happened, but it’s been a battle for both sides and those things happen.”

Detroit coach Mike Babcock was asked about it twice in his postgame press conference and both times sarcastically remarked, “Raffy [Rafalski]  and Pav [Datsyuk] must have jumped those two guys.”

It was an ugly ending to what was a beautiful game for the Ducks, a performance that beared little resemblance to the mediocre fight they put up during losses in Games 4 and 5.  

"We knew we could be better than we were the last two games. There was no question about that," Niedermayer said. "I think we were tonight."

Hiller had probably his best game of the series with 38 saves, and only a Johan Franzen power play goal with 2:25 left spoiled a shutout and opened the door for that frantic finish. That late goal probably wouldn't have happened if not for a tripping penalty on Andrew Ebbett that was almost as much Rob Niedermayer's fault as it was Ebbett's. With the Ducks looking to keep sending the puck deep and run clock, Niedermayer made the inexplicable move of stopping just inside the blue line and attempting to send a blind backward pass. Ebbett reached out his stick to retrieve it and took down Darren Helm. Soon afterward, Franzen scored what seems like his 20th goal of the series, which set up an incredibly frightening final two minutes.

But a Franzen shot with 1:07 left and Datsyuk's last-second try were the only two on goal during that stretch, and of course Hiller's last save was his best one. “I was a little surprised (the puck wasn’t cleared), but you still have to be ready at the end when it’s six-on-five,” Hiller said. “He got the puck out of the air and suddenly it’s right on me. I saw it, though. Hit me on the elbow.”

Coincidentally, the three Ducks who did most of the fighting after the game were the ones who made the scoring happen during it. Scott Niedermayer whipped a shot on the power play that bounced around in front of the net, where Getzlaf was able to chip it in 2:21 into the second period. And late in that  period, Getzlaf threw the puck on net from inside the blue line and Perry got enough of his stick on it to deflect it past Chris Osgood. (That gave Getzlaf his 18th point this postseason, breaking his own club record.) And it was just seconds after the Ducks caught a break at the other end, when Valtteri Filppula just missed knocking home a pretty centering pass by Hossa, thanks in part to Perry's diving attempt to thwart it.

But the Game 6 win wasn't as much about the Ducks' scoring as it was about how they limited the chances of the Red Wings. Niedermayer and Pronger spent a good part of the night checking the dangerous line of Franzen, Filppula and Hossa. “When I saw that right at the start of the game, I thought that was good for us,” Babcock said. “That meant (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Pavel) Datsyuk weren’t playing against them.”

But Francois Beauchemin and James Wisniewski worked their tails off to contain those two, as Datsyuk still hasn't found the net in this series (though he never came any closer than he did on that last shot). Meanwhile, two of the Ducks' biggest horses -- Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan -- looked much sharper than they have the past couple of games. Ryan, who may be nursing an injury that few people are talking about, had a team-high five shots. Ryan revealed after the game that Randy Carlyle had told him to "just play" after he struggled in the first five games of the series. “We had a chance to talk. It was good. It was feedback I needed," Ryan said. "Obviously … this isn’t a series that’s going well for me by any means."

Getzlaf, who may also be dinged up in addition to the flu he was battling over the weekend, was much closer to his normal self than he was the past two games. "I’m feeling a little better every day,” Getzlaf said. “I never really had a fever, but I just didn’t have any energy. Game 5 was worse than Game 4. That was a real struggle. But I got some rest and some fluids, and I’m ready to move forward.”

And just like Getzlaf's health is apparently improving, the Ducks have suddenly gone from being left for dead to facing a highly anticipated Game 7 in Detroit.

“This is what you play for,” Perry said. “We’re going back to The Joe for Game 7. That’s about as exciting a time as you can get.”

Only the Ducks could find a way to start that battle two nights before it even starts. You can call last night's brawl Game 6 1/2.  “We’ve started preparing for it already,” said Getzlaf with a smile.

And Scott Niedermayer's quote in the postgame locker room hardly sounded like a guy who was feverishly throwing punches just a few minutes earlier. “What a great thrill to be playing a great hockey club like that in Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs,” Niedermayer said. “I’m looking forward to it."

You know what? I think we all are.

- - -

There are two stories I want to link to, one of which I neglected to include yesterday. Marcia Smith of the O.C. Register wrote a nice piece mentioning the Ducks' and Honda Center's involvement in next month's Stars and Stripes fundraising golf tournament.

And Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated has a great story on the allure of the Stanley Cup Playoffs that includes this quote from George Parros: “The playoffs are to the regular season what cream filling is to the Twinkie. It’s a smaller portion of the whole, but it’s the tastiest part.”


Updated May 12 at 1:21 p.m.

It can't end tonight.

It just can't.

Not after 10-2-1 over the last 13 games to get into the dance. Not after knocking off a heavily favored Sharks team in the first round. Not after taking a 2-games-to-1 lead on these very same Red Wings less than a week ago.

I don't think any of us is ready to see this ride come to an end.

Whatever it was that hampered the Ducks in that lackluster Game 5 in Detroit -- some say it was physical, some say mental, some say a little of both -- it's history. And whatever the Ducks have left in the tank in this series needs to be poured all over the Honda Center ice tonight.

“Everybody on our team has to step up,” said Todd Marchant yesterday afternoon. “Everybody has to look themselves in the mirror and say, ‘I have to go out and have the best game of these playoffs, certainly of this series.’ and let’s see where we are."

Where the Ducks were this morning was in their living rooms, rather than on the ice where they would traditionally take part in a pregame skate. Randy Carlyle, for the second day in a row, switched up the routine a bit to get ready for Game 6. Yesterday it was having the players take part in a 10-minute scrimmage at the top of practice in which they all used wrong-handed sticks. Today it was telling them to not bother coming to the rink until this evening. The only ones at Honda Center this morning were some of the Black Aces, injured Bret Hedican and Brad Larsen, center Petteri Nokelainen (who came in for treatment) and Josh Green.

“We just thought we’d try to change it up a little bit, take a little different look at it,” Carlyle said a couple of hours ago. “At this point, I think the most important thing is energy for tonight, make sure we have lots of it.”

And even though the word on the street is that the energy expended by the Ducks in the last month of the regular season and in the first round has finally caught up with them, Carlyle said he thought the Game 5 lapse was more of a mental problem. “The things that happen to an athlete when you’re expected to go out and give 110 percent-plus in very intense, pressure situations, the mental aspect of it is as big as anything.” But as far as that repeating itself tonight, he said, "I don’t think we’ll have a problem that way at all."

Carlyle also said that Ryan Carter, who missed yesterday's practice for what Carlyle would only say was "an appointment," will be in the lineup tonight.

Detroit, meanwhile, had about a dozen on the ice for their skate this morning. Not present was defenseman Brian Rafalski, who had a full practice with the team yesterday after missing the first five games of this series with an undisclosed injury. His absence from today's session would seem to indicate he's in there tonight.

But what really matters is which Ducks will be on the ice. Is it the Ducks who played mediocre hockey for the first five months of the season, or the one that looked like one of the best teams in the league over the final two? Is it the team that tirelessly fought its way through the first round and into a lead this series, or the one that watched it slip away the last two games?

As much as these Ducks will  go into this one knowing it could be the last game of their season, Ducks fans need to approach it the same way. Forget about the annoying influx of red jerseys sprinkled throughout the arena tonight -- this place needs to be electric and it needs to be loud. Every Anaheim rush, every Wings penalty, every battle for the puck that goes the Ducks' way -- heck, even the introduction of the starters -- needs to be met with a deafening roar. Every attempt at a pro-Wings chant needs to be drowned out by an even louder Ducks one. It's on you, Ducks fans. As much as anyone, you need to show up tonight too.

(And if we don't have enough motivation to knock these guys off tonight, let's do it to avenge the idiocy that is the photo they're using on the Wings website to preview tonight's game. Insert your own joke about the photo we could have used to preview the games in Detroit.)

I keep thinking back to Game 5 against the Stars in this building last year, in a series where the Ducks were mostly outplayed. They needed a desperate, lay-it-all-on-the-line effort to extend the series and they got it. They dominated the Stars 5-2 in what would ultimately turn out to be the last home game of that season. (And that crowd seemed to know it in the way they erupted that night.) Or go back a couple of weeks ago, when the Ducks badly needed a win over the Sharks in Game 6 at home, to avoid that series going back to San Jose for a dangerous Game 7. The Ducks left no doubt with a 4-1 demolition of the Sharks in that game. Something tells me we might see that same thing again tonight.

For what it's worth, the Ducks have never lost (5-0 all time) on their own ice in the sixth game in a playoff series. That includes wins in '03 against Dallas and New Jersey, '06 against the Flames and, oh yeah, '07 against the Red Menace. That last one was to clinch the series; we need this one just to stay alive, to coerce a Game 7 in Detroit where anything can happen.

Looking back on the past two months, we wouldn't even be talking about a second round Game 6 if the Ducks hadn't prevailed time and time again in games they absolutely had to win. Here's hoping they have it in them tonight to pull it off yet another time. Because the thought of this season coming to an end, the thought of watching a post-series handshake eight hours from now, is excruciating.

Not here. Not on this ice.

Not tonight.

Updated May 11 at 11:50 a.m.

The only thing more discouraging than the Ducks’ effort in a 4-1 loss in Game 5 in Detroit is hearing them talk about it afterwards.

Scott Niedermayer: “We didn’t have pretty much everything you need to fully compete. We didn’t play well positionally, play our game plan as well as we need to, and that’s the result. They deserved to win. We didn’t. We had an opportunity to take a lead in the series, late in the series, and we didn’t have the effort we needed to do that. That’s disappointing.”

Teemu Selanne: "We had no business out there. They were better in every area and there's no excuse. This is tough to swallow. When you play on a high level and lose, you can live with that. We didn't deserve anything. No excuses."

James Wisniewski: "We were just standing still, not moving our feet, not moving the puck; we had no energy, we weren't finishing any checks, turning the puck over. We can’t play like it’s Game 38 of the regular season.”

All that being said, and judging by what the scoreboard said at the end of it, it’s hard to believe Anaheim actually could have tied the game late in the third period, but were finally buried by a Darren Helm goal with 3:08 left. And a Henrik Zetterberg empty-netter a couple of minutes later made things look even uglier.

“They were one shot away from getting it to overtime,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock graciously said.

But that was the problem. The shots were few and far between for the Ducks. Between the 3:01 mark and the 17:28 mark in the third period, they took exactly zero. They had five shots total in that period, 17 in the entire game. At one point I could have sworn I saw Chris Osgood lying on a beach chair with a Corona in one hand. “I think Anaheim didn’t shoot as much tonight, but they waited for their best chances. I mean, I don’t mind," Osgood said.


Ironically enough, Osgood did make one monster save on an Erik Christensen shot that Christensen himself said, “could have changed the momentum completely.” Late in the second period, Christensen (playing for the first time in four games) was staring at an open net after a rebound off a Teemu Selanne shot, but he couldn't lift the puck enough and Osgood made a lunging stop. A goal there would have tied the game at 2-2. You can see the exasperation on Selanne in the video as he holds his head with both hands while skating past the net.

Christensen actually did create an opportunity on Anaheim's only goal, a power play strike by Ryan Whitney that remarkably was his first goal as a Duck. Christensen tried to stuff the puck in from point-blank range and it kicked out to Whitney in the slot, where he finished the job.

But that was it for the Ducks, who could never find enough of an answer for the two goals in 39 seconds the Red Wings laid on them in the middle session. The first came on a laser of a wrister by the seemingly unstoppable Johan Franzen and the second came when Jiri Hudler batted the puck in from mid-air, and replays showed it was clearly under the crossbar and thus legal.

Jonas Hiller was much better than he was in Game 4 with 34 stops, but he couldn't do enough as his teammates leaned on him far too often. And even though the Ducks had their chances, they never looked like the team that played its guts out in winning 10 of its last 13 to get into the dance, and certainly not the team that dismissed a heavily favored San Jose inthe first round. There is some speculation that the fight to get into the playoffs and the San Jose series has taken a toll on the Ducks in this round, but Hiller is quick to dismiss that.

"We have played a lot of games, but it shouldn't be a factor in the second round," Hiller said. "If you're tired, you can still hit, you can still work hard. A lot of it was mental. We just didn't compete.

"In playoffs, I think every game should be desperate. We didn't show that tonight."

Bobby Ryan, who hasn't looked himself this entire series and may in fact be nursing an injury, was able to offer more detail on the Ducks' shortcomings. “We’re not making them tentative,” Ryan said. “We’re dumping the puck, and they’ve got somebody back there waiting for it, and they’re hitting that outlet in the middle and getting into transition. We have to make them more tentative when they go back to get it, and that means finishing more checks.”

Even Ryan Getzlaf, who missed Saturday's practice with flu-like symptoms, looked hesitant to dump and chase yesterday afternoon, instead electing to pull up and try to cycle the puck on a number of occasions. The Ducks showed their desperation halfway through the game when Randy Carlyle made the surprising move of splitting up Getzlaf and Corey Perry, putting Getzlaf on the second line with Selanne and Christensen, while Perry played with Ryan and Petteri Nokelainen.

"We weren’t playing very well,” Carlyle said. “I decided we were going to change something. We couldn’t just continue to accept what was going on. We moved Getzlaf around a little bit and tried to split up our offense.”

The move only further emphasized that the Ducks aren't getting much production out of anything beyond their top line and their power play. Meanwhile, they're facing a juggernaut that has a 19-goal-scorer (Mikael Samuelsson) playing on the fourth line.

That being said, it's still a Detroit team the Ducks can beat if they want it bad enough. And here's hoping that with their season on the line in a Game 6 tomorrow night at Honda Center, that will be brought out of them once again. Pull out a win at home in Game 6 and who knows what can happen in Game 7 back in Detroit. Series over? Hardly.

And as much as the Ducks were trashing themselves in that visitors locker room at Joe Louis Arena last night, they also found some light at the end of the tunnel.

Hiller: "That shows how close the series is. We know we didn’t play our best game, but we still had our chances. We know if we play our game, we definitely have a chance to win, but everybody has to step up right now and do a better job."

Wisniewski: “We didn’t play well but we’re only down 3-2. We have to win two games in a row and that’s something this team has done many times in the past.”

Selanne: "We have to look in the mirror, every individual. We will be better, I promise."

Let's hope that's a promise the Ducks can keep.

Updated May 10 at 12:16 p.m.

It's silly to flash back to past glory as a motivating factor in an upcoming challenge. But when has silliness ever stopped anything in this space before?

Certainly not now.

You may remember the last time the Ducks faced a Game 5 at Joe Louis Arena, a pivotal game with the series tied at 2-2. That Game 5 was also a matinee (held at noon as opposed to today's 2 p.m. puck drop). That game also came against a Red Wings team that had blown out the Ducks a few days earlier. (Okay, a little different: That was a 5-0 crushing in Game 3, after which the Ducks came back to win Game 4 before heading to Detroit).

There may be subtle differences, but it wouldn't be such a bad thing if the result was pretty much the same. 

In that game held May 20, 2007, Anaheim appeared to be dead Ducks until Scott Niedermayer willed in a goal off the stick of Nicklas Lidstrom and past goalie Dominik Hasek with 49.1 seconds remaining in regulation. And Teemu Selanne won it for the Ducks 11:57 into OT when Andreas Lilja turned the puck over in the Detroit zone, and Selanne went backhand-forehand-water bottle.

You go back even further in Ducks postseason history to find another semi-similarity to this series. The 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinal between the then-Mighty Ducks and the Calgary Flames was unarguably the springboard in Anaheim's run to the Stanley Cup title the following year. The Ducks were expected to fall to the talented Flames, but instead beat them in seven games, the clincher a 3-0 shocker in Calgary. Many point to the turning point of that series being a fight between Francois Beauchemin and Calgary's Jarome Iginla a minute into Game 6 in Anaheim. Beauchemin had the upper hand in that fight, and the Ducks went on to win that game and the next one to advance.

There are obvious differences, but Beauchemin had another fight in the Game 4 loss at Honda Center three nights ago, where he beat the snot out of a completely overmatched Tomas Kopecky. Kopecky made the odd decision to challenge Beauchemin at a time when a fight would only ignite a Honda Center crowd already pumped up by Scott Niedermayer's goal that drew the Ducks to within two.

Okay, Tomas Kopecky is no Jarome Iginla, but one thing he did have in common with Iginla in that fight is getting seemingly surprised to find out Francois Beauchemin fights lefty. By the time they figured that out, it was too late.

And for Kopecky, the repercussions of that fight carry on. He will miss tonight's Game 5 and might need surgery on the facial injuries he suffered by continuously slamming his face into Beauchemin's fist. Something tells me Kopecky might be regretting uttering the words "wanna go?" in Beauchemin's direction. He'll be replaced in the lineup by rookie call-up Justin Abdelkader.

Incidentally, Detroit's Brian Rafalski and Kris Draper are out again for Game 5.

On the Ducks side, still no word on whether James Wisniewski will be back in the lineup after missing Game 4 with that lung contusion. Wisniewski said after skating with the team in yesterday's practice that he was "50-50," but his father seems to think that's being conservative. In a great feature on Wisniewski by O.C. Register columnist Mark Whicker, dad Jim (who was there in Game 3 when Wisniewski left on a stretcher), said yesterday, "James is playing tomorrow."

Okay, good to know.

He also points out the irony connected to his son's quote about Tomas Holmstrom, who delivered an elbow to Wisniewski's face seconds after he took the puck to the chest. If you recall, Wisniewski said, "I was hunched over, coughing up blood and I got a blatant elbow. That shows a little bit of a gutless play by one of their players, not mentioning any names."

Says Dad, "The thing is, James skates with Homer (Holmstrom) in the offseason. They're buddies. Homer's a funny guy. To me, it's just one of those things brothers do to each other."

Well, maybe step brothers.

Today is Ryan Getzlaf's birthday, which reminds all of us of this: Holy lord, that guy just turned 24? Getzlaf, meanwhile, skipped practice yesterday while still being bothered by the "flu-like symptoms" that limited his time in Game 4. “I’m definitely not a hundred percent, but I’m definitely getting better as we go,” Getzlaf said yesterday.

You've got to believe that unless he's tied to an IV, he'll be in there. And Jonas Hiller, despite being pulled in the third period of Game 4, will be in there too.

I only wish I could be inside ramshackle Joe Louis Arena this afternoon for what promises to be an intense one. I'll never forget being there for that Game 5 in '07, and after Selanne's goal, hearing utter silence in the arena -- aside from the sound of f-bombs and fists slamming seats. It was truly magical.

Here's hoping we hear something similar a few hours from now.

Updated May 8 at 1:27 p.m.

"We just were not good enough."

Those were the words of Jonas Hiller following last night's stomach-churning 6-3 defeat at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings at Honda Center. And there is really no better way to put it. The Red Wings are simply too good, too deep and too experienced to keep down forever. It was only a matter of time before they exploded, and the Ducks just couldn't find a way to limit the damage.

As painful as it is to admit it, the Wings were right when they talked about what they needed to do in the wake of Anaheim's slim Game 3 victory. "We've just got to stay patient, keep wearing their D out," Marian Hossa said then, voicing the same sentiment of several teammates and his coach. "Just keep doing the same thing." Of course, they did do a little something different, as Hossa was moved to the second line to play with Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula, while Henrik Zetterberg was moved to the top line.

They knew that eventually the dam would burst -- and let's be honest, we knew it eventually would too. It's just fortunate it happened in a Game 4, with the Ducks already leading the series, rather than in a Game 7.

That being said, it sure would have been easier to swallow if the Ducks had gone down in another close one, rather than a game they were pretty much out of early in the third period. That's when Mikael Samuelsson gave Detroit a three-goal lead 2:46 into the period when he was given way too much room on the left wing to fire a shot. Brett Festerling, a fill-in for the injured and angry James Wisniewski, looked to be heading to the bench for a change and had to hustle back toward Samuelsson racing up the wing following a surprising change of possession. But Festerling was too late, as Samuelsson rocketed a shot that hit the underside of the crossbar before going in.

The goal could hardly be blamed on Hiller, but he was pulled after that one for J.S. Giguere, prompting Curtis Zupke of the O.C. Register to write: It’s definitely an unusual season when the insertion of Jean-Sebastien Giguere symbolizes a night gone wrong for the Ducks - in a playoff game.

Hiller wasn't at his sharpest last night and didn't make the saves he's been making most of the postseason. The most egregious was the Marian Hossa shot that somehow snuck under Hiller's armpit with 3:58 left in the period to give the Wings a 3-2 lead. That being said, you can stop wondering who will be the starter on Sunday in Detroit. There is little doubt it's Hiller again. 

And he's certainly not entirely to blame on a night when the Ducks just didn't seem to have it together, although they did tease us with a shockingly early goal by Corey Perry (just 42 seconds in, tying a team playoff record). And Perry did it again with a goal from the slot to counter  two straight Johan Franzen tallies and tie the game at 2-2 in the second. Much of the credit for that goal goes to Ryan Getzlaf, who somehow found a way to fight off the checks of Jonathan Ericsson and Nicklas Lidstrom to keep the puck on his stick and drop it to a charging Perry.

Getzlaf also had an assist on the pretty Scott Niedermayer power play goal midway through the third that gave the Ducks a glimmer of hope before they couldn't generate anything more down the stretch. Getzlaf was conspicuously absent for much of the third period and only played 15:55, about 10 minutes under his average. Speculation after the game was that he was sick.

I think we all felt a little ill watching the Ducks have little to match Detroit, much to the delight of a way-too-large contingent of jersey-clad Red Wings fans in the building. There are few things more frustrating than hearing a loud roar when the opposing team scores in your building. And insult was added to injury when one of those fans found a way to fish an octopus out of his jeans and throw it on the Honda Center ice with under a minute left.

There was speculation around here that after the break the Ducks got in Game 3, that Game 4 might turn into a 60-minute makeup call. And indeed, the Ducks did go shorthanded five times last night, but mostly from their own doing. That included Francois Beauchemin's interference penalty in the offensive zone late in the second period, where Beauchemin curiously elected to play below the opposing goal line and slammed into a helping Brett Lebda. Hossa banged in a power play goal soon after that to give Detroit a two-goal lead with less than a minute left in the period, which proved too much to overcome. Meanwhile, two Ducks power plays in the game were promptly cancelled out by quick Ducks minors, one a hook on Beauchemin and the other a trip on Perry.

“They have a good hockey club, but that being said, we weren’t nearly good enough, nowhere near the way we can play, and they capitalized,” Todd Marchant said. “We did some very uncharacteristic things. We turned the puck over numerous times in the neutral zone, which fueled their transition, and for the majority of the game we lacked that offensive zone time."

The one thing they did do well was fight, as evidenced by Francois Beauchemin's laughably one-sided bout with Tomas Kopecky in which Kopecky hit Beauchemin's left fist with his face over and over again before falling down. “We were battling in front of the net, and he asked me to go,” Beauchemin said.

The question is ... why?

“I was a little surprised," Beauchemin said.

The hope, at least to Ducks fans, was that the fight would ignite the Ducks even further, as it came just a minute after Niedermayer had brought Anaheim to within two goals with half a period remaining. But alas, that did not happen.

"For whatever reason tonight," Marchant said, "we didn’t have it and they did.”

But as I was walking to my car in the Honda Center parking lot last night, I couldn't help but flash back to Game 3 against the Red Wings in this very building in 2007. The Ducks were vicuously trounced in that game, 5-0, and appeared completely outmatched. And how did the Ducks recover? They won seven of their next eight, capping it off with a little something called a Stanley Cup title.

"The good part about playoffs is it doesn’t really matter if you lose 2-1, 1-0 or if you lose, whatever, 6-3. The next game is going to start zero-zero, and the series is still tied 2-2."

Hiller and the rest of the Ducks flew out this morning for Detroit, facing a Game 5 on Sunday that has become monumental for both teams.

"Now it’s a three-game series and the next game is going to be huge," Marchant said. "We’ll watch the film and correct our mistakes and be ready for that game on Sunday.”

I think I'm ready right now.

Updated May 7 at 2:18 p.m.

One of the biggest complaints about hockey players -- despite their standing as the most accessible and humble professional athletes among the big four sports -- is their distaste for uttering a sound bite with much substance. When reporters gather around a player, there are a lot of "we need to get off to a good start" or "everybody battled and it was a team effort" or "we need to play 60 minutes of hockey." Reporters find themselves simultaneously scribbling furiously on their notepads and rolling their eyes.

Enter James Wisniewski.

The Ducks defenseman was surrounded by a gathering of microphone-holders this morning in the hallway outside the Ducks locker room to discuss the lung contusion that will keep him out of at least tonight's Game 4 against the Red Wings. Wisniewski, you'll remember, was struck near the chest by a Pavel Datsyuk shot, kept playing, and a few seconds later took a Tomas Holmstrom elbow to the face. There have been arguments ever since whether Holmstrom's elbow was intentional or not. Here was Wisniewski's take, which you can see in this video:

"I had to look at the replay and see it. I didn't know I was skating around for another 10 seconds after taking the initial blow. I was kind of out of it the whole time I was skating around. I remember getting hit in the face and that was pretty much about it. I look back and I see that it was a blatant elbow. I was hunched over, coughing up blood and I got a blatant elbow. That shows a little bit of a gutless play by one of their players, not mentioning any names."

He uttered that last line with a smile, then continued: "I saw three different replays, and if you look at it, he looks over his left shoulder and gives a [elbowing motion] nice little elbow right when I'm just hunched over, not even doing anything. If he says he didn't [do it on purpose], I might actually have to believe him."

And then he takes it just a little further: "If it was Chris Pronger, I think all you media guys would make a biiiig deal about how dirty the Anaheim Ducks are. But since it's the Detroit Red Wings, I guess it's all okay."

Watch the video of the incident, notably the slow-motion replays from behind the net, and it's not easy to tell what Holmstrom's intent was. Even though he was tangling in front of the net with Scott Niedermayer to his right (for which Niedermayer earned a curious hooking call), I'm not sure why he has to raise his left arm and make a distinct elbowing motion to free himself. Let's put it this way: If you're a Ducks fan, you see an intentional elbow. If you like the Wings, you see an accident. (An actually amusing part of that video is Todd Marchant skating by a bent-over Wisniewski to give him a "you're okay, bud" love tap on the thigh with his stick.)

Intentional or not, it was an elbow to the face, which should have been called, which would have combined with Niedermayer's hooking penalty to set up a 4-on-4, rather than the power play the Red Wings scored on a minute later. But then again, we're in no position to complain about missed calls right about now.

Holmstrom, when asked about it yesterday, claimed the elbow was completely unintentional. "I had no idea I hit him,” he said, which is the one part of the quote that's a little hard to believe. “I didn’t see him. He was behind me. That’s not the way I play.”

And Scott Niedermayer, the reigning king of the NHL player humdrum sound bites, put it this way: "I've got a couple answers but I'll stick with a boring one: Everybody is definitely responsible for what they're doing out there. You make decisions about how you're going to act and carry yourself ... you guys can judge how that individual carried himself."

One of Scotty's sons read that in the paper and thought to himself, That's the same speech he gave me when he caught me riding my bike in that construction zone.

Detroit coach Mike Babcock, rarely boring with his takes on controversial subjects, had this to say: "It's like a rodeo after every whistle. There could be penalties after every single whistle. I don't know how one play would be anything [different]. If you think that Homer was saying, 'Oh, that guy got hurt on the play and now I'm going to elbow him in the head,' ... come on. That's not how hockey is played. Let's play the game, let's play it hard."

Intentional or not, Wisniewski is out tonight and possibly for Game 5. “Everything feels fine,” Wisniewski said. “The only thing I can do is have time. It’s all about your body. Since I’m a younger guy, it looks like there’s a chance for Sunday. Some of them (doctors) said it would be more realistic if there is a Game 6 (Tuesday). I’m ready to get back out there as quickly as possible.”

For now, he'll be replaced by either Brett Festerling, Brendan Mikkelson or Brian Salcido. Each would be making his playoff debut and none was even born when Chris Chelios broke into the league in 1983. Only Festerling and Mikkelson skated with the Ducks this morning, and Mikkelson stayed on the ice afterwards with the rest of the not-expected-to-play Ducks.

One individual who won't be on the ice tonight is referee Brad Watson, who blew the whistle on Detroit's potential tying goal in Game 3. As was scheduled in advance of Game 3, Paul Devorski and Denis LaRue are the referees tonight. So, Ducks fans, you won't have to feel any guilt about booing the guys with the orange arm bands.

The Holmstrom incident and the fallout in the last couple of days only further ratchets up the intensity of tonight's Game 4, with the Red Wings looking for some serious retribution after what happened to them two nights ago. (Speaking of that, the Ducks would have won that game in overtime anyway, so I don't see what the big hullabaloo is.)

The talk from Detroit is that they are looking to get off to a much better start than they did in Game 3. They didn't skate the morning before that game and seemed to not get their legs under them until the second period. And today? Again, the first time they'll hit the ice is for warmups tonight.

"In the first, we were kind of letting them dictate the play," said Wings forward Dan Cleary. "We've just got to have a good start. Anaheim comes out, always, always, they come out and they push hard right away. They go for the jugular and then they hold."

I like that.

While the Wings are looking to start stronger, the Ducks would like to finish better. Tuesday night they certainly didn't look like the team that had the NHL's best record when leading after two periods and are 4-0 in that situation so far in the postseason.

"I don't think anybody is happy with how we played in the third period," Teemu Selanne said. "It seems to me that every time when we start to play it safe and are just backing up, we're going to have problems. The best defense is offense, and you can't really change your style and your gameplan, and I think we changed too much in the third period."

In other words, Teemu's methodology goes something like this: How do you protect a one-goal lead? Easy. Make it a two-goal lead.

The Ducks definitely did ride Jonas Hiller a little too much over those final periods, though Hiller remained his delightfully stingy self in front of the net. And if that's going to change for the Wings, it won't be because of any help from Selanne. Yesterday he was asked what he would do to beat a hot goalie like Hiller. He immediately laughed.

"Don't go there, don't you ask it," he said. "It's like asking, 'How'd you rob the bank?' "

Okay, not all hockey players are dull.

Updated May 6 at 11:58 a.m.

There are a variety of emotions a hockey fan will experience when his team wins a big game -- elation, relief, vindication, etc.

Guilt is usually not one of them.

But I couldn't help but feel a tinge of it when the final horn sounded last night on a tense 2-1 victory for the Ducks over Detroit in Game 3. And I think we all know why.

By all accounts, the Red Wings' goal with 1:04 left in regulation should have tied the game, but just as Marian Hossa dove with Chris Pronger to knock the loose puck into the Anaheim net, referee Brad Watson whistled the play dead and waved off the goal. Even Watson would be the first to admit that in retrospect it wasn't the right call. Although, the intent of the call was exactly what hockey officials are taught to do when they lose sight of the puck. As E.J. McGuire, series manager and spokesman for officials, put it: "When he couldn't see the puck, all referees' instructions are to blow the whistle and blow the play dead ... In hindsight, if he had a slow-motion camera to review it, he may not have (blown the whistle). He did what all officials are instructed to do. Blow the whistle when they don't see the puck. And he didn't see the puck."

So, the Ducks caught a major break, but you know what? Bad calls happen. They've happened in this series and they've certainly gone against the Ducks a couple of times. I'm sure Ducks fans feel a little vindicated about a couple of those, including the Tomas Holmstrom elbow to an already-injured James Wisniewski's face that didn't get called in last night's second period. Granted, that certainly wasn't as conspicuous as the waved off goal.

Almost forgotten in that sequence of events leading up to the play is the fact that Scott Niedermayer shockingly lost control of the puck behind the net, which led to Johan Franzen reaching out to send it underneath Jonas Hiller just inches from the stripe. Hiller had no idea where the puck was before Hossa and Pronger barrelled into the crease to knock it through.

It at first seemed to be the almost inevitable result of a third period in which the Ducks were drastically outplayed. Yes, it's been mentioned in this space that shots on goal can be overrated, but when you're outshot 18-3 in the third period and 35-9 over the final two, that paints a pretty clear picture. And the Ducks were fortunate to escape on two power plays they handed Detroit in the final 10 minutes on an Andrew Ebbett high-sticking penalty and a Drew Miller holding call.

"We played a pretty textbook type of playoff game until the third period," Randy Carlyle said. "Then it just seemed like we stopped skating. We turned the puck over and we took two penalties, one high-sticking and one holding. That continued to feed their momentum. As you saw, they came at us in waves. It got a little hairy there at the end."

It did indeed, but once again Hiller was a rock in front of the Anaheim net, picking up another 45 saves, including those 18 in a gut-wrenching third period. And if you have any doubt as to the confidence he's picked up, just look at his demeanor when he skated back onto the ice after being named the game's No. 1 Star. The kid banged his stick on the ice a few times, looked up into the seats and repeatedly clapped his gloved hand against his stick to acknowledge the crowd.

While the Detroit shot advantage over the final two periods was pretty telling, Hiller pointed out that those shots were mostly manageable. "I think we did a pretty good job defensively," he said, making most reporters glance at their stat sheets then back at Hiller with bewilderment. "Most shots they had were from the outside. They haven't had too many real dangerous scoring chances. We did an awesome job and we just have to keep going the same way."

Hiller's take on the controversial play: “I couldn’t find the puck. I thought it was underneath me, the same thing the ref thought. I was looking at the referee behind the net and he waved it off right away, so I thought he was going to stay with that call, and he did. For sure, he’d probably like to take it back, but that’s a part of hockey. Some calls go against you, and tonight it was for us."

Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who remained on the bench after the game to stare down the officials as they left the rink, said, "We should be playing, obviously, right now." He said that around 10:30 last night, but the way this series is going, it might still apply this morning. "Two teams scored twice tonight, but it just didn't work out that way."

But give Babcock and his players credit. Even though they clearly felt they were robbed on that play, they decided to turn their focus on what they did wrong in the game. “There’s no sense complaining about the referee,” Babcock added. “That doesn’t do any good. I thought we should have started better.”

The Ducks, on the other hand, started just fine, thanks to Teemu Selanne's breakaway goal off a pinpoint Ryan Carter pass that gave Anaheim a 1-0 cushion. Somebody buy goalie Chris Osgood a DVD player, because I don't think there was anyone in the building that didn't know Teemu was going to go forehand-backhand-top shelf when he got near the net.

And another Hall-of-Famer gave the Ducks a huge 2-0 lead in the second when Scott Niedermayer followed his own shot to chip the puck over Osgood, just before backing over him. The Wings (and their fans, according to my inbox) wanted goalie interference on that one, though if it were called, it clearly happened after the puck was already over the stripe. That marked the first two-goal lead by any team in the series, pretty significant coming against a Detroit team that didn't trail for even one second in its first round series against Columbus.

But the mood in the building was quickly subdued 13:49 into the second period, when Wisniewski took a Pavel Datsyuk shot in the chest and immediately hunched over in pain, struggling for breath. And what did he get for his courageous decision to straighten up and play on? A Tomas Holmstrom elbow to the mouth about 10 seconds later. That finally did Wisniewski in, and it was an extremely scary moment in a near-silent Honda Center when a stretcher was brought out to the ice to whisk him away. Wisniewski was immediately taken to UCI Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with a lung contusion and spent the night for precautionary reasons. He's now scheduled to be released tomorrow morning.

"We're definitely thinking about him and hoping he's all right," said Carter. "I'm sure he will be. That guy's a warrior."

The Scott Niedermayer hooking call that also happened during that sequence -- not to mention the understandable lull that came from watching their teammate leave on a stretcher -- ended up costing the Ducks. Henrik Zetterberg punched in a rebound off Hiller on the power play to give Detroit a goal that would surpisingly (and with a little bit of luck) be the only official damage the Wings would do.

"Yeah, it was a little lucky for us," Hiller admitted about the no-goal, "but I would say you have to fight to be lucky. Everybody in here fought hard. And we deserve to be lucky once in a while.”

Okay, now I feel a little less guilty.

Updated May 5 at 3:14 p.m.

The Red Wings took the curious approach of not skating at Honda Center this morning. If they instead opted to hang around the hotel pool, you can bet the springboard got a good workout, considering the Wings' propensity for diving.

In Anaheim's Game 2 victory in Detroit, the Wings did more flopping to the ground than a European soccer player, all in an attempt to draw Ducks penalties. (And sometimes it actually worked.)

Among the instances on Sunday afternoon: Late in the third period Johan Franzen fell on the back of Ryan Getzlaf's legs behind the Anaheim net, to which Getzlaf turned and tried to shoo him away with a backhand to the side of the head. Franzen went down in a heap gripping his helmet as if he was hit in the head by a Randy Johnson fastball.

No penalty was called on Getzlaf, whom NBC cameras caught looking down at Franzen and yelling, "Get up!" (undoubtedly followed by some sort of well-deserved expletive).

Later in that period, Scott Niedermayer was fighting for position with Marian Hossa when Hossa suddenly went down like he was shot by a sniper, and referee Eric Furlatt immediately whistled Niedermayer for interference. Again, NBC viewers saw a close-up of Niedermayer smiling in amusement, calmly skating over to Furlatt and whispering something that clearly had the word "dive" in it. 

And the move by Hossa didn't escape the notice of the NBC commentators. Said analyst Eddie Olczyk, "We've seen six players on the back of Marian Hossa and he doesn't fall down like that. He sold the call. No question, a little embellishment." Added rinkside reporter Darren Pang, "I don't like it. A player like that, you try to be an honorable player in front of the net. It's hard to knock him down. That was just a complete embellishment. He's lucky he didn't get a diving call for that."

And if that wasn't shameful enough, how about the move by Tomas Holstrom with 3:56 to go in regulation during a scrum in front of the Detroit net? Holmstrom needlessly slashed Niedermayer (who was nowhere near goalie Chris Osgood) from behind and then shoved him into the net. And Niedermayer gathered himself, glided over to Holstrom and promptly punched him in the face. Did Holstrom retaliate? Of course not. Instead he made sure to get an official's attention as he pointed at Niedermayer like a schoolyard tattletale.

Even more amusing was the fact that he nodded his head with the assuredness that Niedermayer would be whistled for a penalty.

He was not.

Here's hoping the Wings continue tonight to focus on drawing Ducks penalties rather than just going out and playing the game. If they do -- advantage Anaheim.

Speaking of Scott Niedermayer, I approached him in the Ducks locker room today to ask him about what he was doing in this photo, while the rest of his teammates are hooting and hollering over Todd Marchant's overtime game-winner. The conversation went something like this:

Me: "So, the whole team is mobbing Todd and you're bending over to pick up the puck. Why?"
Scotty: "Well, I just saw it sitting there and I thought, 'Huh ... maybe he'd like to have this."

Never too high. Never too low.

Dan Wood of the O.C. Register points out in his blog today the similarities between this series and the '07 one with the Wings. In that series, the Ducks dropped Game 1 in Detroit only to come back with a Game 2 victory in overtime. Also in that '07 series, the Wings were missing a couple of injured defensemen, just like their missing Brian Rafalski and Andreas Lilja (Rafalski is out for Game 3 tonight).

Let's hope that's where the similarities end, because in '07 the Wings blitzed the Ducks 5-0 in Game 3 at Honda Center in a game where a Chris Pronger hit on Holmstrom earned Pronger a one-game suspension the next day. It's funny to think of the aftermath of that game, when many of us were thinking, Eh, maybe it's not going to happen this year. Three weeks later, the Ducks were skating around the Honda Center rink holding the Stanley Cup over their heads.

But first thing's first if the Ducks want to get back there again, and that's Game 3 tonight. Just like any Ducks-Wings game, Honda Center will be packed with both black-and-orange-clad home fans and a good amount of Detroit transplants, most of whom sprinted to relocation in Southern California before their high school graduation caps fell to the ground. And a couple of those fans will no doubt try to smuggle frozen octopi in their crotches as they enter the building tonight, with hopes of tossing them onto our ice.

Ah, the high road.

Ducks fans, your towels await. Blow the roof off this place tonight.

Updated May 4 at 11:59 a.m.

When you're eating scrambled eggs at the beginning of the game, and washing down a late lunch with another beer at the end of it, you know it was a long one. 

Last night's Game 2 in Detroit started at 11:17 a.m. Pacific time and ended in fine fashion more than four hours and 22 minutes later. Just more than a minute into the third overtime, Todd Marchant raced up the left wing and snapped a wrist shot over the shoulder of goalie Chris Osgood and just under the crossbar, thus ending an intense battle with the Red Wings to tie the series 1-1.

"Not many games,” Marchant said, “get decided off my stick, that's for sure.”

But that’s where Marchant is wrong. Sure, not many game-winning goals get scored off that stick, but the work Marchant does in the dirty areas with that stick is a major reason for the success Anaheim had over the final 13 games of the regular season and now the first eight of the postseason. So, you could hardly find a guy more deserving of having his teammates mob him following an overtime goal that vanquished a hated opponent in their own building.

“You never know how it’s going to happen or who it’s going to happen to," Marchant said. "It takes a total team effort to get to that point. Our guys battled hard."

That team effort was evident on the final play, which started with Marchant disrupting a Detroit rush at the Anaheim blue line (just about the 3,000th time he's squashed a potential scoring chance this postseason). The puck came to defenseman James Wisniewski, who promptly banged it off the wall to get Marchant off and running. After crossing paths with Rob Niedermayer, Marchant had enough room to fire a wrist shot over Osgood's glove just as Niedermayer brushed in front of the goalie. It took several replays to determine whether it glanced off the shaft of Niedermayer's stick, but eventually it was determined the goal was all Marchant's.

"I don't know even where it went," said Osgood, a quote that must sound so sweet to Ducks fans right about now.

You know another sweet sound? Obviously there is nothing better than the roar of the home crowd when your team scores an overtime winner. But if you were watching on NBC, you could clearly hear the hooting and hollering of the Ducks jumping into the pile in the mostly silent Joe Louis Arena (hear it again in this video). That reminded me a little bit of Game 5, 2007.

Wisniewski, remarking on how much room the Wings gave Marchant on the wing, said, 
"You've got a little leprechaun flying down the left side you want to get a stick on him or something."

Now there's a weird visual.

The celebration that Marchant's goal sparked led to this photo that I like for three reasons. 1) The jubilation on the Ducks' faces; 2) The disappointment on the Red Wings' fans faces and 3) The fact that the never-too-high-never-too-low Scott Niedermayer decided to bend over to pick up the puck rather than join in the hug parade. He's like the concerned father picking up the Legos while the kids run around the house, making sure no one gets hurt.

"I love it, I love it," said Corey Perry, one of those kids. "I love playing. Everybody would say the same thing. Just having that responsibility is a great honor and you have to earn it."

Ironically enough, the guy on the ice furthest from the celebration was goalie Jonas Hiller, who turned in yet another outstanding performance to keep the Ducks in the game. Hiller, who never in his life had played a triple overtime game (heck, not many have) since Swiss League playoff games go to a shootout after one OT, saved 59 in earning the victory.

In one of the few times you'll find the word "bananas" in a postgame quote sheet, Hiller had this to say of the endless afternoon: “I got a little fluids the longer we went, had some bananas, and I felt pretty good. This is why you do all the work during the summer, yeah. This is why you save all that money, so you can spend it at times like that.”


And this sound bite brought to you by Gatorade thirst quencher: "You had to drink a lot," Scott Niedermayer said. "I felt like I was leaking Gatorade … and I felt like my skates were sloppin' wet."
Much is made of the 62-46 shot advantage the Red Wings owned over the Ducks, not to mention the 29-17 edge in the three overtimes. But as much as Detroit controlled much of the play in those extra sessions, those numbers can be misleading. Anaheim employs a style of dumping the puck low and cycling, cycling, cycling to find a good shot. Detroit, meanwhile, has a tendency to throw the shot on net as soon as they cross the blue line, hoping to sneak one through or produce a juicy rebound. But Hiller, for the most part, denied that from happening. And although he probably should have made the stop on Mikael Samuelsson's backhand that tied the game 2-2 in the first and Johan Franzen's goal that tied the game 3-3 in the third, he was near perfect.

There obviously wasn't much he could do on the power play goal 6:00 into the first, when Brad Stuart kicked the puck off Wisniewski into the Anaheim net. But Ryan Getzlaf quickly wiped out that disaster when he made a great second effort to chip in the tying goal a little more than two minutes later. While that goal and Getzlaf's two assists added to his NHL-leading postseason point total,  yesterday was just another example of how Getzlaf does so many other things that never show up in the scoresheet or the postgame highlights. How many times does Getzlaf win a battle in the corner for the puck, or create scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity for his linemates or knock down a puck out of midair to keep it in the zone? He's truly remarkable. And Teemu Selanne said it best when he commented after the game, "In my mind, he's the best player in the league. If there's a better all-around player, show him to me."

Honestly, I don't think you can.

Getzlaf got the initial assist on Chris Pronger's high-flying rocket of a one-timer that gave the Ducks their first lead with 8:50 left in the first. That was on a power play that resulted from a Stuart interference minor that appeared to be a retaliation for Brown's hit on Jiri Hudler in Game 1. As much as Brown's unjusitifed game misconduct hurt the Ducks in Game 1, the Wings' reaction to it certainly backfired for them, as Anaheim made them pay on the ensuing man advantage.

The Ducks also took advantage of a Chris Chelios high stick on Josh Green in the Anaheim zone, when Ryan Carter punched a rebound off the back boards into an open net on the power play.

Yes, you read that right. Josh Green, a guy that had Ducks fans yelling "Who the hell is No. 12?" at their TV screens yesterday afternoon. Randy Carlyle made the surprising move to insert Green in the lineup, despite the fact Green hadn't played in the NHL since 2006-07, spending the last two seasons in Austria and then Iowa. It was his first game of any kind after breaking his leg back in January. And how crazy would it have been it Green had scored on an open shot from the slot a few minutes into the third, which would have given the Ducks a 4-2 lead. Instead, he rang it off the post.

"I didn't expect it to be this long but it's good to be back out there and it's a lot of fun playing in this league so I'm not going to take it for granted," Green said. "Hopefully we can do some damage here in the playoffs and I can make this last as long as possible."

Penciling Green into the lineup wasn't the only change Carlyle made. Petteri Nokelainen was in there for the first time in two weeks after missing time with an injury, while George Parros and Erik Christensen were scratched. Meanwhile, Bobby Ryan was knocked down to the second line with Selanne and Andrew Ebbett.

"I didn’t think we were getting specifically anything from one player so I made a decision that we would try and put some more energy on that line and then move the player down to play with Ebbett and Selanne," Carlyle said of Ryan. "It’s just one game. It’s a young player who has played very very well for our hockey club so I just take this as it’s been totally out of character in the last 40 games for him."

Nevertheless, the Ducks were the last ones standing in that marathon and now take the series to Anaheim tied 1-1. And if you get at all turned on by historical trends, here are a couple for you: The Ducks have won five straight playoff overtime games against Detroit, including four at Joe Louis Arena. And in their playoff history, the Ducks have never lost a series in which they were tied 1-1.

A couple of seasons ago we did a story for Ducks Digest where we asked each player his favorite playoff memory. Most of the players would look to the sky before they came up with an answer, but I distinctly remember Marchant not even hesitating: "1997, Game 7, when I was with Edmonton, overtime goal to win the series against Dallas." Fast-forward to the 1:20 mark of this video to see that one, a goal that was set up by Oiler teammate and former Duck teammate Doug Weight. Now it seems Marchant might have to think twice if he's asked that question ever again.

Yesterday, Marchant told reporters that his mom and dad had come in from his hometown of Buffalo to see the game. "I promised my mom I'd get a goal for her," Marchant said. "If you follow my career, you know how hard that can be to do."

Marchant, his red playoff beard already reaching Stanley Cup Final levels of puffiness, was interviewed during the break before the third overtime by NBC rinkside reporter Darren Pang, one of the few people in the building shorter than Marchant. Pang gently asked Marchant if his team was possibly running out of gas.      

“This is the playoffs,” Marchant said. “You’ve got to find some energy. This is what we all play for ... We have to keep putting pucks to the net. We’ll get one in.”

Little did he know, he'd be the guy to do it.

Updated May 2 at 12:24 p.m.

The hubbub in the wake of Anaheim's Game 1 loss to the Red Wings isn't the goal that Nicklas Lidstrom slipped under Jonas Hiller with 49.1 left on the clock. Instead, it's the hit Mike Brown laid on Jiri Hudler in the first period that earned Brown a curious five-minute major for interference and a game misconduct. And according to the NHL, it won't earn Brown anything else. By all means, it shouldn't.

In case you missed it (and I doubt you did), Brown drilled Hudler at the blue line less than a second after Hudler passed the puck up ice. It was a shoulder-to-shoulder hit that knocked Hudler down, and a cut from his own visor caused Hudler to bleed profusely from the forehead. I can't help but think that with no blood, there is no penalty. Instead, Brown got a puzzling five-minute major for interference (which if I'm not mistaken, isn't even an actual option) and a game misconduct that sent one of Anaheim's best penalty killers to the locker room for the night.

Even Scott Niedermayer, who utters a controversial comment about as often as a good Matthew McConaughey movie comes out, had this to say, "I didn't see the play, but it was a 5-minute interference penalty? I've never heard of that before. He (Hudler) must really have been interfered with."

Detroit coach Mike Babcock called it "a vicious, dirty hit" but Randy Carlyle disagreed. "Hudler was admiring his pass," Carlyle said. "They can say all they want about a dirty hit. That wasn't a dirty hit. You're allowed to take the body in this game." And Carlyle and his staff actually watched the video and timed the window between Hudler delivering the pass and Brown checking him. "Physical contact is allowed," Carlyle said. "We timed the hit from the time he passed the puck ... there wasn't a second that went off the clock."

Said Brown, "I was just playing physical and taking the body. I don't know if he was in a vulnerable position or not, but I was just taking the body. I think his visor might have hit him in the head. I don't know if it was because he was lying on the ground or got hit by his visor that made the refs make the call, but I just played it like any other hit."

Hudler got the cut fixed and returned in the second period for the Wings. The Ducks, on the other hand, suffered much more. They not only lost Brown on the penalty kill, but were forced to play Ryan Getzlaf 27 minutes, 55 seconds, more than any other player. Not any other forward, any other player.

Without Brown on the PK, the Wings got a quick power play goal from Johan Franzen to tie the game 1-1, and thankfully didn't get any more before the five-minute major expired. As if not stopping that Franzen shot didn't hurt enough, Hiller was promptly bowled over by Franzen, sending Hiller into the net and knocking his helmet off. Of course that shouldn't have disallowed the goal, but it sure would have been nice if a penalty had been called, giving the Ducks a power play of their own.

"It's amazing, isn't it?" Carlyle said about the no-call. "Supposed to be protecting the goalies, and the guy puts the puck in the net and runs the goalie over. It's the way it goes. The video doesn't lie."

Detroit got another one on the power play with 5:36 left in the second period by Lidstrom that followed a Francois Beauchemin tripping call. The Ducks tied it 2-2 on a beauty of a PP goal by Teemu Selanne that hopefully is a sign he will make a bigger impact than he did in the first round.

But Lidstrom inserted a dagger into the hearts of Ducks fans who already had the word "overtime" bouncing around in their heads. He followed his own rebound -- taking advantage of the fact that both Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan got caught watching and left him uncovered -- and slipped the puck under Hiller for the winner. "It came off my pad and he was there all alone," Hiller said. "He was patient enough to wait until I moved."

Though he probably should have made that last stop, Hiller said he was reasonably pleased with his performance, "but you can't be happy when you lose the game."

"But," he added, "we showed we could compete with that team."

I don't think there was ever any doubt about that. And we'll see it again Sunday afternoon.

Updated May 1 at 12:07 p.m.

There's a German word, schadenfreude, which is defined as "pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others." Somehow I can't help but feel that toward the Detroit Red Wings right now.

Wings coach Mike Babcock revealed this morning that standout defenseman Brian Rafalski will not play in Game 1 and is "day-to-day" with an undisclosed upper body injury. That's a major blow to the Wings, since Rafalski is their No. 2 d-man and normally plays alongside Nicklas Lidstrom. Apparently the injury occurred sometime in the eight days the Wings had between the end of their sweep of Columbus and the beginning of this series.

While it's a big blow to the Wings, Ducks coach Randy Carlyle tried to dismiss it this morning. "They have a great group,” Carlyle said. “Because they’re missing one player, it can be a rallying point for the other players. Somebody else is going to get more of an opportunity. Obviously, Brian Rafalski is a talented defenseman and a big part of their back end, but I’m sure they will have other people to step in.”

Rookie Jonathan Ericsson will slide into Rafalski's spot next to Lidstrom, while 47-year-old Chris Chelios will drag his walker and his exquisite tan onto the ice for his first game since April 12. (We'll see if he'll find a way to shake Ducks hands after the series is over, something he refused to do in '07.) He'll be with Brett Lebda on the third defensive pairing, while Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart will continue to form the second duo. Rafalski also leaves a big void on the power play, where he is deadly at the point with Lidstrom.

Ducks fans haven't seen much of the 6-4 Ericsson, who hasn't faced Anaheim this year since he didn't start playing for the Wings until March 3. Babock says the big Swedish kid, "actually looks like Chris Pronger. He doesn’t cross-check and that stuff, but he does the rest.”

Wait, Chris Pronger cross-checks? How dare you.

More Detroit injuries: Forward Dan Cleary didn't skate this morning and speculation is that he's still feeling the effects of a hit he took in practice before the first round. He's expected to play tonight, but Kris Draper will not be in there, even though he did skate this morning. Draper didn't play at all in the first round, as he's suffering from -- you guessed it -- an undisclosed injury. Defenseman Andreas Lilja is practicing for the first time since suffering a concussion on Feb. 28 during a fight with Nashville's Shea Weber. He also won't be in there tonight, but that might be good news to Wings fans who still haven't forgiven him for gift-wrapping the puck to Teemu Selanne in overtime of Game 5 in '07.

The Ducks, on the other hand, remain seemingly healthy with the exception of Petteri Nokelainen (upper body injury), who made the trip with the team this time but is only skating a little. 

More and more so-called experts are snubbing what the Ducks did to San Jose in the first round and still giving Anaheim little chance against Detroit, including Barry Melrose on ESPN.com, who was one of the few to predict the Ducks would beat the Sharks. (And ESPN.com does the Ducks no favors by inexplicably using this awful photo of Drew Miller next to Pavel Datsyuk to hype the series. Drew Miller? Really?) Ryan Whitney has a different perspective on the Ducks' chances. "I don't think we're at all satisfied with what we did in the first round," Whitney said. "We have a bunch of guys who have won Stanley Cups and beat this team two years ago. We respect our opponent as much as we can, but we know if we play as well as we can, we're going to put ourselves hopefully in position to win. I think we know we're not favorites, but by no means do we think we're in a position to get crushed by them, either."

While a common sight in that San Jose series was an endless run of altercations -- notably after the whistle following a goalie puck freeze -- Babcock says you won't be seeing that in this series. "It's simple for us," he said. "There's going to be no scrums on our part (after whistles). We're just going to line up for the faceoff."

Yeah, we'll see about that.

"Every team has a way they play," he continued. "Obviously, that's part of their game and that's what they think is an advantage for them. Our part of our game is to go to the net on a consistent basis and not to scrum. So we're not going to do it."

Okay, if you say so.

Babcock also voiced some concern over what he saw as uncalled penalties against the Ducks in the first round. “I watched the San Jose series,” he said. “We’re looking for the officials to call the penalties, the way they do during the regular season.”

See, that's where we disagree, Babs. We're looking for the officials to not do that.

Even Randy Carlyle sounded like he hoped the officials read newspapers when he talked about Tomas Holstrom's notorious penchant for stomping around the crease and grinding his behind into opposing goalies. “Holmstrom gets away with a lot of things there,” Carlyle said, “and they probably lead the league in goaltender-interference penalties.”

So, to review: The Ducks are dirty, Holmstrom's a cheater, Chris Pronger cross-checks, Jonathan Ericsson does not and Chelios is old and tan.

As we get closer to getting this series underway, I can't help but keep thinking about when Corey Perry was mic'd up for VERSUS during one of those '07 playoff games at Joe Louis arena, and these two clips always make me laugh. First there is this one of Perry telling Pavel Datsyuk (while Dustin Penner looks on in amusement),  "Hey, tell Samuelsson he's gonna get it. You better tell him. Hey Pavel, you better tell him. You're gonna get it too." And then there is this beauty, when Perry gets stuck in the face by the butt of Dominik Hasek's stick and yells at the official, "Hey, he can't f---ing stick..." just before the guy in the VERSUS truck panics and pots down the audio. That's followed by Perry hilariously slamming into Chelios at center ice as both players go down in a heap.

Outstanding. And leaving work early to catch Game 1 at 4:00? Even more outstanding.

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