The Anaheim Ducks and the Detroit Red Wings last met in 2009, but while that really isn't that long ago, a lot has changed. Back then, the Ducks' blueline boasted such luminaries as Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. The Red Wings, meanwhile, were icing a pairing of Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski.
Furthermore, while the Red Wings were the West's second seed in 2009, this time around, that distinction goes to Anaheim. With the Lidstrom era over in Detroit, the Red Wings needed a win in their final game to earn a playoff spot.
Anaheim, on the other hand, won 30 of 48 games in the shortened season, good for 3rd in the NHL. Suffice it to say, that wasn't what most were predicting back in January. The Ducks were one of this year's biggest surprises.
But is the dominant club we saw in the regular-season really who they are? The team showed signs of regression late in the season. Was that simply a good team slowing down once they had sewn up the second seed, or was that a team slowing down because they're not as good as they seemed, a team that might be in trouble against a savvy, veteran club that can still do some serious damage?
I think I'm showing my cards a little early here. Let's get into it.
Anaheim Ducks (2) vs. Detroit Red Wings (7)
April 30: Detroit Red Wings at Anaheim Ducks, 10:30 p.m. ET.
May 2: Detroit Red Wings at Anaheim Ducks, 10 p.m. ET.
May 4: Anaheim Ducks at Detroit Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. ET
May 6: Anaheim Ducks at Detroit Red Wings, 8 p.m. ET
May 8: Detroit Red Wings at Anaheim Ducks*, 10 p.m. ET
May 10: Anaheim Ducks at Detroit Red Wings* TBD
May 12: Detroit Red Wings at Anaheim Ducks* TBD
If the Wings' lines to close out the regular-season are any indication, then this series is going to feature two star-studded duos going head-to-head. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are the engine of the Ducks' forward corps. Over Detroit's last four games of the season, the same could be said for the Eurotwins, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, who contributed a combined 18 points.
The battle between Getzlaf and Datsyuk should be a fun one. If their identical stat lines of 15 goals and 34 assists this season are any indication, this could be a very even matchup.
Behind the stars, both teams have a number of guys that can contribute offense. Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne are potent scorers for Anaheim, and Saku Koivu is an underrated two-way force. For the Red Wings, Johan Franzen, Justin Abdelkader, and the rookie Damien Brunner are always dangerous.
Niklas Kronwall has stepped his game up with the loss of Nicklas Lidstrom, and Jakub Kindl and Jonathan Ericsson have begun to round into form behind him. For the Ducks, Francois Beauchemin is one of the league's best defensive defencemen, and Cam Fowler and Sheldon Souray do a good job of driving the offence and starting the breakout.
Again, these aren't the guys from 2009, but if there's a standout here, it's Beauchemin, who's garnered Norris buzz at times for his work this season.
For the Ducks, it remains to be seen which of their two goalies Bruce Boudreau will select to get the first start. Viktor Fasth came out of nowhere, posting nearly identical personal stats to Howard in his rookie season, and Jonas Hiller, the incumbent starter at the beginning of this season, wasn't far behind.
The Red Wings will only go as far as Jimmy Howard can take them. Howard was one of 5 goalies with a league-best 5 shutouts this year, and he was top-10 in save percentage (.923) and GAA (2.13). He's good, is what I'm saying. He's also the best goalie in this series.
Advantage: Red Wings.
Does Their Season Deserve an Asterisk?
Not for the Wings. They really were about who we thought they would be: a team in flux, forced to simplify their game a little with the personnel changes, but still skilled enough to sneak into the playoffs.
The Ducks, on the other hand? Maybe. With a Fenwick tied below their 50%, their possession rates aren't exactly in keeping with their place in the standings. It's possible that an 82-game season would have exposed them a little and brought their record down to earth. We really won't know until the postseason. If they're for real, they should have no problem with the Red Wings. But if they're out in the first round, well, Shift+8.
Bruce Boudreau's a good coach and he's gotten some incredible things out of his team this year, but Mike Babcock is Mike Babcock. If there's one place where I think the Wings have a decided advantage, it's here.
Advantage: Red Wings.
Anaheim's powerplay converted at a 21.5% clip, good for fourth in the NHL and first in the Western Conference. With Teemu Selanne on it, that's no surprise. The Red Wings were smack-dab in the middle of the pack, 15th with a 18.4% success rate.
The two clubs' penalty-kills were almost identical. Detroit's was slightly better at 81.7, good for 12th. Anaheim was right behind them in 13th at 81.5.
It's all Baby G. for Detroit fans. Throw Your Wings Up!
Anaheim gets the Mighty Ducks cartoon theme song, because it's still awesome.
"ON THE ROAD TO GLORY!!!!"
I don't have to declare an advantage for this category, but 90s cartoon theme songs win every time, so I think you know where my allegiances lie.
This is going to be a close series. It wouldn't surprise me to see both teams defend their home advantage all the way along. I'm just not convinced about the Ducks, though, and if this comes down to a Game 7, I see Jimmy Howard shutting the door, Pavel Datsyuk coming through in the clutch, and the Red Wings pulling off the upset.
Red Wings in 7.