Check mates

Check mates
By Matt Romig, Yahoo Sports
May 29, 2007

Matt Romig
Yahoo Sports
ANAHEIM – By the conclusion of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, the line between checkers and check cashers had been blurred beyond recognition.

The Cash line – that's the name Ottawa Senators winger Dany Heatley prefers for the high-flying trio of himself, captain Daniel Alfredsson and center Jason Spezza – may have the big contracts and the 100-point scorer, but the Anaheim Ducks' 3-2 win was a huge victory for their lunch-pail friendly grouping of Rob Niedermayer, Samuel Pahlsson and Travis Moen.

That the Ducks' checkers won the physical battles isn't a huge surprise. It's a hard-working trio, combining for 17 hits, just four shy of the Senators' team total. That they were unquestionably better in the skill department Monday was an enormous shock.

Pahlsson's line spent so much time cycling the puck in the Ottawa zone that at times it was difficult to tell which unit had accounted for a goal in all but one game this postseason.

"A lot of times the old adage was a good defense is a good offense," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "If you can keep the other team in their defensive zone, then you don't have to worry about them scoring against you."

It was as simple as that.

The line that had humbled Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Buffalo with relative ease couldn't even get the puck out of its own zone.

Niedermayer recorded a game-high six shots. Pahlsson and Moen accounted for another half dozen. All that time in the defensive zone finally caught up with the Cash kids when Moen one-timed a bouncing puck past Senators goalie Ray Emery for the game-winner with 2:51 remaining.

The scorers had been scored upon, and now the question is: Can Ottawa afford to go all-or-nothing with its top three weapons on the same line?

Scorers like Heatley and Alfredsson need room to operate, and in that respect Pahlsson and his wings are like that new roommate who moves in and fills your living room with boxes of vinyl records. There's no longer any comfort zone.

Carlyle even upped the ante a bit Monday by breaking from regular-season form and putting Norris Trophy winners Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer on the ice together during even-strength situations for much of the third period.

"Their top line has been so dominant throughout the playoffs that we had talked about it (playing Pronger and Niedermayer together)," Carlyle said. "Tonight it happened more often than I think we talked about."

Faced with a matchup against one of the game's premier shutdown lines and a pair of Hall of Fame-caliber defenseman, the Senators' top line simply wasn't a factor. Alfredsson and Spezza each assisted on a power-play goal, but five-on-five, the line was totally neutralized. Heatley didn't record so much as a shot in the final period. Ditto for Alfredsson. Combined, the line couldn't match Niedermayer's shot output on the night.

Might Ottawa coach Bryan Murray counter Carlyle's move and break up the Cash line? Diversify his investments, if you will?

Mike Babcock did just that in the Western Conference finals. Frustrated by having both his top scorers canceled out, the Detroit coach spread the wealth, breaking up Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg to, in theory, provide more scoring balance.

Didn't work, of course, but his hand was forced.

For now, Murray and his players are staying the course and saying all the right things. Many referenced the eight-day layoff between games without using it as a crutch. Giveaways were an issue, and those will be minimized when the timing comes back, they said.

"I don't think (the Pahlsson line) presents more problems than any other checking line," Spezza said. "We didn't have our sharpest night as a team, and because of that they got the win.

"We didn't do a good enough job getting pucks on them."

They better be sharper for Game 2 on Wednesday. In Game 1, Anaheim's defensive chips held more value than Ottawa's offensive chips.

Because of that, the Ducks are one step closer to cashing in.

Matt Romig is a senior editor for Yahoo! Sports. Send Matt a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Tuesday, May 29, 2007 4:06 am, EDT

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