Second-round preview: Wings vs. Ducks
These two teams last met in the 2007 Western Conference finals, and it was a dandy series. So don't let the Ducks' No. 8 tag fool you; this should be a good one, too.
The Red Wings went through Columbus like a hot knife through butter, disposing of the Blue Jackets in four games. They last played April 23, so they will face the challenge of ramping themselves up as though they were starting the playoffs again. The Ducks, of course, will be in fine fettle after knocking off Presidents' Trophy-winning San Jose in six games. Still, both teams can expect to face much different, sterner tests in the second round (hey, isn't that the way it's supposed to be?).
The Ducks will have their hands full with the Wings' top players, like Johan Franzen, who got a nice big contract extension before the end of the regular season and responded with six points in four games against Columbus. The Wings only played four games but still had six players who had two or more goals. Yikes.
And remember all that talk about whether Chris Osgood could deliver the goods in net? He allowed two goals in the first three games before giving up five in the wild series-clincher won by the Wings 6-5. Still, Osgood looks alarmingly (if you're the Ducks) like the Osgood that ran the table for the Wings in the playoffs last season after taking over late in the first round against Nashville.
Across the ice, Jonas Hiller is making believers in California. Not only did he supplant one-time playoff hero Jean-Sebastien Giguere as the Ducks' starter, but Hiller also responded with an otherworldly .957 save percentage and 1.64 goals-against average with two shutouts against the Sharks.
Two seasons ago against the Wings, the Ducks rode a couple of lucky bounces to a six-game series victory en route to a Stanley Cup championship. It wouldn't be a surprise if the same slim margin of error was present in this edition.
1. Rust Never Sleeps versus The Exhale Factor. Teams that pull off the big first-round upset sometimes find themselves unable to return to that same emotional level when the second round starts. The Ducks have a solid veteran core led by Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger on the blue line and Teemu Selanne up front, so a letdown might be less likely than if they were a younger squad. As for the Wings, a long layoff might present its own problems, especially against a physical team like the Ducks.
The Ducks jumped on San Jose early, and the Sharks never got back in the series. Watch for Anaheim to try to do the same against a more talented Detroit team. The Ducks' best opportunity will be early in the series, when the Wings might be more prone to sluggishness given their extended layoff. The Red Wings will be rested, we know that, and Kris Draper, a key part of all four Wings championships since 1997, is hoping to get medical clearance to play in the second round after missing the Columbus series with an upper-body injury.
2. Lords of discipline or not. Every series preview we wrote leading up to Anaheim's Cup win in 2007 included the warning that the Ducks would have to stay out of the penalty box or bad things would happen to them. Guess what? It didn't seem to matter then, and it doesn't seem to matter now, but it won't stop us from saying it again. If the Ducks insist on giving the potent Wings power play too many opportunities (Detroit went 7-for-22 in the first round), bad things will happen very bad things. There, we said it.
Still, the Ducks did manage to control themselves somewhat in the first round, as they were short-handed a total of 24 times (four times per game). The Wings? They were short-handed just 14 times in four games and allowed three power-play goals. The Ducks will need to take advantage of whatever the normally disciplined Wings give them and limit the chances they give Detroit to stay in this series.
3. Hiller versus Osgood. We generally hate to pit goalies against each other when assessing how a series will play out, but both have a certain Cinderella quality to them. Osgood, of course, gets little to no respect for a guy that has won three Stanley Cups and is among the winningest goalies of all time. There will always be a group waiting for the pleasant Detroit netminder to turn into a pumpkin as the Stanley Cup clock ticks to midnight.
Hiller is virtually unknown, but stopped 220 of 230 shots in six games against San Jose. That's pretty darn good. Does the 27-year-old have it in him to keep up that kind of pace, especially given the traffic he will face from the Red Wings' big bodies? Hard to imagine. As for Osgood, he will get more work with a Ducks team that has some big bodies of their own in Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, Selanne and Corey Perry. Bottom line: Both goalies will have to remain steady for their teams to succeed. And, oh yeah, if either of these guys goes off the rails, Ty Conklin and Giguere, the one-time playoff MVP, are waiting in the wings for the Wings and Ducks, respectively.
4. The depth chart. Look at the top of the Red Wings' scoring leaders so far this spring and you'll see Franzen (six points) and then Dan Cleary (five points) and Tomas Holmstrom (four points) and Jiri Hudler (four points). In short, you'll see depth. That's the Red Wings way, coming at you in waves: three dynamite scoring units and a blue line that can do just as much damage with Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski (a combined seven points in the first round). The Ducks? Not so much. The Perry/Ryan/Getzlaf trio put up nine of the Ducks' 18 first-round goals. Selanne had just one goal and one assist in the first round, and Andrew Ebbett -- a revelation down the stretch as yet another undrafted collegiate player unearthed by the Ducks' scouting staff -- also had just two points. That kind of scoring imbalance is simply not going to cut it against the Wings.
5. Big blue lines. One of the enticing things about this series is the talent that will line up along the teams' respective blue lines. The Wings have Mr. Norris (not Chuck, but Lidstrom, who is once again nominated as the top defenseman in the league), Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall and massive rookie Jonathan Ericsson, who chipped in his first playoff goal in the first round. The Ducks? The last guy to win the Norris Trophy not named Lidstrom is there (Niedermayer) along with a guy named Pronger, who in the first round looked a lot like the dominant player that many believed should have earned playoff MVP honors in 2006. Throw in hard-nosed Francois Beauchemin, just back from reconstructive knee surgery, and newcomers Ryan Whitney and James Wisniewski, who arrived at the trade deadline, and this is as imposing a bunch as you'll find unless you're talking about the Red Wings. Both teams rely on their blue lines to jump-start the offense and will launch their defenders into the offensive zone with abandon.
• Anaheim: Getzlaf had points in five of six games in the first round, including three multi-point outings. He also dropped the gloves at the opening faceoff in Game 6 with San Jose's Joe Thornton. Selanne scored in Game 1 against the Sharks and then went dry for the rest of the series, posting just one assist over the final five games.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
2009 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
The second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is here. Scott Burnside, Pierre LeBrun and the rest of our NHL team preview the action: