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Monday, April 14

Updated: April 14, 1:56 PM ET

Wings face same hole, different challenge

By EJ Hradek
ESPN The Magazine

Like longtime hockey fan Yogi Berra would say: It's déjà vu all over again.

The Detroit Red Wings find themselves preparing for Game 3 in Anaheim, staring up from the bottom of a 2-0 hole after dropping the first two games of the Western Conference quarterfinals to the Mighty Ducks. They were in the same predicament last year, when the Canucks won the first two games of their series at Hockeytown. In both instances, the hardcore fans at Joe Louis Arena booed their team off the ice.

Last year, the Wings rallied to win the next four games. Then-coach Scotty Bowman changed the lineup for Game 3 in Vancouver, moving captain Steve Yzerman onto a top line with Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan and scratching oft-injured defenseman Uwe Krupp, who was beyond bad during the first two games. With Krupp in the press box, Bowman reunited defensemen Chris Chelios and Jiri Fischer.

While the changes made a big difference, the Wings might have been first-round fodder if Canucks goalie Dan Cloutier hadn't whiffed on a seemingly run-of-the-mill slapper from center ice by defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom during the final minute of the second period. That gift goal turned the series in favor of the Wings, who went on to win the Stanley Cup two months later.

This time, it's unlikely the Wings will get any such gifts from Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who has been brilliant in stopping 97 of 100 shots so far. He flat-out stole Game 1 -- his first career playoff game -- turning back 63 of 64 shots in a 2-1 triple overtime win. In Game 2, Giguere stopped second-period breakaways by Kirk Maltby and Igor Larionov to keep his teammates close. They repaid him by notching a pair of third-period goals that brought out the boo-birds at the Joe.

Now, the question is this: Can the Wings bounce back again?

It's not impossible. After all, a defending champion shouldn't be underestimated, especially one with so many future Hall of Famers on its roster.

But it will be tougher this time. The Ducks are a better defensive team than the Canucks, who employ a more wide-open attack. While the Ducks have given up a ton of shots, they've kept most of them on the perimeter, and they've been able to limit the number of rebound opportunities around the net. Coach Mike Babcock's team is comfortable in tight, low-scoring games -- they were 24-15 in one-goal games during the regular season.

The Ducks also like to counterattack, which was evident on the winning goal in Game 2. Trade deadline acquisitions Rob Niedermayer and Steve Thomas combined to turn a Wings' neutral-zone turnover into the deciding tally.

After Game 2 last year, the Wings -- who looked ragged in surrendering nine goals to the Canucks -- had plenty of room for improvement. But this time around, they've played well, leaving little to tinker with for first-year coach Dave Lewis. Simply, the series will come down to whether or not they can solve Giguere.

The Wings did get more traffic in front of Giguere in Game 2, something they'll have to continue to do in Game 3. They also might want to be a bit more patient in their shot selection. During the first two games, Giguere often had time to square himself to the shooter.

The Wings need to get Giguere moving from side to side, and they have the high-end talent to do so. Brett Hull and Shanahan have made a living by finishing off those types of plays with a well-placed one-timer. In particular, Hull has to find open spaces in the Ducks' zone, and his linemates -- Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg -- have to get him the puck.

At the other end of the rink, Curtis Joseph -- like Dominik Hasek last season -- must tighten up his game. He's been good, but he must be better. Joseph was fooled on Thomas' Game 2 winner. Still, it was a stoppable shot. As the pressure mounts, can Joseph elevate his game? He's been able to in the past -- as an underdog. With the Wings, he's in a different role. Hasek adjusted to it. Will Joseph?

If he doesn't -- and Giguere remains hot -- this could be a surprisingly short series.

Then again, it's never over till it's over, right?

E.J. Hradek writes hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com.

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