Grind line gives Ducks much-needed (scoring) punch

Updated: May 14, 2007, 2:30 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

DETROIT -- There is grind and there is gravy.

Most nights, it's a steady diet of grind for Anaheim Ducks checking specialists Rob Niedermayer, Samuel Pahlsson and Travis Moen.

AP Photo/Jerry MendozaRob Niedermayer, left, scored the Ducks' first goal in Sunday's Game 2.

But Sunday, the trio gave their teammates a healthy helping of gravy as they were all key contributors in the Ducks' 4-3 overtime victory over the Detroit Red Wings that evened their Western Conference finals at one game apiece. Game 3 is in Anaheim on Tuesday night.

Niedermayer scored the Ducks' first goal and then set up the overtime winner by his brother, Scott, with 5:43 left in the first overtime frame.

Just over five minutes into the third period, Moen tied the score at 3, banking a shot off Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. That play was set up when Pahlsson won an offensive zone draw. Pahlsson also drew an assist on the overtime winner.

Although he didn't register a point on the play, Moen was providing a screen on the winning goal, a rising wrist shot that Detroit netminder Dominik Hasek never saw. On the other side of the offensive ledger, the defensive side this group is infinitely more familiar with, again was at its best.

While the Wings' top forward unit of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom was again dangerous, it did not hit the scoresheet at even strength (Datsyuk did score on a 5-on-3 power play early in the third period to briefly give the Wings a 3-2 lead).

That in and of itself would have been cause for celebration for the Ducks. But throw in the line's surprise offensive outburst and this was grinder nirvana.

"It's the best thing you can do in hockey, scoring goals. Everyone wants to do it," said Pahlsson, who is nominated for the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward. "So, it's a lot fun. We really love scoring, too, even if we don't do it as much as the other guys.

More from Game 2
• Ducks left winger Chris Kunitz was a scratch for Game 2. He did not participate in the morning skate and coach Randy Carlyle dodged the issue when asked earlier in the day if Kunitz was going to play. Kunitz played 18:06 in Friday's Game 1 and scored the Ducks' only goal early in the third period.

In Game 2, Dustin Penner took Kunitz's place on the top line for most of the game, although veteran Todd Marchant did take some shifts late in the game. Penner's place on the team's second scoring unit was curiously taken by plugger Brad May, which must have thrilled linemates Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

Kunitz is considered day-to-day and will be reevaluated Monday in Anaheim.

• The Ducks' power play once again laid a goose egg (sorry about the fowl confusion). They were 0-for-5, including one man-advantage opportunity in overtime, when Mikael Samuelsson shot the puck over the glass from the Wings' defensive zone. It follows an 0-for-7 performance in Game 1, which the Wings won 2-1.

• The Detroit Red Wings failed to sell out Sunday's game, marking the eighth straight home game this playoff season without a sellout.

-- Scott Burnside

"Everyone's got to contribute. That's the way it is in a hockey game and [on] a good team," he added. "We don't score every game, but it's really good when we do. Our big scoring stars are not going to score every game, so we have to help out, too."

Sunday was a prime example of that need.

Top-line forward Chris Kunitz was unable to play because of injury, which forced Ducks coach Randy Carlyle to juggle his lineup. They also lost fourth-line forward Shawn Thornton during the game. Throughout the game, though, Carlyle kept the Pahlsson unit intact, following a pattern that has existed throughout the season.

"It would be scary to think where we'd be without them," Carlyle said. "Through the course of the season, we've mixed up every other line, but that line has stayed true. They've been, I guess, the hardest-working forward group and worked the toughest minutes for us."

Center Andy McDonald, who scored the Ducks' second goal midway through the second period, echoed Carlyle's sentiments.

"I don't think there's really an expectation for them to score, and when they do, it's a big bonus," McDonald said. "We've really seen it in the postseason. Those guys have not only shut down other team's best lines, but they've responded with goals. We wouldn't be here right now if it wasn't for those three guys."

Players often talk of the chemistry that exists on a high-scoring forward unit. They talk of knowing each other's habits and movements. And while the same dynamics surely exist for defensive players, it is rarely articulated in such a manner.

But Pahlsson, who has chipped in nine postseason points, insisted that such chemistry does exist on the defensive side of the puck and it exists within their unit.

"Absolutely. I think it's just as important as in the offense," Pahlsson. "It takes a lot of teamwork to defend. You can't do it on your own. Maybe you can score a goal on your own, but you can't defend on one guy. Everyone has to be in on it. And we are on the same page and really know what to do to play good."

"I think when you spend that much time together, you certainly see each other's habits, know where each other is going to be on the ice," added Rob Niedermayer. "I think there's that trust factor that sort of starts building up. I think that can be said with our line right now."

Detroit coach Mike Babcock acknowledged that while his team once again won the special-teams battle, scoring a short-handed goal and adding two power-play markers, the Ducks were the better team five-on-five.

"I still thought five-on-five they spent more time below the hash marks in our zone than we spent in their zone," Babcock said.

It is a dynamic that will become problematic for the Wings if it continues.

Sunday's game was especially gratifying for Niedermayer.

The big forward (6-foot-2, 204 pounds) was the fifth overall pick in the 1993 draft. But despite high expectations in Florida, where he began his career, Niedermayer never delivered the offensive numbers expected of him. In eight seasons in Florida, he topped the 20-goal mark just once and was often the target of boo-birds there.

Acquired by Anaheim at the 2002-03 trade deadline, Niedermayer has evolved into a top shut-down player. His presence in Anaheim was also a key factor in his brother signing with the Ducks after the lockout ended. After Sunday's game, the brothers were asked if this was the kind of night they'd imagined when Scott signed with the Ducks.

"Yeah. I mean, this is a big thrill for me, for sure," Rob Niedermayer said. "Just watching Scott score that winning goal was pretty special."

All in all, a pretty special night for a group of guys whose primary job is keeping other players from standing in the limelight.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com

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