- Scott Burnside, NHL
- 0 Shares
DETROIT -- It's a case of "been there, done that" for the Detroit Red Wings, who will play a pivotal fifth game Sunday for the third straight series.
Against Calgary and then San Jose, the Wings found themselves tied at 2 heading into home dates in Game 5. In both cases, they dominated the games en route to Game 6 series-clinching victories.
The Anaheim Ducks, however, are in uncharted territory. They dispatched Minnesota and Vancouver with relative ease in five games and now face their first must-win contest of the postseason.
Must win? History shows that when a series is tied at 2, the team that wins the fifth game has gone on to win 157 of 195 series (80 percent).
"It's what we expected," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said of the Western Conference finals. "We think we've got a good team. We think they've got a good team. It's even so now here we go.
Pronger won't back down
• Chris Pronger refused to rehash his comments made on radio Friday, when he said he thought the refereeing in the series had been an "absolute joke" and he believed the Canadian hockey media was responsible for his one-game suspension.
"I'm not going to rehash what was said long ago," Pronger said Saturday. "I need to focus on the game and not worry about what you guys want or don't want."
During the brief but mildly uncomfortable scrum, Sean O'Donnell leaned in with a water bottle and pretended to be part of the journalistic pack.
"Chris, can you comment on the play of your partner during your suspension," O'Donnell asked.
"He's been fantastic. He really held up well back there. Sean O'Donnell is his name," Pronger said.
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle seemed taken aback by Pronger's comments.
"It's a game of intensity that gets ramped up in the playoffs. As there's more pressure on players to perform, there's more pressure on officials to perform," Carlyle said. "You can't, from my standpoint, sit here and criticize. It's more about playing for the next one. It's more about giving the respect that's necessary to the people that are in charge of the hockey game."
• Detroit coach Mike Babcock had an interesting take on this kind of playoff series. He believes that after going back and forth, one team simply gets better than the other as the series progresses.
"I'm a big believer, anyway, [that] normally in a series, one team starts to get better and one team starts to get worse. It's not that the team isn't good. Whether it's pressure, whether it's panic, whether it's execution, they don't seem to be able to find a way to get it done," Babcock said.
"For us, anyway, I can only talk about us. What we try to do is we try to focus on the things, the foundation we built all year long. But the parts we're missing -- try to do things a little better that allows our skill to come out."
-- Scott Burnside
"That's the great thing about these best-of-threes and it's fun," Babcock added. "Both teams have a real good opportunity. And my experience in the playoffs is that the playoffs are one thing and the excitement of the final is a totally different thing. We'd like to experience the excitement of the final. But we've gotta play well."
Babcock's counterpart, Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle, said history has no bearing on the team's approach to Game 5.
"We have to play the best game we can possibly play [Sunday] afternoon," Carlyle said. "And whatever happens [Sunday] afternoon, the one after that will become the next important one. We're not into historic statistics. We're into about coming in, playing a complete hockey game. We've done it in this building. We feel we can play well in this building."
Here are five factors that will likely shape the outcome of Game 5 and the team that will most likely advance to the Stanley Cup finals:
1. Ducks discipline
Let's start with this basic premise: they have none. And we're not just talking about Chris Pronger's hit on Tomas Holmstrom that earned him a one-game suspension (more on that later). What we're really talking about is the team's penchant for brainless activity that has given the potent Red Wings power play far too much ice time.
"We've got to play between the whistles," offered Rob Niedermayer, indicating that all the scrums and pushing and shoving of the series needs to be put aside. Of course, this is interesting coming from Niedermayer, who took three minor penalties in Game 4, one of which led to a Detroit power-play goal and another that gave the Wings a long two-man advantage they couldn't capitalize on.
But this has been the calling card of the Ducks all season. They are a team that pushes the envelope physically. In this series, though, the Red Wings have responded well to it and made the Ducks pay with seven power-play goals through four games. The Ducks, meanwhile, have managed just two man-advantage goals. A continuation of that trend is a recipe for a Wings series victory.
"Based on how the series has gone, it could be the difference," Ducks forward Andy McDonald said Saturday. "They've been successful on the power play and we've been undisciplined. It's a huge factor for us."
2. Pronger factor
We love Chris Pronger. Who else could ram a guy's head into the glass from behind, get suspended for one game (debate amongst yourselves whether this was a just penalty) and then blame the Canadian media for his troubles. Ha, ha, ha. That's a good one. Then, because being suspended isn't enough, Pronger rips the officiating on the whole, saying it's been "an absolute joke."
"Hello, Mr. Pronger? Colin Campbell of the NHL is wishing to speak with you."
All that malarkey aside, Pronger's return to the lineup is crucial for the Ducks, who essentially went with three defensemen in winning Game 4 by a 5-3 count. Pronger's return means the Ducks will still go with three defensemen and swap out Sean O'Donnell, who logged 24:06 in Game 4, for Pronger.
Now, the question is which Pronger shows up. Is it the contained, multi-faceted player that has led his team in scoring throughout these playoffs? Or is it the chippy Pronger who crushed Holmstrom and has taken two minors in each of the last two games?
Asked if he can change the player he is, Pronger answered: "I cannot, I will not."
3. Depth or no depth?
Carlyle didn't just shorten his bench along the blue line. The Anaheim coach essentially went with two lines and three defensemen in what was a crucial win for his Ducks in Game 4. The stakes are higher here in Detroit and one wonders if Carlyle can continue to get enough production out of his two top lines (Teemu Selanne, Andy McDonald, Todd Marchant and Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Dustin Penner) to get the job done.
While Carlyle is trusting fewer and fewer players with quality ice time, the Wings continue to roll three and four lines; in fact, they were much better in Games 3 and 4 after splitting up the dynamic duo of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. The bottom line is the Wings have a greater margin of error offensively. If one line stalls, there are others that can be counted on to produce. If Getzlaf, who's been the Ducks' best forward in this series, hits a rut, it will put more pressure on the Ducks' top line of Teemu Selanne, Andy McDonald and (mostly) Todd Marchant. The unit has struggled in the last couple of games.
4. Scott Niedermayer, where are you?
So much was made of the Big Three -- Pronger, Niedermayer and Nicklas Lidstrom -- heading into the series and with good reason. They are three of the finest defensemen of their generation and all likely headed to the Hall of Fame. That said, out of the three, Niedermayer has been noticeably lacking in the greatness department.
Although he scored the overtime winner in Game 2, Niedermayer has looked a little out of sync. Watching young Wings forward Valtteri Filppula school Niedermayer during an Anaheim power play in Game 4, racing around the all-world defenseman like he was a misplaced traffic cone, was a sobering sight. Given the ice time he continues to log (only Lidstrom has been on the ice more this playoff season than Niedermayer), he simply has to get better if the Ducks are going to win this series.
5. The Big Bert factor
Less than two minutes into Game 4, Todd Bertuzzi coughed up the puck to Perry, who blasted a shot past Dominik Hasek for an early 1-0 Ducks lead. After that, though, Bertuzzi turned in his best game of the playoffs, scoring once and adding another assist.
"People have to realize the man's only played, I'm going to try and do some math, maybe 30 games. It's not easy, especially stepping right into the playoffs here," Cleary said on Saturday. "He's such a big man and he's so strong, but he's also got the skill part, which makes him lethal."
Babcock said he has liked the incremental improvement in Bertuzzi's game, but he would like to see that line play a little less wide open.
"I think the only thing with that line last game was they traded chances. I'm not interested in that," Babcock said. "The harder that group works and the more time they spend in the offensive zone, the better they are. So we're looking forward to more of that."
Beyond the obvious benefit of having that line score, having that trio physically engaged as they were the last two games gives the Ducks a little taste of their own medicine. An important dynamic in this closely contested series.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
The Red Wings have fared well in Game 5s in these playoffs. So, will history repeat itself against the Wings? Scott Burnside offers five things to watch in Sunday's pivotal matchup.