This time, the real Ducks show up ... and still win
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Somewhere from within the mayhem, from within that swirl of bodies and emotion and movement around the Anaheim Ducks' net as time wound down, a winner emerged.
It wasn't pretty. It wasn't what the first two periods of this deciding game of the Western Conference finals suggested. But in the face of criticism and skepticism and their own seeming mortality, the Ducks are going to the Stanley Cup finals.
Game 1 will be here Monday evening against the red-hot Ottawa Senators.
"Great effort, you know. Two periods we played so well and the third period was just a nightmare," said Teemu Selanne, literally shaking his head at the drama he had just witnessed unfold minutes before on the ice.
He was referring to the stunning dissolution of the Ducks' 3-0 and 4-1 leads in the third period and the final, frenzied Detroit onslaught that came within an eyelash of forcing overtime.
More from Game 6
• Anaheim forward Teemu Selanne didn't think much of the officiating that saw the Ducks short-handed three times in the last half of the third period.
"The refereeing? I don't want to even say anything. Everybody saw what happened," Selanne said. "When you have to beat referees too you know what, like I said, who cares anymore?"
• The Anaheim/Ottawa final will be the first matchup since 1999 featuring two teams who have never won the Stanley Cup. Buffalo and Dallas squared off as the Stars won the franchise's first Stanley Cup.
• Looks like Lord Stanley's mug is in for a real treat if the Anaheim Ducks win it. Asked if he would kiss the trophy, a pretty standard reaction from players, Chris Pronger said he would indeed contemplate planting one on the historic symbol of hockey excellence.
"I may," Pronger said. "I might even use a little tongue."
Pronger did promise to use some sort of wipe beforehand, just in case he wasn't sure where the Cup had been. As long as he saves some wipes for after, too.
• In the moments after the end of the game, Detroit defenseman Chris Chelios went quickly to the Anaheim bench where he congratulated the Anaheim coaching staff and then left the ice before the traditional handshake at center ice.
"He didn't shake hands? That's news to me. He just came over and congratulated us. And I was unaware that he didn't go in the line. That's news to me. But it's his choice and his prerogative," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said.
• There are three players on this season's Anaheim team who took part in the 2003 Stanley Cup finals for the Ducks -- Rob Niedermayer, Samuel Pahlsson and Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Andy McDonald was on the team, but was hurt and didn't play.
"Everyone wants to be here. This is the place every hockey player wants to be -- in the Stanley Cup finals," Pahlsson said. "I remember last time we took it all the way to Game 7 and lost that one. I certainly don't want to do that again, standing on the wrong side of the ice watching the other team celebrate. I want to win it this time."
-- Scott Burnside
"For the first time, I would love to have some relaxing pills or something. I was so nervous out there," said Selanne, wearing a brand-new Western Conference Champions baseball cap on his still sweaty head. "Wow. What a thriller.
"It was so scary. That was the scariest 20 minutes in my career, for sure," added Selanne, who will be going to the big playoff dance for the first time in a career that began in 1992-93 with the Winnipeg Jets. "It has been a long time that I even had a chance to win something big. And it's a great feeling. I hope the biggest feelings and moments are still coming."
For the first two periods, it was as though everyone in the sold-out Honda Center, including the Red Wings, opened their eyes wide and murmured, "Oh, so that's what the Anaheim Ducks look like."
That Anaheim had managed to win two of the three previous games in this series, erase a 2-1 series deficit and take a 3-2 series lead into Tuesday's game was chalked up to some strange combination of luck and squandered opportunity by the Wings. But after being maligned and dismissed and scoffed at leading up to Game 6, the Ducks returned to the ice with a vengeance.
From the opening faceoff, the Ducks recommitted themselves to the punishing, charging style of hockey that had carried them through series victories over Minnesota and Vancouver, and a split of the first two games in Detroit.
After the Red Wings dictated pace and flow and used their considerable depth to keep the Ducks off balance in the previous three games, Anaheim players seemed to rediscover their legs. They pushed pucks deep, created havoc in front of Detroit netminder Dominik Hasek and let their big defensemen pound away with shots from the point.
It was one such play that gave the Ducks an early lead they would never relinquish.
Chris Pronger, who returned to dominant form, unleashed a shot that bounced off Rob Niedermayer's skate and past Hasek for a 1-0 lead just 3:51 into the game. The play started with a clean faceoff win by Ryan Getzlaf, who continues to emerge as the Ducks' most important offensive player. He added a goal and an assist on the night and finished with two goals and four assists in the series.
By the end of the first period, the Ducks had outshot the Wings 14-7 and played their best period in three games (with the possible exception of the short overtime period in Game 5).
The Ducks added two more goals in the second period and both were odd-man situations where they filled the front of the net and took advantage of the chaos.
The first was on a delayed penalty call as Corey Perry dragged a loose puck with his skate to his stick and delivered the puck to the back of the net. The second was on a late power play when Getzlaf found a loose puck at the side of the net after a wild scramble.
They were textbook Ducks goals. More mob scene than finesse. And if the Ottawa Senators were smart, they were taking note of the way the Ducks play when they are at their best.
"The two periods were exactly the hockey that this team can play when we play our level. That's how we have to play in the finals. I really hope the third period was a learning process," Selanne said.
"That was our game, in the first two periods. That's how we want to play for the whole playoffs. We showed that we can play that way [Tuesday] and that's what's expected to be played in the next round," added Samuel Pahlsson, whose fourth goal appeared to give the Ducks an insurmountable 4-1 lead early in the third period.
The more the Ducks pressed, the less room there was for the Red Wings to establish their free-flowing, up-tempo game, a game that had looked so good even in Detroit's losses in Games 4 and 5. In its place were ragged ill-formed attempts to gain the Ducks' zone, individual efforts that were often stymied at the Anaheim blue line, fractured line changes that allowed sterling scoring chances by the Ducks and a handful of minor penalties for tripping, interference, hooking and too many men on the ice.
"They got a short-handed goal early and I thought we lost our composure a little bit," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "And in the end, you're wanting to win so bad, I thought it got in the way of our poise and our execution.
"You've got to give them credit," Babcock added. "The Games 4 and 5 where we had every opportunity to win, but let them slip away, and that cost us in the end. You have to tip your hat to Anaheim. They've got a good team and they found a way to get it done and they are going to play a good Ottawa team."
If there is a cautionary element to the Ducks' return to the finals -- this time as at least a co-favorite as opposed to the heavy underdog they were against New Jersey in 2003 -- it was the near disaster of the latter stages of the third period.
Even after Henrik Zetterberg scored at the 3:15 mark of the third period to cut the Ducks' lead to 3-1, Anaheim answered right back with Pahlsson scoring just 2 minutes, 39 seconds later. But Pavel Datsyuk scored twice on the power play at 10:08 and 16:56 to bring the Red Wings within one goal. It set up a titanic finish with the Red Wings once again on the power play following a hooking penalty to Travis Moen at 17:08.
"We stood still, making plays and we just kept feeding them the puck," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. "And those are the things that -- it's kind of like a paralysis that takes place over your team. And I thought we had got through it once the Pahlsson goal was scored. But then we took a couple of penalties and they scored early in the power play and it sure made it exciting, that's for sure.
"But, again, we look at the game as a whole," Carlyle added. "And we did enough to get it done against a very, very good hockey club, a first-class organization."
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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