Stanley Cup finals breakdown: Ducks vs. Senators
The 2007 Stanley Cup finals pairs a juggernaut with few discernible flaws with a could-be juggernaut with a penchant for self-destruction. In other words, the clash between the Ottawa Senators and the Anaheim Ducks has all the makings of a classic. That is, unless the Ducks lose their collective minds, which they have shown the ability to do, and the Senators have their way with them.
At the start of the regular season, there were many who believed Anaheim was capable of arriving at just this point -- the Stanley Cup finals. Not so many thought the Senators would get here. But how the teams arrived here has dramatically changed the perception of both heading into the finals.
The Senators have been virtually flawless in dispatching the Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils and the Presidents' Trophy-winning Buffalo Sabres -- all in five games. They have never trailed in a series and are 7-3 in one-goal games. They lead the NHL playoffs with 3.20 goals per game and are third in goals-against, allowing just 2.07 per game.
The penalty kill also has been terrific, allowing just nine power-play goals on 79 opportunities. Against Buffalo, they allowed two power-play goals on 29 attempts. Nine times in their past 13 games, the Sens have not allowed a goal on the man-advantage. They have not lost when they score first. And, they have the most prolific line in the playoffs in Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, who rank 1-2-4, respectively, in playoff scoring with a combined 58 points.
They also boast a deep and talented defensive corps that has been led by the ultimate shut-down duo, Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov, who helped neutralize the NHL's highest-scoring team, the Sabres. The Sabres scored just 10 times in five games.
The Ducks, on the other hand, boast a handful of elite players, especially along the blue line, where Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and Francois Beauchemin will all play upwards of 30 minutes a night.
They have Teemu Selanne, a battle-tested warrior looking for his first taste from Lord Stanley's Cup, and an underappreciated netminder in Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who is virtually unstoppable once a game goes to overtime (he is 12-1 in OT, the best record from the start of an NHL career).
But the Ducks' curious effort against the Red Wings sends them to the finals with more than a few question marks. Most notable is whether the Ducks suddenly can develop enough self-discipline to avoid self-immolation and whether their lack of depth will turn out to be an Achilles' heel against a deeper team. It wasn't against the Detroit Red Wings, but it might be against the Senators.
He has a 1.87 GAA and .931 save percentage. When the game was on the line in the third period against Detroit on Tuesday night, Giguere stood tall. The Wings out-shot the Ducks 16-3 in that same period, but Giguere made a handful of stops, often in traffic, to preserve the series-clinching 4-3 victory. We admit, at times, he appears not to know where the puck is, yet he is so technically sound that maybe seeing the puck is overrated. He will be facing a sophomore netminder in Ray Emery, who has emerged as a steady if unspectacular backstopper, who has compiled a 1.95 GAA and .919 save percentage.
Neither netminder handles the puck particularly well, but Emery seems to be more of an all-round adventure. All in all, Giguere gives the Ducks an edge heading into a series where they seem outmatched in other ways.
2. How deep are your lines? Carlyle can talk all he wants about his team being a four-line team. But the bottom line is his fourth line might as well come out to the bench wearing parkas and carrying mugs of hot cocoa to keep warm given the amount of ice time they get.
In Game 6 versus Detroit, Brad May, Joe Motzko and Ryan Carter combined for 9:33 of ice time. Earlier in the series, when Dustin Penner was struggling, the second-line forward saw his ice time dip to just over 10 minutes a night. In short, Carlyle has two offensive lines and his checking line, and that's pretty much it (unless someone sneaks over the boards without him noticing).
The Senators, on the other hand, have received valuable contributions from throughout their forward contingent. Eleven different Ottawa forwards have scored at least one goal as opposed to eight Ducks forwards. No Ottawa player averages 24 minutes in ice time a night, while Pronger, Niedermayer and Beauchemin average more than 30 minutes a night. Over the course of a long series -- and who doesn't expect this one to go at least six games? -- these distinctions might be slight but crucial.
3. The Twin Towers, revisited. During the West finals, it was hard to know what to make of the play from Niedermayer and Pronger. Niedermayer was certainly not at his best. He took ill-advised penalties. He was out of position on a number of Detroit goals. A number of times, Red Wings swooped by him unscathed, which begs the question about his overall health. Still, whatever is ailing him, if anything, Niedermayer produced some magical moments for the Ducks. He scoring in overtime in Game 2 to even the series at 1 and then scored off of Nicklas Lidstrom's stick with less than a minute to go in Game 5, tying the game and setting up Selanne's overtime winner.
Pronger, of course, briefly lost his mind in Game 3, when he slammed Tomas Holmstrom head-first into the glass and was suspended for Game 4. He had only three assists in the five games he played, but was dominant for most of Game 6. His howitzer from the point might not find the mark always (his shot often suggests a new moniker for the team -- "Better duck"), but has been the genesis of many Ducks goals this season.
If Niedermayer can shake whatever it was that was nagging him in the West finals and Pronger can keep his eyes on the prize, the Ducks' chances of success go up dramatically.
4. The goslings. We like to call the Ducks' young forward group of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Dustin Penner the goslings even if no one else does. Whatever you call them, if you're the Ottawa Senators, you'd better not ignore them. By the end of the Detroit series, the trio was the most dangerous unit Carlyle sent over the boards. Getzlaf, now a key part of the Ducks' top power-play unit, seemed to grow into his own against Detroit after the top line of Selanne and Andy McDonald suffered the loss of Chris Kunitz (broken hand). Kunitz was replaced by veteran Todd Marchant.
Perry still has a bit of the colt in him, a little gangly, sometimes a little out of sync, but he has grown dramatically from a season ago, when he was a raw rookie in his first NHL playoffs. Getzlaf has emerged even more quickly. Carlyle likes to joke that he doesn't like to hear too much praise for Getzlaf for fear he won't be able to get his helmet on, but most of it is well-earned. Penner struggled the most this spring, sometimes seeing his ice time reduced significantly. To be effective, Penner needs to use his size down low and in front of the net. Facing a considerable depth deficit against Ottawa, the continued production of this young group will be crucial to the Ducks' success.
5. The Captain and his crew. After years of being flayed in the court of public opinion every spring, Ottawa captain Alfredsson suddenly has been elevated to exalted status in the hockey world, especially in Ottawa. He can do no wrong, this plucky Swede. We bet he could even get Canadian politicians to stop picking on Shane Doan if he put his mind to it. Much of the adoration is well-deserved given his spirited play. Not only has he put up points (17), he also has killed penalties and made a handful of eye-popping defensive plays. Whenever the Senators have hit even the slightest wobble, Alfredsson has led by example in the next game or the next shift.
His linemates are no different. Heatley has continued to shine in the playoffs, a more complete player than many could have imagined. Spezza's maturity as these playoffs have progressed has been a revelation. Are they slowing down? Hardly. Against Buffalo, the three combined for 21 points against the NHL's best regular-season team. Heatley has registered a point in 13 of 15 postseason games, while Spezza and Alfredsson have been shut out only three times this spring. Buffalo's only win in the East finals was the only game this top line was held pointless. The Ducks' challenge is not necessarily defusing the prolific trio, but trying to ensure that they don't become difference-makers every night
• Senators: Alfredsson has 10 postseason goals, including the series-clinching overtime marker against Buffalo in Game 5. He had never scored more than seven times in any one playoff year before this season. The Senators' power play has run dry of late, going three straight games without a man-advantage marker.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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