Ducks pound their way to Game 1 win
ANAHEIM -- Perhaps we were a bit hasty in dismissing these Anaheim Ducks.
In the seemingly interminable gap between the end of the Western Conference finals and Monday's opening game of the Stanley Cup finals, it seemed the Ducks' flaws multiplied exponentially while the invincibility of the Ottawa Senators likewise grew.
The Ducks were too thin up front, too thin on the back end, took too many penalties. In short, they were lucky to be here. The Sens? Gee, they were really good weren't they? Yet, when the dust cleared at the end of Monday's Game 1, it was Anaheim that dominated, twice erasing one-goal deficits to win 3-2.
More impressively, the Ducks did exactly what they wanted to do, which was to physically pound the Senators into mistakes.
After the game, the Senators said as much -- they knew what to expect coming into the series and that this game was a marked departure from their earlier playoff rounds.
It's entirely possible they were hit harder in the first period Monday than in all their other playoff games put together.
"You have to win a game here and we didn't start very well. We didn't finish very well. They had the majority of the chances," Ottawa coach Bryan Murray said. "Their checking line played head to head with our [top] guys and they ended up getting the winning goal. So that's the whole game in a nutshell."
The game sets up some interesting questions for the Senators.
They have never trailed in a series this spring so they will now have to play catch-up for the first time. Monday also marked the first time the Senators lost a game in which they scored first -- they're now 8-1. They also lost for just the second time this spring when leading after two periods.
Nothing like a little bit of whining about the officials to get things going in a series.
More from Game 1
Ottawa coach Bryan Murray complained that the Ducks were taking liberties with his netminder Ray Emery.
"He got slashed three or four times after he had his hand on the puck," Murray said.
He then threatened that his team would do the same if it didn't stop. Both Murray and Jason Spezza complained that the Ducks were obstructing the Sens when they tried to gain the Anaheim zone.
"Apparently the old rules are back in play for holdups. It seems like they were allowed to hold us up on the forecheck. But we'll just have to get used to it," Spezza said.
"When you dump the puck in, they hold you out," Murray added. "In our side, it doesn't happen very often."
• Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle produced an interesting wrinkle to his lineup by using Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger together when the Ducks were at even strength, often against Ottawa's top offensive line of Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley.
"Their top line has been so dominant throughout the playoffs that we had talked about it," Carlyle said. "Tonight, I think it happened more often than I think that we talked about."
• The Senators' two power-play goals Monday broke a mini-slump for their special teams as they'd failed to score on the man advantage in the last three games of the Eastern Conference finals against Buffalo.
• Teams winning Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals have gone on to win the Cup 77.6 percent of the time since the league went to a best-of-seven format in 1939 or in 52 of 67 seasons. Of the teams that bounced back after losing Game 1, the most recent was Tampa Bay in 2004, when they lost the first game of the finals at home. Detroit also lost Game 1 at home in 2002 before roaring back to win four straight against Carolina.
The biggest question will be how the Senators respond to what we can only assume will be more of the same physical play from the big, fast and strong Ducks.
The Ducks out-hit the Senators 30-21. One of those hits, by rookie Drew Miller who was playing with Teemu Selanne and Andy McDonald for the first time this playoff season, set up the Ducks' first goal. Miller crashed into defenseman Wade Redden, who endured a miserable evening despite scoring the Sens' second goal. The hit allowed Selanne to scoop up the loose puck off the glass and feed McDonald, who beat Ottawa netminder Ray Emery with a quick shot. Redden finished the night minus-3.
The Senators were also guilty of egregious giveaways -- the official scorers had the Senators with 14 compared to just five for the Ducks.
"Probably a combination of being off for nine days and just trying to do too much," Mike Comrie said of the uncharacteristically sloppy play. "I think we played in spurts, but obviously, it wasn't enough. In the playoffs, you have to have a short memory and we'll go over video. We'll look at what we did and we'll move on."
As he did against Detroit, Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle matched his suddenly famous checking line of Rob Niedermayer, Samuel Pahlsson and Travis Moen against the Senators' top line of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley.
The Ottawa trio had been scorching hot coming into the finals, combining for 58 playoff points. But on Monday, it was the Ducks' checking unit that ruled the day as the Spezza line was guilty of a series of errant passes and turnovers.
"Most of the turnovers were by our big line in the middle part of the hockey game," Murray lamented. "They have to start realizing that if you don't put it in and go to work and get it back once in awhile in deep, then the checking line would be effective."
Actually, the Ducks' shut-down line was more than just effective. They were at times brilliant.
With the game tied at 2, thanks to a spectacular Ryan Getzlaf goal 5:44 into the third, it was Rob Niedermayer avoiding an Andrej Meszaros check behind the Ottawa net and feeding Moen in front for the winner.
Earlier, though, there was a play that summed up the entire night for both squads. With the Ducks applying significant pressure in the third, it was Pahlsson knocking down Alfredsson at the Ottawa blue line and taking the puck all in one motion, setting Moen up for a glorious scoring opportunity.
"We knew it was going to be a big test for us. Of course we like it. We take it as a challenge. We try to elevate our game and do it better," Pahlsson said of squaring off against Alfredsson et al. "It feels great. We all love scoring. We're not used to scoring all the time, so I think it feels even better for us to score goals."
Is there satisfaction at winning in such a fashion after the Ducks had taken a bit of a beating in the pre-series press?
"We know what we can do in this locker room," Pahlsson said. "We watch the TV and read the papers like everyone else. But we know the kind of team we have here and it's good enough to win. We still have to execute though, but we know our team is good enough."
This isn't to suggest that this series is over after one lonely game.
Indeed, the Senators had several good chances to tie the game with Emery on the bench for an extra attacker and with Chris Pronger in the penalty box for hooking. And then, there was the small matter of the Ducks continuing to parade to the sin bin, often for mindless fouls.
Example A would be Getzlaf's cross-check on Comrie behind the Anaheim net, which led to the Senators' second power-play goal of the night. In all, the Ducks took twice as many minor penalties as the Senators, 8-4. That trend is a recipe for disaster should it continue.
"We expected it to be a battle out there and we've got more to give as a team I think," Spezza said. "The fact that we still had a chance to win, we were in it right until the end, says a lot I think about our team because we didn't feel like we played that well."
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com