Late penalty, power-play outage dooms Ducks
DETROIT -- Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said it was like Ryan Getzlaf got caught with his hands in the cookie jar.
It might well have been the entire team that got caught in such a predicament as the Western Conference finals began with a 2-1 victory by the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.
Less than five minutes to go in a 1-1 game and Getzlaf took a slash from Detroit defenseman Brett Lebda, turned and slashed him back on the hip -- lightly, surely enough; so lightly, in fact, that Lebda didn't seem to notice -- but a slash nonetheless.
Deep in the Detroit zone, some 200 feet from Getzlaf's goal, up went the referee's arm, into the penalty box went Getzlaf and 33 seconds later Nicklas Lidstrom's point shot bounced off Tomas Holmstrom and ended up rolling across the goal line, aided inadvertently by Anaheim defenseman Francois Beauchemin's desperate attempt to sweep the puck to safety.
Hand in the cookie jar. Game over, as the Red Wings rode Holmstrom's goal to victory.
The goal was the second power-play marker of the night against a Ducks team that had been absolutely dominant on the penalty kill throughout the playoffs, allowing just three power-play goals in 56 attempts through the first two rounds.
And so a strength throughout the playoffs was revealed, on this first night of engagement in a new series, to be a weakness -- at least temporarily.
On the other side of the ledger, the rough and tumble Ducks, who had racked up 191 penalty minutes in 10 games, enjoyed a rare man advantage on this night and could not capitalize.
The Ducks' power play went 0-for-7, including an early two-man advantage that lasted 1:34. Late in the game, after the Holmstrom goal, the Ducks once again enjoyed a two-man advantage when they pulled netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere with 2:14 left in regulation while Detroit forward Robert Lang was in the box for hooking. Again, the Ducks, who owned the fourth-ranked road power-play unit in the postseason and fifth-ranked overall, could not convert.
And so a lesson in playoff hockey was administered by the Red Wings to a Ducks team that had steamrolled through the first two rounds, going 8-2.
For the first time in these playoffs, the Ducks trail a series. They do so after playing the physical game they wanted, taking control of the second half of Game 1 and yet allowing a patient, talented Detroit team just enough of an opening to squeeze through.
"From our standpoint, we did a lot of the things that we tried to do in the hockey game. We set a game plan out and we came out on the short end of a hockey game that was highly competitive," Carlyle said.
"I think we played good enough to win the game. We don't have to change anything. The power play is the only thing we have to get that going and we'll be fine," added Anaheim forward Teemu Selanne. "Effort, all the little things are there. No worries -- it's playoff hockey and Sunday's a new chance."
Before the series, Carlyle said he was concerned about his team's propensity for ending up in the penalty box. It didn't cost them against lesser teams such as Vancouver and Minnesota. But the Red Wings quickly revealed the real price of discipline or lack thereof.
"The only [penalty] I can be critical of is Getzlaf's in the third period. It was a retaliation play that sometimes goes unnoticed and tonight they called it," Carlyle said. "But he did slash the player after the player slashed his hands. It was like he got caught with his hands in a cookie jar."
Getzlaf -- who played 21:57, more than any other forward on both teams, and chipped in an assist on a Kris Kunitz goal that tied the game 1:34 into the third period -- was suitably chastened
"My thoughts are that I took a stupid penalty. It's something I've got to take responsibility for and kind of work through it now and get ready for Game 2," the 6-foot-3, 211-pound native of Regina, Saskatchewan, said.
"It wasn't useful. He took a slash on me and I took it back. I got called. It's unacceptable and I know that personally and I know that my teammates will respect that in Game 2," he said.
This is not to suggest that Getzlaf should be followed around by the bleating of goats for the rest of his life. Far from it. But the Ducks are a team whose path to success is littered with battered opponents.
They are big and fast and they love to impose their will physically. To this point in time they have done so with impunity. And while they were once again physically imposing in Game 1 -- Kuntiz's thunderous open-ice hit on Daniel Cleary in the third comes to mind as a perfect illustration -- they were not rewarded with victory.
Now, the question going forward is whether the potency of the Red Wings' power play causes them some concern. Does it give them pause in Game 2? Do they hesitate a moment, start to think a little bit more?
"I think our team did a good job tonight. We stayed out of the box as much as we could. I think this is one of the first games that we had more power plays than penalty kills probably. We just need to make sure that we win the special teams battle, that's all," Getzlaf insisted.
Captain Scott Niedermayer likewise insisted there was little to be concerned about.
"I don't think so. I think we were skating. Our game is to skate, get in on top of them and then initiate contact and when you're doing that you're not reaching, you're not looking to draw penalties so I don't think it's a problem," he said.
We shall see whether one encounter with the cookie jar is lesson enough.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock wasn't all that pleased with his team's energy through Game 1 and admitted some concern if the Red Wings don't start dishing out what they're receiving from the Ducks. "Yeah, I mean if we play like we did tonight and [don't] get after them the whole series, that could be a concern for us," he said. "But I'm not concerned. I thought we had better play in the third period. I think we'll get our legs and I think we'll get jumping here. We have to play with more temp, which I think we will." ... One of the more interesting battles in Game 1 -- and one that promises to be played out on a nightly basis in this series -- is the one between 6-6 Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger and Holmstrom. "Hack and whack," Holmstrom said. "Yeah, it was on the power play, Pronger, he was hitting me in the back but that's OK, it's playoffs. You're going to get punished around the net. But it was a little bit more than normally." ... Just wondering why it is that in Buffalo, another border community, the Sabres acknowledge their cross-border neighbors by singing "O Canada" at every playoff game regardless of whether the Sabres are playing a Canadian opponent. In Detroit? Only the U.S. anthem is played.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com