After losing a heartbreaker at home just two nights ago, the Anaheim Ducks roared back to life on Saturday night in Detroit, knocking off the Red Wings 4-0. Ryan Getzlaf’s short-handed goal in the third period opened the floodgates, and Jonas Hiller stood tall when he needed to in helping his team to regain a 2-1 series lead.
There were several lessons that Ducks fans can carry forward as their team regained home-ice advantage and gave themselves an opportunity to cripple the Wings’ Cup chances if they can take Game 4 on Monday night.
Discipline battle will determine the series
If there was one word to describe the play of the Ducks in the first two periods of this game, “disciplined” would certainly not be it. The Ducks committed a slew of penalties in those two frames, racking up five infractions. Fortunately for them, their defense held true (more on this in a moment), and it gave the team a chance to turn things around in the third period, and that they did.
Getzlaf’s goal on a turnover by Damien Brunner with 13 minutes left in the hockey game (and one second left on yet another penalty) was just the tip of the iceberg. Emerson Etem turned another Wings turnover into a goal just a minute and a half later, and then when Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard committed a roughing minor, Matt Beleskey took a pass from Saku Koivu and tapped it into a wide open net to give the Ducks a 4-0 lead.
The Ducks’ lack of discipline could have cost them dearly against a team that has several veterans capable of scoring in bunches, but if they can reverse that in Game 4, then they should be able to rely on more careless mistakes like the ones that crushed the Wings’ hopes tonight.
Penalty killing a huge asset to this team
If the conventional wisdom that committing a minimum number of penalties ask key to playoff success is true, then it should be equally true that erasing mistakes should be a prerequisite for a championship contender. In the Ducks’ case on Saturday night, they definitely fell into the latter group.
In the end, the Ducks ended up killing six power plays on the night, and nearly every player ended up on the ice at some point during those kills. Especially notable among the performances were those turned in by defensemen Bryan Allen and Francois Beauchemin, who both played over four and a half minutes on the penalty kill, and each ended up blocking four shots.
To make things even more impressive, despite being short-handed for such a huge chunk of the game, the Ducks still didn’t give up more than nine shots in any period to the Wings, and in the penalty-riddled first, they only allowed seven shots.
If the Ducks can continue to play the kind of aggressive puck-attacking style of penalty killing that they displayed against the Wings Saturday, then there is no reason to expect that even the best power play teams in the league will be able to succeed all that often against them.
The goaltending battle will loom large moving forward
Going into this series, the matchup between Jimmy Howard and Jonas Hiller in net for the Wings and Ducks, respectively, was viewed with more of an acknowledging nod than a matchup worth paying attention to. After Saturday’s game, however, it becomes clear that both teams rely on their goaltenders for far more than just stopping the occasional shot.
Howard especially was crucial in keeping Detroit in Game 3. He had to fight through tons of Anaheim traffic in front of the net, and was still able to center up just about every shot he faced. One stretch in particular saw him in fine form, when he stopped a rush by veteran winger Teemu Selanne, and then followed that up on the very next Anaheim possession with a terrific stop on a wrister from Emerson Etem.
Not to be outdone, Hiller stopped a wide open breakaway by Johan Franzen in the first period, and had several moments during Detroit power plays when he had to contend with not only a ton of pressure by the Wings, but also by his own teammates screening him and falling on top of him.
Through it all, Hiller maintained his composure, and made all 23 saves in the victory.
Playoff goaltending is what separates the men from the boys in terms of Stanley Cup contention, and it is becoming clear that Hiller is capable of playing at a high enough level to help his team to their desired result.