Adam Brady is the Director of Publications & New Media for the Anaheim Ducks and Honda Center. Email him by CLICKING HERE.
Updated April 30 at 3:07 p.m.
The Anaheim Ducks will defeat the Detroit Red Wings in the second round.
That is, if the following things happen:
- Hiller remains a killer
Jonas Hiller was a monster in round 1, throwing up a robust .957 save percentage and 1.64 goals-against average with two shutouts against the Sharks. If you're looking for a Most Valuable Duck in that series, the conversation begins and ends with him. But as much of a challenge as he was supposed to have from the San Jose scorers, it's amped up a notch with Detroit. The Wings, led by guys like Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen are notorious for creating havoc in front of the net, redirecting shots and punching in rebounds. They continued to do it in the Columbus series in the first round, making hotshot rookie goalie Steve Mason look very vulnerable.
The 10 feet of real estate in front of the Anaheim crease is where this series could be won or lost. As much as it's on Hiller to try and stabilize that threat in front of him, it's also up to the Ducks defensemen to clear guys out of there, something they did very well against San Jose. Which brings us to ...
- The Ducks D is better than the Wings D
As much as you'll hear about Detroit's depth at forward, this series is like any other playoff series -- it's all about defense. The Ducks are in great shape there with two proven Hall-of-Famers and playoff warriors in Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. Ryan Whitney shined at times in the San Jose series and was a Cup finalist last year against this very same Detroit team. Francois Beauchemin is making everybody forget he even had knee surgery. And anytime you have a James Wisniewski as a fifth defenseman, you're looking pretty good at the blue line.
But so are the Wings, led by 39-year-old Nicklas Lidstrom, who has won all but one of the last seven Norris Trophies (Niedermayer taking the other). Lidstrom pairs with Brian Rafalski to form a formidable duo that makes maybe two or three mistakes a season. Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall, while each possessing strangely spelled names, are very physical and block a ton of shots. Rookie Jonathan Ericsson and partner Brett Ledba are a bit of a drop-off in the third pairing, but not by a lot.
- The Ducks behave themselves
Yes, I know this was listed here as a factor before the San Jose series and the Ducks responded by giving the Sharks six power plays in each of the first two games. Anaheim managed to kill off all 12 of them, but gave up four power play goals in the remaining four games of the series. And the Ducks took four straight penalties in the first 10 1/2 minutes of Game 6, which put them in an early hole they thankfully escaped. As good as the San Jose power play was, the Red Wings are even better. They led the NHL with a 25.5% success rate this season, ratcheted up to 31.8% (seven goals) against the Blue Jackets in the first round.
The aforementioned congestion the Wings create in front of the net could lure the Ducks into the hooks, holds and interferences that have killed them in the past. The key will be for them to move their feet rather than their sticks in trying to ward off the red jerseys. Which leads us to ...
- The officials behave themselves
Again, another factor that was listed here before the San Jose series, but it applies again. We have a saying up in our area of the press box every time a call or no-call doesn't go the Ducks' way: What, are we playing Detroit? It sounds a bit whiny, I'll admit, but time and again when the Ducks and Wings go at it, the calls seem to lead in favor of the boys in red. Let's hope the four officials on the ice manage to find some balance in this series.
- The depth goes Anaheim's way
Detroit is absolutely frightening when it comes to their depth at forward, led by center Pavel Datsyuk, who does everything out there. But how's this for scary? In the first round, Datsyuk was 12th on the team with two points, as 11 Red Wings scored goals in that series. Having Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg as your two centers is almost unfair, and they roll with guys like Holstrom, Franzen, Marian Hossa (led the team with 40 goals), Dan Cleary and Jiri Hulder, any of whom can break out at any time. Nine Detroit forwards had at least 10 goals this year.
Meanwhile, the RPG line of Ryan, Perry and Getzlaf is deadly, and continued to prove it in the first round against San Jose (nine goals, 17 points). But the Ducks didn't get much production beyond that trio. For them to keep pace with Detroit, they have to get more scoring somewhere else (I'm looking at you, Teemu Selanne). The Ducks only got five goals from their other forwards in the San Jose series, and they are going to need more from Selanne, linemate Andrew Ebbett and whoever the other winger on that line will be (Erik Christensen, Ryan Carter, etc.).
- Todd Marchant and Mike Brown continue to be Todd Marchant and Mike Brown
When the Ducks were good on the penalty kill against San Jose (and for a good chunk of the regular season), it was greatly due to the tireless work of those two guys. And there is little doubt (heck, there is no doubt) both of them will be leaving everything on the ice, taking their lumps, blocking shots and going after every puck like it's the last shift of their lives yet again in this series.
- Osgood is not-so-good
Detroit goalie Chris Osgood was very mediocre in the regular season with a .887 save percentage that ranked 44th in the league, and a 3.09 goals-against average that was 41st. We'll lean on that when we gauge the Ducks' chances against the 36-year-old, because his playoff resume is a lot more daunting. He put up a 1.75 goals-against average in round 1 and a .936 save percentage. And in his last 23 playoff appearances, he's 18-4 with 1.65 GAA and .933 save percentage and four shutouts.
But if the big bodies like Getzlaf, Ryan and Perry can clog up the area in front of Osgood, he could be vulnerable.
- Rust overpowers rest
When the puck is dropped for Game 1 tomorrow night, it will be four days since the Ducks knocked off the Sharks. The Red Wings, meanwhile, haven't played since April 23, after polishing off their sweep of Columbus. It's probably a small factor, but hopefully for the Ducks, just big enough to give them an edge in the early going.
“It’s great,” Ducks right wing Corey Perry said of the relatively short window between series. “It’s just enough time to heal the body, but not lose sight of what we want, why we’re here. You get to clear your head for a day. You come back, you travel, but you also have a practice just to get the legs going and get your head into it again. It’s kind of nice that we actually had three days before we play. It’s not like we’re waiting five, six, seven days.
“Then it’s harder. You have to be sharp in practice then. With only three days off, you’re up. You get to enjoy what you’ve done, but then right away you’re focusing on your next opponent and moving forward. You only have 72 hours before you have to play that team, so it’s kind of easier when you only have a couple days.”
- The Ducks continue to own the road
Anaheim hasn't lost a road game in regulation since Feb. 26. They took the first two on the road in San Jose (a painfully loud building) and only a pushed Jonas Hiller leg pad in overtime kept them from possibly winning Game 5 there in overtime. Joe Louis Arena won't be any kinder and the Ducks (the old Ducks) were winless there in the regular season. But I'm trying to remember what happened the last time the Ducks played a playoff game there. Let me see if I can jog my memory.
Prediction: Ducks in seven
Come on, what did you think I was going to say?
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According to an article published today in the Detroit Free Press entitled Tips for becoming a better Wing Nut, the Red Wings really don't like to be bothered with something as annoying as ... what do you call it? ... oh yeah, fans. Granted, I know the Ducks don't have it nearly as bad as the boys in Hockeytown, but here was a sampling from the article:
Kirk Maltby: “When I’m at a restaurant trying to eat a meal with the kids, fans gotta know that the timing isn’t right. I know people aren’t trying to be rude, but people are sometimes blinded by what’s the right thing to do. Like if I’m with some buddies and someone wants to send over or buy a round of beer for us-that’s harmless. But sometimes there’s that person who wants to send over a drink, and then the next thing you know he wants to come over and drink it with you. That’s not ideal.”
Chris Chelios: “When players had altercations with fans in the past, whether it was walking out to the bus or at arenas, you wouldn’t be afraid to yell back. Now we’re told to turn around and walk away, which is probably the best advice. For the most part, guys are pretty smart about not getting in altercations with fans away from the rink or at the rink. That’s just the way you have to be now.”
Chris Osgood: “Sometimes it bothers me when you get hounded all the time, especially if you have to go someplace after practice. But we always try to make time. But you get angry when people use their kids to get autographs, and they take it back to the guy they’re working for.”
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O.C. Register writer Marcia Smith has an excellent story on Ducks senior director of corporate partnerships Bonner Paddock and the premier of the documentary "Beyond Limits" which chronicles Paddock's climb to the 19,340-foot summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Paddock, you may remember, has cerebral palsy, and the movie about his trek is supposed to be excellent.
Updated April 29 at 2:04 p.m.
Gentlemen (and women), start your hatred.
The elation that Ducks fans have been feeling for Anaheim's first round ouster of the San Jose Sharks now needs to shift into a passionate disdain for an all-too-familiar next opponent -- the Detroit Red Wings.
This isn't exactly responsible Ducks staffer language, but I'll say it: I hate the Red Wings. I hate their confusing team name and winged tire logo. I hate the fact they call their city "Hockeytown." I hate their rickety old arena. I hate those bright read jerseys. I hate that stupid octopus tradition.
But mostly, and admittedly, I hate how good they are.
They've won 11 Stanley Cup titles, four in the last 11 seasons including last year's crown. And the old saying that "familiarity breeds contempt" couldn't be more apt when it comes to a Ducks-Red Wings matchup. This will be the fifth time the two teams have battled in the postseason, with Anaheim prevailing in the last two. In fact, in every odd-numbered year the Ducks have gone to the playoffs ('97, '99, '03, '07 and '09) they've faced Detroit in one of the rounds.
That includes an epic Western Conference Final series of two years ago, when the Ducks pretty much denied Detroit another Stanley Cup. (No one in their right mind believes Detroit wouldn't have knocked off Ottawa in the Cup Final, just like the Ducks did.) And what stings Wings fans even more about that series is that they were 47 seconds away from wrapping it up in Game 5 at their place. I know you probably already know this, but I take pleasure in rehashing it:
With the Ducks net empty, the Wings couldn't manage to clear the puck before Scott Niedermayer put a desperation shot on net that clicked off Nicklas Lidstrom's stick and fluttered past then-goalie Dominik Hasek. I've mentioned this before, but while my favorite part of that video is the goal itself, my second-favorite part is the fact that one of the most graceful players in the history of the NHL falls right on his face celebrating it.
Niedermayer's goal sent Game 5 into overtime, where Andy McDonald forced an Andres Lilja turnover, and Teemu Selanne picked up the deserted puck, made a move to the backhand and popped the water bottle.
The Ducks rode that win to a Game 6 victory at home on their way to the Cup, and now here are the Wings again, the villians in a postseason matchup of the NHL's last two champions. They're also two of the league's most successful teams in the last half-decade. Starting with the 2003 postseason when Anaheim upset Detroit in the opening round en route to the Final, the Ducks have won more playoff rounds (10) than any other NHL team. The Wings are second with eight. The Ducks have won more playoff games since that year than any other team in the league with 46. The Wings are second with 37.
So, in essence, we've got a round 2 series that would be better suited as a conference final. And they've pretty much got the same thing going in the East, where it's Crosby vs. Ovechkin in the Pittsburgh-Washington series.
But if you thought the Ducks were considered an underdog against San Jose, you can bet they're thought to be even bigger dogs against the darlings of the NHL. (At least the league's love affair with the Wings is getting Sunday's Game 2 on NBC.) After the Ducks knocked off San Jose in Game 6, Ryan Whitney acknowledged that despite the regular season records, the Ducks face an even more daunting challenge than they did in the first round.
"Now, I think we play what is the best team in the league in
Whitney is one of the players who hadn't yet joined the Ducks when they went 1-3-0 against the Wings this regular season, since all four of those games were played before Anaheim made its moves prior to the trade deadline. James Wisniewski (who was great in the first round against SJ) also wasn't here. And Francois Beauchemin only played in one of those games since he missed most of the regular season with an ACL injury that seemingly didn't faze him at all in round 1. (By the way, he had the winner in overtime of his lone game against Detroit, on Oct. 29 in Anaheim.)
Oh, and also, none of those four games involved this Ducks team we're looking at right now. The one that went 10-2-1 to finish the regular season, then vanquished the so-called best team in the league. The one that still hasn't lost in regulation on the road since Feb. 26. The one that has a goalie named Jonas Hiller saving everything in sight.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing or what seed we are in the playoffs," Ryan Getzlaf said. "We consider ourselves a contender."
And as good as the Red Wings are with their depth at forward and their stingy veteran defensemen, their weak spot is hidden behind those guys -- like a family who keeps the unpredictable stepchild in the basement. Goalie Chris Osgood had a feeble save percentage of .887 this year, worse than 43 other goaltenders in the league. But the Wings do a great job of keeping pucks away from him, as their 27.7 shots given up per game was second in the league to San Jose. Osgood was very good in the first round, with a 1.75 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage, but that was against a Columbus team that was just happy to be there. They had no intention of actually winning the thing. Although, Osgood did let in five goals to the Blue Jackets in the Game 4 clincher.
“They’re an elite hockey club,” Randy Carlyle said. “We’re not going in the favorite, I guarantee you that.”
In looking ahead to this series, Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg said, "It's always good games when we play each other. They have a really solid team, a good defense, a good goalie. It's going to be a fun and tough round."
And a hate-filled one at that.
- - -
Time is running out to vote for Bobby Ryan’s spin-o-rama goal in the TSN Play of the Year Showdown. As of this writing, Bobby is trailing Miikka Kiprusoff by about eight percentage points. Come on, Ducks fans, make it happen. And even if you’re not a Ducks fan, don’t let a jaw-dropping goal – which incidentally was the third goal in a natural hat trick over a span of 2:21 – lose to a save that was made by a lunging, out-of-position goaltender. It just wouldn’t be right.
And the Ducks could use some help on TSN, since this is among the sentences they wrote in their preview of the Anaheim-Detroit series:
They are big, mean, tough, battle proven and are the type of team that no one wants to face in the first round.
First round? And then there's this:
Fortunately for the Ducks, they have a both a coach in Randy Carlyle and a goaltender in J.S. Giguere who have won it all before and won't be in awe of their surroundings. While Giguere didn't enjoy his best statistical season, he is a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner that has the ability to steal a game or a series if necessary. Should he falter, Jonas Hiller is among the top backups in the league and will be ready to step in if needed.
Updated April 28 at 12:42 p.m.
Whatever you do, don't call it an upset.
I don't care what the seeds said. I don't care about Presidents' Trophies or Stanley Cup favorites. The Anaheim Ducks were better than the San Jose Sharks in this series. And they proved it yet again with a satisfyingly efficient 4-1 shakedown in the clinching Game 6 in front of a rollicking home crowd at Honda Center.
"We are not an eighth seed," said defenseman Ryan Whitney. "Everyone in here knows that, and now everyone else sees it too."
That was never more evident than last night, when the Ducks bounced back from giving up the first goal to score four unanswered and rode another phenomenal performance by Jonas Hiller to victory. And Hiller was one of the many Ducks who insisted they didn’t let San Jose’s regular season credentials get to them. "There's always a difference from the regular season to the playoffs, no matter what league you play in," Hiller said. "We always believed we could do this against that team."
As much of a fight as San Jose put up in each game of the series, I couldn't help but think last night the Ducks just wanted it a little more. "In the playoffs, it's all about feeling the momentum," Teemu Selanne said. "
And even the Sharks, notably defenseman Dan Boyle, had to admit that the better team prevailed. Said Boyle, “To a man, they were better. Their goalie was better than ours. Their D was better than ours. Their forwards were better than ours. They were better along the boards … I think we had a lot of chances in six games, but we missed a lot of opportunities to put the puck in the net.”
You couldn't have asked for a better playoff hockey game than the one we got last night, and that started right from the opening faceoff when all-world centers Ryan Getzlaf and Joe Thornton started feverishly throwing punches at each other. Thornton had tried to get Getzlaf rumbling in Game 5, but Getzy didn't bite. This time he was more than willing. "It was something that was provoked a little bit last game where he challenged me," Getzlaf said. "I didn’t really want to fight at that point when the series was 3-1. I didn’t want to give them any spark. I felt tonight that that was the opportunity to redeem myself and Joe wanted to go again to spark his team.
"We wanted to be in their face and we wanted to play. I’m sure Joe thought the same thing. Joe kind of came in and said ‘Do you want to go tonight?’ I had every intention of asking him."
You had to love Randy Carlyle's take on the fight: "I don't know if you noticed it, but Ryan Getzlaf had a heck of a game. You stir the emotions of someone that talented like that. . . . I'm glad he did it. I didn't tell him to do it; I just said you have to decide whether it was important enough to do it and whether it was good for the team. It was."
And while Thornton got the edge in the bout (including landing a paticularly fierce right to Getzlaf's face), it was Getzlaf who had the last laugh. He assisted on Corey Perry's power play goal that tied the game 1-1 and then scored the fourth Anaheim goal in the third period that put the game -- and San Jose's season -- away. Meanwhile, Thornton put up a goose egg in the scoring column, only managed one shot on net and now faces even more questions about why he can't get it done in the postseason.
For that matter, so do the rest of his teal-clad mates, who yet again brought new meaning to the phrase Shark Tank. And with all I heard about the behavior of Sharks fans toward Ducks fan in this series, I’m almost happier that they were handed the biggest of their many recent playoff disappointments than I am about the Ducks moving on to the second round.
Clearly Ducks fans are reveling in it. Here is some Photoshop work by reader Lorri of the Sharks hoisting the only trophy they'll come away with this season. Meanwhile, this priceless photo is making the rounds on the Ducks message board, a takeoff of one of San Jose's marketing slogans.
And Ducks fans, you definitely came with plenty of noise for this one last night, which was great to hear after experiencing the din of HP Pavilion in Game 5. You roared for each Anaheim goal, each raucous fight, each San Jose fan who was ejected from the building for behaving like an idiot. "This home crowd does a lot for us, it seems," Whitney said. "We struggled earlier before the playoffs at home. Right now, we’re rolling and feeding off this crowd."
Regardless, I'll admit I was worried about Game 6 hours before opening faceoff, a little more during all those early penalties and even more when the Sharks got that opening goal from Milan Michalek. After all, the first team to score had won all five previous games in this series. And as good as Hiller was last night, that rebound he gave Michalek was one of many pucks he was leaving in front of him in the early going. But Hiller tightened things up in the second and third, including Selanne got his long overdue goal by throwing the puck on net from a bad angle, where it went off the stick of Christian Erhoff (a guy San Jose fans derisively called "Error-hoff") and got past Evgeni Nabokov. Then just 1:23 later, Beauchemin fired an absolute missile of a one-timer that hit off Boyle's stick and darted netbound, a play that was set up up by the forecheck of the extremely likeable Mike Brown and a pass off the boards by Ryan Carter (playing quite well these last three games). Beauchemin's shot (which he hit so hard, he actually fell down) not only hit Boyle's stick but snapped it in two (see photo at right).
And in the second the Ducks got two gargantuan goals from Teemu Selanne (finally) and Francois Beauchemin (good God, how is he even playing after November ACL surgery) to jump out to that all-important two-goal lead.
Indeed it was, but even with that two-goal lead in the third, I couldn't help but feel like the clock was moving at a glacial pace as I was counting the minutes to the final horn. It wasn't until that Getzlaf goal (which should be credited as much to Drew Miller and Rob Niedermayer's work in the corner as Getzlaf himself) that I felt like I could move from the edge of my seat to the middle of it.
And the next thing you know, two teams that were absolutely killing each other in this series -- never more so than in the final game -- were cordially shaking hands at center ice (possibly the greatest playoff tradition in sports). Several Ducks (notably Getzlaf) spent a couple extra seconds on their handshake with Jeremy Roenick, who probably played the last NHL game of a 20-year-career that went without a Cup but the distinction as the greatest player in a hockey video game of all time.
It occurred to me that it was the first post-series handshake Ducks fans have seen at Honda Center since June 6, 2007. We certainly didn't get one here after the Dallas series last year, which staffer Matt Vevoda pointed out was eerily similar to this series -- just in reverse. In that one, the lower seed took the first two games on the road and the higher seed came back with a Game 3 victory on the road but lost Game 4. After a series-lengthening home win in Game 5, the lower seed scored first in Game 6, only to lose 4-1. Seems awfully familiar, doesn't it?
But what's different this time around is the good guys are moving on to the second round. Of course, Anaheim's reward is a matchup with a Red Wings team that is probably even better than the Sharks. We'll definitely talk more about that series starting tomorrow, since we have some time to kill before Game 1. The league won't officially make an announcement until tonight (after two Eastern Conference series conclude), but speculation is that Game 1 against the Red Wings will be Friday night at 4 p.m. Pacific, with Game 2 coming Sunday at 11 a.m. Pacific.
That means we have a little bit of time to savor this victory over the hated Sharks, which again shouldn't really be all that surprising. Eighth seed or not, the majority of these Ducks is still the same group that won a Stanley Cup two seasons ago, a mostly veteran group that has won countless playoff games and plenty of playoff series. As I was enjoying a celebratory beverage last night just down the street from Honda Center, a fellow Ducks staffer was telling me a quick postgame story. He had asked a co-worker, who was in the Ducks locker room after the game, what the mentality of the guys was like after that victory. He told him the players were satisfied, but not overly jubilant about a first-round triumph.
"After all, he said, "they've been there before."
Regardless, I'll admit I was worried about Game 6 hours before opening faceoff, a little more during all those early penalties and even more when the Sharks got that opening goal from Milan Michalek. After all, the first team to score had won all five previous games in this series. And as good as Hiller was last night, that rebound he gave Michalek was one of many pucks he was leaving in front of him in the early going. But Hiller tightened things up in the second and third, includingthis toe-save on Joe Pavelski in the third that maintained Anaheim's two-goal lead. It was a game-saver by Hiller, who seems so unshakeable that in-arena cameras actually caught him smiling (almost laughing) during the national anthem. Either he was extremely relaxed before the biggest NHL game of his life, or he has a peculiar method of calming his nerves.
Selanne got his long overdue goal by throwing the puck on net from a bad angle, where it went off the stick of Christian Erhoff (a guy San Jose fans derisively called "Error-hoff") and got past Evgeni Nabokov. Then just 1:23 later, Beauchemin fired an absolute missile of a one-timer that hit off Boyle's stick and darted netbound, a play that was set up up by the forecheck of the extremely likeable Mike Brown and a pass off the boards by Ryan Carter (playing quite well these last three games). Beauchemin's shot (which he hit so hard, he actually fell down) not only hit Boyle's stick but snapped it in two (see photo at right).“I’m there to block the puck and it breaks my stick literally in half between both of my hands,” Boyle said. “I don’t know if you could do that out of a million tries. I think that was maybe a sign of things to come.”
Updated April 27 at 2:05 p.m.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Game 7.
Yeah, I know it will say Game 6 on the game programs and the TV screens, but for the Ducks this could be considered do-or-die tonight. The last thing in the world Anaheim wants is to have to face an actual Game 7 back in the Sharks’ barn. So polishing off this series tonight at Honda Center is crucial.
“I think you have to take that mindset,” Ryan Getzlaf said about approaching tonight’s game like it could be the last one. “Anytime you’re in an elimination [situation] you have to put a team behind you when you have the opportunity. We’re in the situation where we’re up 3-2 and we’ve got to try and win this fourth game tonight.”
Yes, tonight. In our building, which better be plenty loud tonight after what we heard in San Jose over the weekend. “They’re our seventh man on the ice,” Corey Perry said about the home crowd. “It keeps the emotion on the bench up and guys feed off that. They’re going to try to take the crowd out of it right away and we’ve got to be first on everything.”
The way the Sharks fans celebrated in their arena after the game two nights ago, you'd have thought that was Game 7. Hey guys, you just knocked off the eighth seed to pull to within 3-2 in the series. Not exactly reason to lose your mind. But then again, since your team hasn't been able to get past the second round the last three years, I guess you'll take what you can get.
All I could think as I was leaving the Shark Tank on Saturday night to the sounds of their fans’ cheers and taunts sent our way was this: By all means, take it all in, Sharks fans. Enjoy it. Because this is the last home game you’ll have until September.
Anaheim has never lost a game in which they’ve had a chance to close out a series at home. They are 8-0 all time in that situation, and you might remember they did it four times during the 2007 Cup run. And while jettisoning a Minnesota or a Vancouver at home back then was fantastic, somehow the thought of doing it to San Jose tonight seems a little sweeter.
You can’t possibly overestimate how important it is for the Ducks to get off to a good start tonight. They didn’t do that in Game 5 and even though they came back to even that game, the hole they dug for themselves was substantial. After San Jose’s goal in the first period of Game 5, I got a text from a co-worker that simply said, “Game over.” Sure, he ate his words when the Ducks made it 2-2 in the third, but it’s a legitimate sentiment, since the first team to score has taken every game in this series. If the Ducks can get that first one tonight, the collective blood pressure for the home fans in the building might drop just a little bit. I know mine will.
“We have to have a good start,” Perry said. “We need to get on them right away, get some shots and get in on their defense and play with that will and determination. If we have all those things, we’re going to be all right.”
And it would be okay if that first goal came from No. 8, who has yet to score a point in this series. "It always bothers me a little bit, but it's a funny game," Selanne said of his scoring drought. "but it's nothing we haven't faced before. You just stay positive and keep going. The team is playing well, and that's the main thing." Said Randy Carlyle of Teemu, "We’ve all been around here enough to know that he can pull a rabbit out of the hat at any time."
Everything is amped up in the playoffs, especially the presence of media in the Ducks locker room. And that means more TV reporters, which means more stupid questions. Todd Marchant held court for a good 10 minutes with a crowd of around a dozen mics and tape recorders shoved in his face. Someone asked Marchant if he thought the pressure was on the Ducks now and he sarcastically responded, “Did they change the seeds? Are we the No. 1 seed and they're the eight seed?"
One gal from a local affiliate asked why he thought it was important for the Ducks to close out the series tonight. He kind of got a wry smile on his face, paused for a couple of seconds and said, “Why do I think it's important? To get to the second round.” Another baby-faced TV guy nervously asked Marchant what he thought the Ducks needed to improve on after they way they’ve played the last few games (obviously forgetting they’ve won three games in this series). Marchant kind of paused and amusedly said, “You want to ask that question again?”
Finally, after a good length of time of Marchant answering questions, a Ducks PR guy quietly announced that Jonas Hiller had entered the room and was available for questions. And Marchant, obviously ready to get on with his day, playfully said, “Yes, everybody. Jonas is right over there.”
I’m also constantly amused at the beginning of coaches press conferences, how these hardened hockey writers, some of whom have been doing this for a couple of decades, are afraid to ask the first question. It’s like an eighth grade dance where no one wants to be the first one out on the floor. Or maybe when you move deeper into a series, you just run out of material. This morning Carlyle sat down at the table, took a sip out of a water bottle, heard nothing but silence and finally offered with a grin, “I can leave.”
Eventually Carlyle was asked about Game 5 and whether he thought the Ducks weren’t “desperate” enough from the opening draw. “I don’t think we lacked desperation,” Carlyle said. “I think, in some cases, we were just, as a coach would call it, brain-dead. Those things happen. In sports, it’s one of those things you try to prevent. You talk about it. You try to make people aware, but sometimes that’s easier said than done.”
Carlyle pointed out that Petteri Nokelainen is still suffering from a lingering (undisclosed) injury and did not skate this morning, so he will probably not be in there tonight. His spot will be again taken by Ryan Carter, who has filled in very well the last couple of games, including that first goal in Game 5.
Carlyle also addressed the factor that I maintain is frequently overrated in a playoff series – so-called momentum. The prevailing wisdom says the Sharks have momentum in the series after taking Game 5, but it’s hard to believe that anyone in a black and gold jersey or a teal jersey gives a rip about that once their skate blades hit the sheet. “Every game is a new game, a new start,” Carlyle said. “Momentum swings in a game, from shift to shift, period to period. I don’t think you can say there’s momentum one way or the other.”
That’s also because hockey players are programmed to move on and forget about the last game – win or lose. “That’s an important thing in playoff hockey because it is so emotional,” said Scott Niedermayer, who knows a little bit about playoff hockey. “When it doesn’t go your way, it’s difficult to maybe move on because your feelings are strong. That’s a tough thing, an important thing to learn in playoff hockey because the games just keep coming. It’s a series. It’s not just one game to move on. You need to win four of seven, and that’s a long stretch.”
Bobby Ryan, whose was conspicuous by his lengthy absence in the middle of the third period of Game 5 (again, bad skate blade; not an injury), had this to say: “You dwell on it for two hours, and then you put it behind you. It’s a confident room right now. It’s not a bunch of guys tense or uptight or anything like that. It’s a group of guys that knows the task at hand, and we’ll be ready for it.”
Let's hope they're ready to slam the door on this thing tonight. And leave Sharks fans ripping up their Game 7 tickets.
Updated April 26 at 6:32 p.m. (back in OC)
The drive back to Orange County from San Jose was far less adventurous then Saturday's drive up there. And obviously the nervous anticipation from Saturday was replaced by minor disappointment today. As thrilled as we were to tie that game so quickly last night, we were crushed by that ugly Patrick Marleau goal in OT to lose it. I'll tell you, sitting dejected in your seat while more than 17,000 screaming fans rise out of there's to celebrate a game-winning goal? Not a fun feeling.
That wasn't the first time HP Pavilion was eardrum-shattering loud last night and it definitely earns its distinction as one of the loudest (if not the loudest) buildings in the league. Though we did find it ironic that when our group stood up to yell and high-five after Corey Perry's goal to tie the game, we heard a couple of shouts of "Sit down!" (Truth be told, we stood a little longer after that one than we probably should have.) One of our staffers was wearing a somewhat form-fitting t-shirt and one fan even yelled, "Nice tight shirt!" We're still laughing about that one. As passionate as those fans are, they're not great with the insults.
In fact, as we walked on the concourse between periods in our Ducks gear, we heard many calls of "Ducks suck!" (as I'm once again reminded of the unfortunate rhyming potential of our team's name). But each time we heard that, I would either call back "Up 3-1, bud" or something like, "Make it past the second round one time, why don't you?" or "I can't hear you. My Stanley Cup ring is stuck in my ear." That seemed to quell any witty comebacks. I did feel a white towel hit the back of my head after that OT goal, however. Earlier in the game, I used one of those towels to wipe up some spilled beer with my feet. I've got to admit, that felt kind of good.
I guess the yells and the throw towel was pretty minor compared to what I'm hearing from other Ducks fans in the building. Apparently there was some pretty appalling behavior by Sharks fans throughout the night (including thrown food, some pretty offensive name-calling and even threats). Classy.
Moving on, I figured something out last night. This year I've traveled to games in San Jose, Phoenix and two in New York. And the Ducks have lost them all. Maybe it's for the best I'm not traveling with the team this postseason.
But let's be honest: That wasn't exactly a game the Ducks deserved to win, at least not the way things looked in the first two periods. They definitely poured it on in the third though, and Jonas Hiller once again carried them (they're calling him Hiller the Shark Killer). If not for him last night, the Ducks might not have been in that game.
(By the way, Bobby Ryan's lengthy absence in the third period was because of a bad skate blade, not an injury.)
Back to this morning's drive, which started at around 10 (following a lovely free hotel breakfast) and was much more businesslike this time. We didn't have our two cars that followed us on Saturday. We crossed over to the 5 instead of taking the 101. We didn't blow up the inflatable Ducks player. And our only stops were once for gas and once for In 'N Out, the last of our healthy eating choices on the weekend. After one middle finger from a guy on a motorcycle just south of San Jose, we got a lot of waves and thumbs-up from drivers on the freeway, including one family who held up an orange Ducks towel as they pulled alongside us.
After a combined total of close to 18 hours wedged into the way back of our Ducks Honda Pilot, I almost feel displaced as I sit in front of the computer at home. And after eight hours in that car today, I'm exhausted and I smell like a combination of body odor, leather upholstery and the No. 2 combo meal.
Part of the discussion on the drive home was whether we would do it all over again if ( if ) there is a Game 7. Let's hope after tomorrow night, we won't have to talk about it again.
Updated April 25 at 7:02 p.m. (San Jose)
After 9 1/2 hours of driving, two stops and a quick hotel check-in (long story), we've finally arrived at HP Pavilion for Game 5. Looks like we'll probably miss puck drop, which is a shame. But we'll be in there soon after.
Part of the reason for the hotel stop was for us to change into game gear and to valet our Ducks car and cab it over here. That's partly for safe postgame driving purposes and partly so we don't find our Ducks car smashed to bits in the arena parking lot by angry Sharks fans.
As we got closer to the arena on the 101, we had a couple of Sharks fans coming up from towns like Gilroy noticing our Ducks car and waving. Thankfully, no gestures more offensive than that. Although, one guy held up his fingers to indicate the number 7, and we couldn't figure out if he meant "Ducks in 7," "Sharks in 7" or "Hey, idiots, the game starts at 7."
Okay, I need to wrap this up because we've got a game to watch.
Updated April 25 at 4:31 p.m. (Paso Robles area)
We're back on the road after a stop in beautiful San Luis Obispo, where there apparently aren't too many Ducks fans. As we drove through town in our Ducks car, one of our staffers kept asking people, "You guys Ducks fans?" We got everything from blank stares to middle fingers to shouts of "Go Sharks!" Not sure which was worse.
We grabbed lunch at a popular BBQ place called Firestone Grill, where the pulled pork sandwich is tremendous. Now I know why the line for that place was 20-people long when we got there.
(Okay, did I really just write about lunch? If you're still reading, bless you.)
We stopped a little up the 101 in Paso Robles, where a 15-minute search for a winery for a photo op finally paid off. We stopped at Rio Seco Winery off Highway 46, where the owner, Tom Hinkle, was a former baseball player and Major League scout. He was nice enough to let us inflate the giant Ducks player and take some pictures. So of course we bought a couple of bottles from him and his co-owner wife Carol.
Unfortunately, our stops have made us a little pressed for time to make puck drop, but we'll get there. On this last stop, we lost one of our following cars, since they wanted to make sure they caught warmups. One of the women in that group of three went to Game 1 in San Jose, drove home after the game and got back to OC at 4:45. Definite die-hard.
According to the family of five on the trip with us, just the dad and one son (5-year-old Jonah -- I mistakenly called them toddlers earlier) are going to the game tonight. And Dad reports that when Jonah has attended Ducks games this year, the Ducks are 13-0. So, he says, "Mom got bumped in favor of Jonah and in return will get a spa day next week."
On the 101, we sped down the road and pulled next to an attractive blonde in an old Mustang, and our guy yelled, "Do you like the Ducks?" She nodded her head with such enthusiasm, we think she misheard him.
A planned stop for a photo op in Gilroy has been scrapped because we're, you know, trying to make a hockey game.
So, next stop San Jose. Just more than three hours to puck drop.
Updated April 25 at 12:58 p.m. (Buellton area)
"This is your time. Their time is done. It's over. I'm sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw 'em. This is your time. Now go out there and take it."
- Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks in "Miracle"
Substitute the word "Sharks" for "Soviets" and you've got something there.
We just finished watching that movie in the way back seat and man, do I love that movie. And every time I watch it, the USA team beats the Soviets. Incredible.
Just passed the town of Buellton, home of Pea Soup Andersen's, or whatever it's called. It's also the area where the great movie "Sideways" took place. I know it better as a frequent Taco Bell pit stop from when I lived in Monterey, and would go back and forth to SoCal for holidays.
We're about 45 miles from SLO, near more wine country, and I badly have to go to the bathroom. There is a 3/4-full bottle of water next to me that I can't even look at. But I'm hesitant to complain because one of the cars behind us has two toddlers in it and they haven't stopped yet.
GPS says 3:20 to go to San Jose. I hope it's not messing with us.
Updated April 25 at 11:14 a.m. (Thousand Oaks area)
We left a little later than we intended (around 9:35) but we're on the road. And despite some inevitable traffic around LAX, we're moving. Part of the delay was because we took awhile to tie the giant inflatable Ducks player (called "The Enforcer") to the top of the car. When I first heard we were doing that, I automatically assumed it would already be inflated and I said (in all seriousness), "I think that's illegal." (Yeah, I'm not very bright.)
We have just a couple of cars following us, with about 10 people in addition to our six in the Ducks-branded Honda Pilot. One car has two adults, three kids and a dog. Less than I thought there would be, but not bad considering the short notice of this thing.
Staff-wise, we have three PR people, two marketing guys and a blogger. That's five guys and a girl for those scoring at home.
There have been some raised eyebrows over our choice to take the 101 instead of the quicker 5, but we chose that for scenery rather than quickness.
But the running joke the last few miles is that our GPS keeps saying to us, "Wait, I thought you wanted to go to San Jose." In truth, it kind of has been doing that. Each of the last 15 exits we've passed, the GPS is advising us to get off and turn around. I'm guessing that right around Santa Barbara it will finally decide, "Fine, if you insist on going this way, I'll help you."
We just passed Reseda, home of Daniel LaRusso in "The Karate Kid." Worth mentioning.
Fittingly a few of us are watching the movie "Miracle" on the handy DVD player in the back, but only the lone female passenger is the one listening on headphones. That's made it a lot easier to talk behind her back.
There are plans for a lunch stop in San Luis Obispo, home of my sister's alma mater and a great BBQ place called Firestone. But that lunch stop could change, since it's already 11:10 and I'll speak for everybody by saying we're all hungry. Okay, maybe it's just me.
Just a reminder that two of our staffers are Tweeting on our Twitter sites: twitter.com/anaheimducks and twitter.com/hondacenter. You can take a look and decide who is doing a better job.
Just over eight hours to puck drop for Game 5. More later.
Updated April 25 at 8:57 a.m.
We're minutes away from taking off from the Honda Center parking lot and heading up to San Jose.
I'll do my best to post updates here, although internet access could be tricky. Either way, we'll have some sort of report on the trip leading up to Game 5.
Updated April 24 at 4:23 p.m.
In case you haven't seen it, about a half dozen Ducks staffers and I will be leading a caravan from Honda Center to San Jose for anyone who is interested in following us in their own car. We'll be making a couple of stops along the way so that I can (hopefully) post some updates on the trip in the blog. Again, we can't provide tickets or lodging or anything like that, but if anyone is interested in following us up there, be in Lot 1 at Honda Center by 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.
Otherwise, check back to the blog and see how we're doing.
Updated April 24 at 12:56 p.m.
The once-perceived separation between the eighth-seeded Anaheim Ducks and the NHL-leading San Jose Sharks was shattered like a pane of plexiglass last night.
Of course, in Anaheim's 4-0 dismantling of the Sharks that gave the Ducks a commanding 3-1 series lead, that was much more than a metaphor.
In a game that had a handful of the unexpected (including the final score), Bobby Ryan was checked into the wall by Sharks forward Joe Pavelski during the second period. Ryan's shoulder slammed so hard into the glass that separates the two benches, it shattered, causing a 20-minute delay for cleanup and replacement of the pane.
And it couldn't have been more appropriate that it was Ryan who did it, since he caused damage in so many other ways on the night. The kid had two goals in a span of 3:40 in the second period, the second one just 29 seconds after the glass delay that should have slowed down both teams. "That could have made or broke us," Ryan said. "We got a goal that was huge."
Both Ryan goals were conjured from the team efforts of an RPG line that was just phenomenal the entire night. Goal No. 1 came when Getzlaf took a nice up-ice feed from Ryan Whitney before spinning back to the middle and feeding Ryan in the slot. Ryan made a chilling deke move that dismissed Jonathan Cheechoo before firing a wrist shot under Evgeni Nabokov. And Ryan celebrated with this leap into the glass that I don't think we've seen since that hat trick against the Kings in January.
That goal in particular, notably the patience Ryan showed on it, brought some pretty big praise from Whitney. "The biggest thing is just his poise and his hands are unbelievable," Whitney said. "I played with [Evgeni] Malkin and [Sidney] Crosby, and those guys are probably the two best in the league. Bobby's hands are right with those guys. It's sick the stuff he can do with the puck, when you have a reach like that and you can wait guys out. It seems like he's always giving a head fake and waiting somebody out and going around guys when they're done. He's a superstar in the making it seems."
Ryan goal No. 2 was created by a nice effort from Corey Perry, who jammed in two shots on Nabokov, the second rebounding out to Ryan, and he dropped to a knee to one-time a shot over the helpless goalie. That gave the Ducks a 2-0 lead that surprisingly turned out to be more than they would need.
Each goal elicited chants of "Bobby! Bobby!" from the Honda Center crowd, which Ryan acknowledged is, "pretty cool to hear."
And if that wasn't enough, Ryan was on the ice for Corey Perry's goal in the third that put the game away at 3-0 Ducks, as Ryan won a puck battle in the corner with Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray. That forced Joe Thornton (who was quiet the entire night) to come help out to retrieve the puck, and he promptly turned it over to Ryan Getzlaf, whose quick shot from the slot was tipped through by Corey Perry.
Ryan will probably lose out on the Calder Trophy vote to goalie Steve Mason, who had 10 shutouts in leading Columbus to its first -ever postseason. (Even Ryan himself said he'd vote for Mason.) But it's a little ironic that on a night when Ryan had two goals to lead his team to victory, Mason gave up six in losing his fourth straight game and the series to Detroit. The votes are already in, but any chance we can have a re-vote?
Ryan did so much last night, at this point I wouldn't be surprised if you told me he had something to do with the 4.0 aftershock that lightly shook Honda Center during the first intermission (so appropriate for a game involving two California teams). Heck, even his postgame quotes are inspirational.
"I don't think they expected this," Ryan said in a crowded Ducks locker room. (You can include me on that list. I mean, really. 4-0? I definitely didn't see that coming). "We said all along we aren't your typical eight seed. Obviously, we feel like we belong in the upper echelon of the Western Conference and a roller coaster year put us there. But we certainly knew we could make some noise."
So much noise in fact, a second series shutout for Jonas Hiller was hardly a blip on the radar screen last night, even though he's the only goalie in the league to do that so far this postseason. Maybe that's because Hiller made each of his saves look relatively pedestrian as he continued to swallow up pucks on shots from every angle, keeping them protected from hovering Sharks. And for the first time all series, Hiller didn't have to face much pressure on Sharks power plays, as the Ducks only gave San Jose two opportunities the entire night.
“Tonight everybody was fighting and giving a little more," Hiller said. "We definitely deserved to win. If we keep going that way, we definitely have a chance for that fourth win.”
Of course, he got help from the guys in front of him, notably Scott Niedermayer, and Jeremy Roenick was just left to shake his head when asked about Niedermayer after the game. “He skates so well, it looks like he’s not even trying," Roenick said. "And he never gets tired. He’s probably the best defenseman that I’ve ever seen. You go back to Bobby Orr, Lidstrom. I can’t remember seeing a better defenseman. He's one of the smartest guys I've ever seen."
Then with a smile he said, “He’s a great player. I hate him.”
About his own team, Roenick was less effusive. "For some reason," he said quietly, "we were stale."
The 4-0 defeat was the worst for the Sharks in their last 54 playoff games, and once again they hardly looked like the team that won more games during the regular season than any team in the league. San Jose coach Todd McLellan was equally dumbfounded about how his team came out for Game 4. "The only word I can use is disappointed," he said during a subdued press conference. "Our character was going to be questioned tonight, and it’ll be very interesting to see how we react in
Inevitably, this stat was being rolled out as early as last night: Of the 229 teams that have gone up 3-1 in a Stanley Cup Playoff series, 209 have gone on to win the series (91.3 percent).
Let's hope No. 210 comes tomorrow night in San Jose.
And speaking of that, there are plans in the works for a Ducks fan caravan (led by Ducks staffers) leaving tomorrow morning for Game 5. Stay tuned for details on that.
Updated April 23 at 4:51 p.m.
One of my first thoughts as the Ducks skated off the ice in the backwash of their 4-3 defeat in Game 3 was this:
I can't wait for Game 4.
That was more than 40 hours ago, and nothing since that time has made me any less antsy to drop the puck for this one tonight.
I'm tired of the analysis of Game 3, tired of talking about the San Jose power play, tired of hearing about the impact of Rob Blake and Dan Boyle, tired of coaches' press conferences and mind-numbing player sound bites like these:
“It’s team vs. team. Your job is to go out and try and help your team.”
- Scott Niedermayer
"In the end, it’s about winning, and we didn’t win the hockey game. They won the hockey game, so we can’t take any satisfaction in what we almost did. It’s about results. "
- Randy Carlyle
“When you get into a playoff series like this, playing the same team, it’s a game of adjustments after getting beat. I’m sure we’ll have to do that.”
- Scott Niedermayer
"Now it's 2-1. Still, we've got a big hill to climb. But it's obviously better to win than lose."
- Patrick Marleau
“You never want to go down 3-0 in a series,”
- Devin Setoguchi
“You would think we would realize it’s a lot easier to win a hockey game when you’re not killing penalties. Give them that many chances and they’re going to score. If you can’t see that you’re stupid.”
- Teemu Selanne
Okay, that last one wasn't too bad.
Still, I'm ready to see some hockey back in here again. I can't wait to see if tonight's game is even half as gut-wrenching as Game 3. I'm pumped to see how the Ducks come out for Game 4, a game that many have said could decide this series. The Ducks lose this one, and the Sharks slide into that so-called "driver's seat." If Anaheim takes it, the series is in their hands, with three chances to close it out.
You can't help but feel like tonight is all about that first goal, just like it's been the whole series and the whole year for the Ducks. In each of the first three games in this series, the first to score has won. And the last thing the Ducks want to do tonight is play catchup like they did for virtually all of Game 3. Getting out to that 1-0 lead has been kind to Anaheim all season, as they own a .791 win percentage when scoring first (third in the league). When giving up that first goal? A .205 win percentage (27th).
As a San Jose Shark might say, "You always want to be up 1-0 rather than down 1-0."
For the Ducks tonight, the key is in their own end, making fewer "stupid" penalties, doing a much better job of not passing the puck to San Jose sticks, keeping a keener defensive eye on guys like Blake and Boyle and hoping Jonas Hiller is Jonas Hiller again. In fact, here was the latest inspirational message scratched onto the grease board in the Ducks locker room by assistant coach Newell Brown, attributed to General George S. Patton:
“The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”
Uh, yeah. I think I'm ready to roll.
- - -
For those of you who missed Lindsay Soto's cleavage incident on VERSUS during her Game 3 interview with Rob Niedermayer, I hate to do it, but here it is.
- - -
I have no words for this. No words.
- - -
Bobby Ryan is in the finals of TSN's Play of the Year contest, against Calgary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. Ryan, of course, is in there for his magnificent spin-o-rama goal to give him a natural hat trick against the Kings. But somehow he's trailing to Kiprusoff's diving stick save in a game against Vancouver. It's a nice save and all, but should we really reward a guy for being woefully out of position? Ducks fans, you did a heck of a job stuffing the All-Star ballot box, now let's see you do it again by voting for Bobby's play.
- - -
At this point in the postseason, I have no idea who's going to win the Stanley Cup. But I can tell you who's not: the Vancouver Canucks. That's because a blog on the Vancouver Province newspaper's website gave a big middle finger to the hockey gods by posting an item that asks fans to send in their Stanley Cup parade route! Fans were asked to use Google maps to put together a parade route in advance of the Canucks seemingly immenent Stanley Cup title, with plans to post the best ones.
I don't get it, why don't they just use the same route they use the last time the Canucks won the ... oh wait, they've never won a Cup. Wise idea, guys.
All the more reason to want the Ducks to take this one tonight -- to get one step closer to maybe facing the 'Nucks down the road.
Updated April 22 at 10:55 a.m.
What, did you think it would be a sweep?
It was only a matter of time before the real San Jose Sharks -- and more to the point, the San Jose Sharks power play -- stood up in this series. Unfortunately for the Ducks, they just couldn't quite do enough last night to catch the Sharks.
But oh, did they try. Three times in that game when San Jose took one-goal leads, the Ducks fought back to tie it. But there was something different in the air when Patrick Marleau scored that second San Jose power play goal with 9:27 left in the game. And you could almost sense it when Corey Perry was shown hanging his head in the penalty box. For whatever reason, the once-vibrant energy seemed to be drained out of the entire building, including the team on the ice, and the Ducks just looked out of gas as they desperately tried to tie it one more time.
Perry's exasperation came from the penalty he took in the San Jose zone, when he tried to pick the pocket of defenseman Dan Boyle (who was just everywhere last night) and got slapped with a hooking call. “In that situation, that’s dumb, a dumb time to put your stick in, and it cost us,” Perry said. “I take full responsibility for that one. I was just trying to make a play, but I was trying to do too much.”
That instinct may have been forced by what was a rough night for Perry, who played more than 20 minutes without a shot on goal and had one of the Ducks' 13 giveaways on the night. Despite that lack of care for the puck, the fact that San Jose put a ton of traffic in front of the net and launched a troubling 20 shots in the first period alone, the Ducks never stopped fighting in what was a heck of a good playoff hockey game.
This one pretty much had it all: Seven combined goals, a ton of bone-rattling hits, a lingering tension between two teams that don't like each other, a whale of a fight between George Parros and Douglas Murray and for those watching on VERSUS -- even a little bit of skin.
That came courtesy of rinkside reporter Lindsay Soto, who showed so much cleavage while she leaned over the Ducks bench to interview an on-ice Rob Niedermayer midway through the second period, she was forced to tug on her unbuttoned sweater to cover up. (Something tells me someone in the TV truck mentioned something in her earpiece or she noticed where Niedermayer was gazing.) Either way, I've never seen Robbie do an interview with so much emotion.
The excitement started early last night, in an opening period in which the Ducks and Sharks combined for four goals on 28 shots. Have you ever been on a rollercoaster ride that whips you around numerous times, and even though it's incredibly thrilling, by the end you're kind of ready for it to stop? That's what the first period felt like last night. The Ducks went down early, they fought back to tie it. They went down again, they tied it again. Meanwhile, bodies were bouncing off walls, fists were flying and I was just counting the seconds until the horn so I could catch my breath.
And the way San Jose scored that first goal, with Drew Miller accidentally kicking it into his own net, it almost looked like an omen, that it wouldn't be Anaheim's night. But then the Ducks got a goofy one of their own, when Bobby Ryan put the puck on net and Evgeni Nabokov dragged it in with the back of his skate.
Then Boyle's goal with 6:53 left off a great Joe Thornton feed illustrated two things: Yes, San Jose still has a power play and yes, Joe Thornton is still very good. But James Wisniewski scored his first career playoff goal in a manner that indicated he should have a few more to come. He fired an absolute missile from the top of the right wing circle that came with such speed that the only body part Nabokov moved was his head.
Boyle got yet another one in the second as the Sharks swarmed three players around the net, indicative of the traffic they created around Hiller all night (something they didn't do much in Games 1 and 2). Pronger's rocket off a San Jose turnover was the fifth goal by a defenseman in the game, but the last of the scoring for the Ducks. Anaheim did turn things around in that period, however, holding the Sharks to just two shots over the final 14 minutes, partly because the Ducks didn't commit a single penalty. Their 13-8 shots advantage in the second was the first time they've led a period in that category all series, and they did it again in the third (9-7).
But as we hammered home in the first two games of the series, it's not about the shots -- it's about the shots that count. Unfortunately for the Ducks, Marleau's counted in a major way, and it came on yet another power play opportunity for San Jose. And although the Ducks gave up half as many of those as they did in the first two games, that didn't appease one Teemu Selanne.
"It's ridiculous. It's almost like hitting yourself in the head," Selanne said of the Ducks' repeated penalties. "Why? You've done a great job killing penalties. Why keep forcing things? You can make winning so much easier if you stay out of the penalty box."
Yeah, but ...
"There's no team in the league that if they're going to get 20 power plays in three games, they're not going to score eventually."
That's true, but if you consider ...
"No question. If you don't learn that you're stupid."
Yeah, but other than that ...
"It was one of those games," Selanne said, "we want to forget."
Okay, maybe that's true. But as much as the Ducks were disappointed with the way they came out in that game, they still hold the upper hand going into Thursday night's Game 4 at home.
“We’re still in the driver’s seat," said Perry, obviously cheering up a bit. "We’re still in great position. We have to use that home ice to our advantage. If we come out like we did in San Jose, we’re going to be all right.”
Said Hiller, "I don’t think anybody expected us to sweep this series. They are the best team in the league not just because they were lucky. They are very skilled over there. They are a good team. I think we can play better, and that’s what we’re going to do."
And like it or not, Ducks fans, we've got ourselves a series.
- - -
Congratulations to Bobby Ryan for earning a well-deserved nomination for the Calder Trophy, given to the league's top rookie. Bobby led all NHL rookies in scoring, despite missing the first 18 games of the season. Although, he'll have his work cut out for him to beat out Columbus goalie Steve Mason, who pretty much carried the Blue Jackets to their first-ever playoff appearance. (Although, they're pretty much bowing out with hardly a whimper in the first round against Detroit.)
Updated April 21 at 2:52 p.m.
Under normal circumstances, a 2-0 series lead going into two games in your home rink would elicit a wealth of confidence. But right now, Anaheim Ducks fans are kind of taking a wait-and-see approach starting with tonight's Game 3 at Honda Center.
That's because the Ducks, once dominant in their own building, have been just a tick better than mediocre there this year. Their maddening 20-18-3 record at home was 24th in the league this season, and a far cry from the imposing 80-25-18 mark they racked up in the three seasons prior.
But here's why that has nothing to do with tonight's game: Most of that home record came from a Ducks team that was still struggling to find itself. As Ryan Getzlaf said, "Everything was a problem for a while this year. Not just home ice."
In other words, we sucked for a good chunk of this season. And playing at home didn't help stop the sucking all that much.
But that Ducks team is long forgotten, thanks to a 10-2-1 closing stretch to the regular season and two mammoth playoff wins against the so-called best team in the league. This Ducks team? I can't help but feel that playing at home -- in front of what promises to be a raucous, orange towel-waving Honda Center crowd -- will only make them better.
During that 13-game run that vaulted them into the playoffs, the Ducks won four of six at home. The two losses: to an Edmonton team that got 51 saves from Dwayne Roloson and to a Sharks team that ... well, they're the best team in the league. And don't forget the Ducks were on the verge of tying that game in the final moments, only to be let down in the end by both their attackers and (some might say) the officials.
"Down the stretch, when we started playing our best hockey, home or away, it didn’t really matter," Getzlaf said. "Those are the positives we’re taking on our home ice.”
In other words, right about now that 2008-09 home record is as insignificant and as long-forgotten as Lindsay Lohan's career. Guys like Ryan Whitney, James Wisniewski, Petteri Nokelainen and Erik Christensen weren't here for most of that. And the chemistry and re-focus that the acquisition of those guys brought with them wasn't here either. Bottom line, if the Ducks play the way they played in Games 1 and 2 (minus the penalties) they'll be just as good in this building as they've been in all the others. Probably even better.
That being said, the Sharks are going to come out with a fury tonight, and the Ducks have to keep fighting to avoid the momentum of this series from flipping over.
Scott Niedermayer was talking about keeping up the strong play from Games 1 and 2, but he could have been referring to that home record when he was speaking to the media yesterday. "The past," he said, "doesn't get you anything next game."
Do we really have to wait another five hours for this thing?
- - -
Honda Center work crews have been scrambling since last night to set up for Ducks hockey following two nights of Britney Spears (no, I did not attend). That included the transformation from stage to ice rink that was completed in time for today's morning skate. Not to mention, they're still putting the finishing touches on "The Playoff Spot," which I can't wait to check out when it opens at 4:30. (Even more reason to get here early for that; there will be heavy traffic in the area tonight since the Angels play the Tigers at 7:05.)
The O.C. Register website did a pretty cool time-lapse video of the transformation inside, which you can see by clicking here. Actually, it's not time-lapse; that's really how fast they work. Incredible.
You might want to turn the sound down though, since for some reason they decided to accompany the video with music that sounds like the closing scene of a weepy sports movie. I half-expected to see the Notre Dame football team carrying Rudy on their shoulders.
- - -
It's been pointed out that there is a eerie pattern to Jonas Hiller's performance so far in the playoffs, which granted, is only two games old. It was three years ago that Ilya (Why You Haf to Be Mad?) Bryzgalov shined for the Ducks in his postseason debut and three years before that when J.S. Giguere dragged the Ducks to the Stanley Cup Final in his first playoffs.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2012 Conn Smythe winner: J.P. Levasseur.
One thing is for certain, Hiller is getting the same media attention that those guys got, and he's handling it all with aplomb. Several reporters have huddled around him in the last couple of days, meaning they've heard the word "yeah" more times than they can count.
“It’s not too bad,” Hiller said after the skate this morning. “I don’t really mind if it’s in the morning. I still have enough time to focus on the game tonight. It’s still going to be the same focus. It doesn’t really matter how many people are talking to me.”
According to Hiller, it's the same old story as it was back home in Switzerland -- just in a different language.
“I’m kind of used to it because back home I was a No. 1 goalie and an experienced guy, so everybody wanted to talk to me in Switzerland, too," he said. "I think I can also be proud of it because it shows I’m on the right track and I’m doing something good. It definitely makes it easier that I’ve been through the whole thing already."
Updated April 20 at 2:38 p.m.
A few updates following this morning's blog post.
- The relatively small locker room at Anaheim Ice was fairly packed after this afternoon's practice with way more than the usual gathering of reporters. Brendan Mikkelson was one of the young Ducks to come off the ice later in the day and as soon as he stepped into the room, he kind of did a double-take and went, "Whoa." We'll have some video from several Ducks on the site later in the day.
- Two Ducks -- Francois Beauchemin and Todd Marchant -- were absent from practice because their wives gave birth this morning. Beauchemin's wife, Marie Claude, gave birth to a daughter, Emily, who weighed in at 7 lbs., 13 oz. and is 19.5 inches long. The two already have a son, Samuel. Later this morning, Marchant and wife Caroline welcomed a new baby boy named Bradley David, who came in at 7 lbs., 6 oz. and is 20 inches long. The Marchants already have girls named Lillian and Ashley and a son named Tim whom Ducks fans are well familiar with. All babies and mothers are doing great.
- Seats are still available for Games 3 and 4 at Honda Center, where we will be unveiling a new hospitality area called "The Playoff Spot." The area, which will open at 4:30 p.m. before both games, will feature large-screen plasma TVs to watch other playoff games prior to Ducks-Sharks. Meanwhile, there will be plenty of food and drink options to keep you occupied, while watching games like Vancouver-St. Louis or Detroit-Columbus ... you know, to scout the Ducks' possible second-round opponent. The only thing I don't like about it is that I'm forbidden to grab a beer or two there before our games. Yeah, we have silly rules like that.
- Tim Kawakami, the excellent columnist from the San Jose Mercury News, wrote about the state of the Sharks in a blog item he posted last night. Kawakami writes: Now is the time for the Sharks to brace themselves for the hell of hearing about all of their past playoff disappointments – and add a new two-game chapter to the storyline.
He also takes some shots at this quote from Sharks coach Todd McLellan: “We’re not getting the Puck Luck. I don’t think there’s any doubt. It’s not like we’ve been spanked and have got our tail between our legs.” Kawakami writes: Ah, yes, the Puck Luck. I understand a lot of that – the Sharks have out-shot Anaheim a combined 79 to 53, yet have been out-goaled (and out-lucked) 5-2.
And out-victoried 2 games to 0. The Sharks have drawn more penalties (and went 0-for-6 in the PP for the second straight game), created more chances, and, especially in Game 2, worked to get into the tough places in a solid rate. And yet. Darn Puck Luck – and a hot Duck goaltender, Jonas Hiller. I guess Puck Luck explains the third-period goals by non-stars Andrew Ebbett and Drew Miller.
And the only thing more harsh is the comments on the page from the Sharks fans who appear to be already jumping ship, including this one: I can see the offseason yielding a trade of Thornton or Marleau, or even both. It should be interesting, but I can safely declare the Sharks as done.
- Speaking of blogs, our "celebrity blogger" Jessica Rose has posted one following Game 2. Among her comments is this: My experience watching the game started about 45 minutes late. Tried listening to it on the radio but that really isn't the same so I packed up at the end of the 2nd period and watched the 3rd period alone on a massive screen at a sports bar. Unfortunately I was surrounded by Sharks fans...but I had the last laugh tonight.
Alone in a sports bar? Watching the Ducks? God bless her.
Updated April 20 at 11:48 a.m.
Okay, maybe now I'm a little surprised.
As much as I've thought the Ducks could take this series with the Sharks, winning the first two in unfriendly HP Pavilion was beyond my wildest dreams. But here the Ducks are, heading back to Anaheim with a 2-0 series lead that absolutely nobody thought they could gain.
The Ducks captured Game 2 in much the same manner they took Game 1 -- by prevailing despite a bushelful of San Jose shots on goal and power play opportunities.
And the Ducks seemed to defy logic in Game 2 by (temporarily) proving three staples of playoff hockey seemingly overrated: 1. Shots on goal; 2. Man advantage opportunities; 3. Playoff experience.
The Sharks threw 44 shots on net, 42 of them saved by the unshakeable Jonas Hiller. The Sharks had six power play opportunities for the second straight night, all of them squashed. And the three Ducks goals came from three guys -- Bobby Ryan, Andrew Ebbett and Drew Miller -- who had a combined five games of playoff experience coming into this series, all of whom started the year in AHL Iowa. And not to mention, the Ducks got another monster game from a guy (Hiller) playing in just his second postseason game.
Here's what's not overrated in the playoffs: Timely scoring, rock-solid goaltending and an indomitable will. And the Ducks had all of those things for the second straight game.
The scoring started with Ryan on the power play just 3:45 into the game, to give the Ducks an early advantage that was just gargantuan. The Sharks were clearly hoping to establish themselves early following a Game 1 they didn't think they should have lost, and Ryan stomped on that with a goal that has to be one of the finest of the playoffs so far. At first glance, it looked like Ryan simply sniped a wrist shot through before flying to the ice, but replays showed that his initial shot rang the post, and he somehow chipped the rebound home while flying over Evgeni Nabokov. Just the photo alone gives me chills.
Ebbett gave the Ducks a 2-1 lead in the third with a bad-angle goal that came as such a surprise that VERSUS rinkside reporter Lindsay Soto interrupted her own report with, "Uh, goal ... guys?" (which you wouldn't have heard on the telecast locally, of course, but you can hear it on this replay of the goal). Ebbett was able to see an opening after taking a pass from behind the net from Teemu Selanne, and he flung it off Nabokov and in.
Less than four minutes later, Drew Miller gave his team that all-important two-goal lead when he managed to jam the puck through three guys (including Nabokov) and seemingly put the game away.
But the Ducks went into their prevent defense mode from that point and it came back to haunt them. “We stopped skating in the last six minutes," Randy Carlyle said. "Once we scored the goal we went into retreat mode, and they activate their defensemen, and throw everything they have at you.”
Just 37 seconds after the Miller goal, Jonathan Cheechoo made a pretty move to elude Scott Niedermayer and scored to pull within a goal and prompt his semi-annoying celebration. Forget about the fact that Cheechoo should have been whistled for interference seconds earlier when he set a pick on Ryan to knock him to the ice and take him out of the play. It was still a nice move.
But that was all the Sharks would get. Hiller held his ground to add to his 42 saves on the night, as he continued to dazzle in this series. "You just try to keep doing the same thing and you try not to be thinking too much," Hiller said.
Yeah, keep doing that.
That's not to say Hiller didn't get some help. The few times he allowed rebounds, they were swept away by Ducks defenders. And he again got some love from the pipes, notably when Christian Erhoff's shot from the point banged the post with the little more than two minutes left. That was just one of the many times the Ducks escaped on the night, notably on those increasingly troubling San Jose power play opportunities. For the second straight game, the Sharks had six of them, but give it up to the Ducks penalty killers -- notably guys like Todd Marchant and Mike Brown -- they got it done again. We just, you know, wish they didn't have to.
“I don’t think one guy is happy about how the game went,” said Selanne, seemingly speaking for both locker rooms. "We can't take those penalties. I know we have the reputation as the big, bad Ducks, but that's over."
Said Miller, “I think we came in here and got a little lucky, but I think we also executed very well, too. It goes both ways. They hit some posts, Hillsy made some big saves and we got some lucky bounces.”Lucky? Maybe. But to quote Dwight Schrute: "A real man makes his own luck. Billy Zane, Titanic."
In other words, yeah, they got a few bounces. But somehow it's the playoff winners that find a way to get the good breaks, the fortuitous bounces. Playoff losers end up lamenting them and wondering what might have been.
Even Selanne was wondering how in the heck the Ducks managed to get all three of their goals from playoff neophytes. "It's usually that the young guys go out there and do the work," he said with a laugh, "and I pick up the cherries."
I don't know if we even need to look it up, but when's the last time three guys who spent the beginning of the season in the minors all scored their first career NHL playoff goals to lead their team to victory?
This one has been looked up: The 66 times the home team has fallen behind 2-0 in an NHL playoff series, 16 have gone on win the series (24.2 percent). You may recall the Ducks were breaking out those numbers last year when they lost the opening two games to Dallas at Honda Center.
“We’d rather have two wins rather than two losses," Carlyle said, not exactly a quote that will make headlines. But at least Carlyle delivered that with a dry head of hair. He didn't have that luxury after Game 1, when some classy Sharks fan threw something at the Ducks bench following that loss. Apparently they had the strength to hold onto their beverages this time.
This time not smelling of Bud Light, Carlyle made sure to deliver to his team his normal message of Enjoy this one for 10 minutes and move on.
"This one's over and we're going to enjoy it for 10 minutes, like Randy said," Ebbett said. "Once we hit the showers it's Tuesday night."
We'll talk more about that game tomorrow morning, including another overrated factor -- the Ducks' relative lack of success at Honda Center. For now, the Ducks have taken control of this series, and the "here we go again" panic has to be setting in up in San Jose.
“We feel like we’re playing good hockey. We really do,” Joe Thornton said last night. “We just need to continue to play the way we’ve been playing.”
His teammate, Dan Boyle, doesn't really see it that way. “Some guys have a different attitude,” he said. “I look at it as black and white. We lost the game. I don’t really feel good about stuff. I’m different, but you’ve got to win the game. That’s the bottom line.”
And this from coach Todd McLellan: "We're disappointed, but I don't think there's the doubt factor that's crept in."
Mmm, maybe a little.
Updated April 17 at 11:48 a.m.
The hardest thing about writing is knowing how to start. And from late last night through this morning, as I've been thinking of how to lead off today, words like "unbelievable" and "stunning" have bounced around in my head to describe last night's 2-0 victory over the Sharks in Game 1.
But you know what? Forget that.
I'm not surprised. I'm not shocked. I don't think the Ducks stole that one last night. This is a team that has proven that it knows how to win. That it hardly flinches in the face of adversity. That it can win games in unfriendly buildings. That it knows how to win playoff hockey games. And the Ducks proved it again last night.
Granted, the Ducks certainly could have been better. Oh, could they have been better. They took an alarming six penalties (three in the second period by Rob Niedermayer alone), but killed every power play. They only managed 17 shots, but connected on two of them. They gave up 35, but Jonas Hiller saved them all.
Ah, Jonas Hiller. Could he possibly be more beloved by Ducks fans right now? Sure, he had a little help from his three red-painted aluminum friends that sit behind his back, but he was outstanding in his first-ever playoff game. His shutout of the Sharks was just the third time they've been blanked this season -- by J.S. Giguere on Oct. 17 (4-0) and by Detroit's Ty Conklin (of all people) on Dec. 18 (6-0).
More than just making those saves, Hiller frequently made sure the first save was the last one. Time and again, especially on those 11 penalty kill saves, he swallowed up pucks rather than letting them trickle in front of him. Then again, even if the rebounds had been there, it didn't look like the Sharks would have done much with them. They had a problem all night creating traffic in front of the net, as the area around the crease remained as clear as an Orange County toll road.
And if Jonasty was at all rattled by his first NHL playoff game, in front of probably the loudest crowd in the league, he never showed it. "The intensity, it's a little higher," he said. "It's not too bad."
This photo pretty much paints the picture of his demeanor.
Ironically enough, the Ducks have a dozen guys who have won a Stanley Cup, the Sharks acquired six Cup winners over the summer, and the hero of last night's game is a guy whose only NHL playoff experience entering last night was sitting on the end of the bench and watching.
But at the other end of the rink, the Ducks got the only goals they'd need from two guys who have definitely been there before -- Scott Niedermayer and Ryan Getzlaf. Niedermayer put the Ducks on the board with a smooth one-timer off a nice cross-ice feed from Getzlaf that had our group of Ducks staffers absolutely losing our minds. Up until that point, 5:18 into the third period, it had been typical hard-nosed playoff hockey, neither team allowing much in the way of scoring chances. Although, the Ducks did nearly bury themselves with those six penalties (I'm not going to mention what I thought of a couple of the calls), but came out of the mess sparkling each time.
The last near-costly penalty came from Getzlaf, who went from "Dude, what are you doing?" to "Dude, you're huge!" in a little more than two minutes. Getzlaf's elbowing minor looked like it would doom the Ducks, as you had to feel that San Jose was more than due to connect with their phenomenal power play unit. But the Ducks held their ground one last time, and the magic happened after Getzlaf rocketed out of the box. Marc-Edouard Vlasic turned the puck thanks to Mike Brown getting his stick on it, and it caromed toward Getzlaf, who kicked it to himself before slinging a wrist shot off the inside of the pipe and in. And in a flash, the Ducks went from looking like they'd lose their lead to pretty much putting Game 1 away.
For both Getzlaf and Niedermayer, it was their only shots of the entire night. And by the way, in their last 10 road games, the Ducks are a ridiculous 8-0-2.
And even though the goals didn't come until the third period, there was plenty of action in the early going. One of the scarier moments came 12 minutes into the first period, when all of us thought Bobby Ryan had taken a high stick to the face. But replays showed it was actually the blade of Rob Blake's skate, after Blake slipped and his left foot came flying up. Ryan flipped to the ice and checked his face, which this time was cut free, as Ducks fans held their collective breaths. Good God, that was scary.
Both teams got off to slow starts in putting pressure in front of the net, but only the Sharks broke out of that, throwing 27 at Hiller over the final two periods. But none of them got through, and the Sharks have now gone 147 minutes, 24 seconds without a playoff goal, dating back to their four-overtime Game 6 elimination against Dallas in last year's conference semis.
That streak, however, is not going to last, especially if the Ducks continue the parade to the penalty box. “I don’t think you can say it was a perfect hockey game on our part by any stretch of the imagination,” Randy Carlyle said. “We took far too many penalties. We’ve talked and talked and talked -- and talked and talked -- about taking penalties. We’re slow learners, I guess.”
But have you talked? I didn't catch that.
"We still played a pretty good game, but we know they’re going to step it up next game," said Chris Pronger, who was one Duck who did not experience the feel of the cold penalty box seat. "You have to continue to elevate your game and kind of get better, which has kind of been our edict all year long, especially the last month of the season here, leading up to the playoffs.”
Hiller, who heard the clang of those pucks off goalposts louder than anyone, admitted the Ducks "got kind of lucky." And he added, "Three more wins we need to keep going, and every game is going to be a battle. For sure, they are the best team in the league. Now
Indeed, if you listen carefully, you can almost hear the panic coming out of the Silicon Valley. But then again, they've been in this position before. They lost Game 1 to Calgary in last year's first round before winning that series in seven games.
But the Ducks have this going for them, if I can steal a line from AP writer Greg Beacham: The San Jose Sharks worked for six arduous months to earn home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The eighth-seeded Anaheim Ducks took it away in 60 minutes.
I like that. The bad news is, we have to wait three days before we see if they can do it again.
Updated April 16 at 1:14 p.m.
Let's get this thing going already.
It's been four long days since we learned the Ducks and Sharks would face off in the first round, and I've grown sick of all the speculation. No more talk about matchups, who has the edge here, who has the edge there. No more talk about who's in net for Anaheim. No more talk about whether they can stay out of the penalty box. No more hearing the word "Presidents' Trophy." No more talk about the so-called pressure on the Sharks.
You want pressure? Let's see what it's like for San Jose if the Ducks win Game 1. Now you're talking pressure.
Word out of San Jose (it's killing me not being there right now) is the Ducks skated this morning with their lines pretty much intact from the rest of the week. Here's what we're looking at:
Bobby Ryan-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Erik Christensen-Andrew Ebbett-Teemu Selanne
Drew Miller-Todd Marchant-Rob Niedermayer
Mike Brown-Petteri Nokelainen-
Chris Pronger-Ryan Whitney
Scott Niedermayer-James Wisniewski
Francois Beauchemin-Sheldon Brookbank
And probably Jonas Hiller in net.
For the Sharks:
Patrick Marleau-Joe Thornton-Devin Setoguchi
Milan Michalek-Joe Pavelski-Ryane Clowe
Travis Moen-Marcel Goc-Jonathan Cheechoo
Jody Shelley-Jeremy Roenick-Mike Grier (and maybe Thomas Plihal)
And probably Brian Boucher in net.
Not surprisingly, it seems that everyone with a media credential and/or a blog (God forbid) is picking the Sharks to win this thing, thought that will certainly change if the Ducks can steal one tonight.
"I don't think people outside our room expect too much of us," said Ryan Whitney yesterday. "We know we've played real well the past 15 games and we've been in the playoffs since a month ago, it seems. So we expect to continue to play the way we have been and play a good overall game. We expect a good game out of each other and we really don't mind what other people think."
Even Dan Wood, the Ducks beat writer for the O.C. Register, predicts the Sharks in six. His breakdown of the series is part of some excellent coverage from the Register (and its website) already in this series. Today, that includes a feature by Wood on Jonas Hiller, one on little Andrew Ebbett from Mark Whicker and a cute story on Ducks fan mail by Marcia Smith. I'm partial to that last one since I'm the one who took that outstanding photo of Ducks staffers Maureen Nyeholt and Christina Morrow, two of the cooler gals we have working here. Here's a sampling from the story:
In a decade of sorting mail, Nyeholt has seen thousands of letters, tubes containing team posters begging for autographs, a box with a coconut for players to sign, cards with topless photos of female admirers asking for a date with a player and a package weighted with rusty horseshoe off a Clydesdale as a token of good luck.
Even though I get my share of fan (e)mail, never has the line between "player" and "blogger" been more clear.
The TV schedule for the rest of this series has been finalized, as Game 3 will be on VERSUS and Game 7 (if necessary) will be on FSN West. I assume that means Game 3 will be in HD, for those of you who have been emailing me asking if FS Prime Ticket will be doing the games in HD (they unfortunately are not). See, the players get the topless photos; I get the "Why aren't the games in HD???"
Tonight's game on FS Prime Ticket will be shown at watch parties located at Oggi's Pizza and Brewing Co. locations in Garden Grove (apparently not far from The Block) and Mission Viejo.
Scott Niedermayer will be on the Jim Rome Show (KLAC 570 locally) at approximately 10:05 a.m. tomorrow. Let's hope he's talking about what the Ducks did to win Game 1.
A game, by the way, that can't get here soon enough.
April 15 at 2:14 p.m.
Book it, the Anaheim Ducks will defeat the San Jose Sharks in the first round.
That is, if the following things happen:
- Anaheim's top line is better than San Jose's top line
Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan have been a major reason for the Ducks' success this season, and notably in that 10-2-1 run to finish the season. And in Anaheim's 5-2 victory in San Jose on April 4 (a game I'll mention again about a dozen times) they were dazzling, with a combined three goals and five assists. In that game, and the very next night in Anaheim, Sharks coach Todd McLellan paired his top line, a trio centered by Joe Thornton, against the Ducks' so-called "RPG Line."
“Both coaches have their own strategy on what they want to do," Getzlaf said yesterday. "They tend to play Thornton against us quite a bit. I guess we’ll just see what they have and we’ll go from there. You know Randy as well I do. He likes his line matchups, too. We could spend the first little while kind of feeling each other out and see who we’re going to play against.”
McLellan of course hasn't indicated whether he will try that again with a line that is expected to be made up of Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi. But if he does, it will give a pretty clear indication of who's winning the top-line battle.
“It’s a great challenge for us as a line, Perry said. “They’ve been strong all year. We’re trying to outdo them, and it’s just a battle within the game, and you’ve got to win those battles.”
- Pressure and jinxes play bigger roles than they should
Much has been said about the pressure the Sharks are feeling after having so many good teams not advance past the second round the past three seasons. And with possibly their best team yet, they are feeling it even more. I tend to think that concept is a little overrated, that the weight of expectations is pretty much forgotten by every guy on that team once he steps onto the ice.
Another overrated concept is the so-called Presidents' Trophy jinx, as only once in the past six years has the Presidents' winner gone on to capture the Cup. The Sharks locked it up this year with the best regular season record in the league
But then again, let's hope these are actual concerns.
- Joe Thornton continues to be "Mr. November"
As good as the 6-4, 223-pound former Hart Trophy winner has been for the last several regular seasons, he's got an unfortunate reputation for not keeping it going in the postseason. Call him the A-Rod of hockey. As much as he carries the Sharks all year, he has never gotten them past the second round. And he couldn't do it another five times when he was in Boston. Thornton has 842 career points in 836 regular season games, just more than a point per contest, and he's a career +114. In the playoffs? Just 48 points in 70 games, or 0.69 points per game, a drop of a little more than 31 percent, and he's a lifetime -9 in the postseason.
You shut down Thornton, as plenty of teams have been able to do in the playoffs, and you shut down the Sharks attack. “He’s obviously a guy that creates a lot of space and whoever he’s got on his wings and he can certainly find the back of the net," Ryan says. We’ve got to make sure not to give Joe time and space, because the other guys feed off him quite a bit.”
- The Ducks continue to own the road
Anaheim tied for second in the Western Conference in road wins with 22, one more than the Sharks, despite San Jose notching the best overall record in the league. And they're taking on a Sharks team that only lost at home nine times all season, including that 5-2 loss to the Ducks on April 4 (there that is again).
The Ducks desperately need at least one win in Games 1 and 2 in the Shark Tank, a notoriously tough place to play with possibly the loudest fans in the league. If they can't get at least a split there, they would dig a major hole for themselves coming back home, especially considering they haven't been all that hot at Honda Center this year.
- The Ducks behave themselves
Stay out of the box, stay out of the box, stay out of the box. The Ducks were buried in last year's first round when they repeatedly took penalties and set the Stars up for a 6-for-13 power play performance in the first two games. And they likely won't have any better luck against the San Jose power play, which was ranked third in the league this season thanks to the work of Thornton, Marleau and Setoguchi around the net and a presence at the point in from Dan Boyle and Rob Blake.
“A big part of the problem last year was we were very undisciplined against Dallas, a team that had a good power play,” says J.S. Giguere. “We can’t wait two games before we start being disciplined because it could cost us the series. Stay out of the box, finish your checks, but be the instigator. Don’t be the retaliator. That’s going to go a long way in us being successful in their building.”
In six games between the teams this season, the Ducks averaged 8.2 penalties per game, while the Sharks had just 5.6. Of course, that includes the rash of penalties handed out to the Ducks for that postgame melee at Honda Center on April 5 (14 penalties total).
The Ducks were shorthanded this year 385 times, fourth-worse in the league, and 79 more times than San Jose.
“If we stay disciplined, if we stay composed, it’s a benefit for us," Perry said. "It keeps our PK guys fresh. They can play a regular shift.”
- The officials behave themselves
Your average Ducks fan would estimate that of the 442 minor penalties called on the Ducks this year, 400 of them were terrible calls. That number may be a little high, but there has been a curious imbalance this season between the penalties called against the Ducks and the ones not called on the other guys.
(By the way, Helene Elliott writes on the L.A. Times website that the league will be sending a representative to scrutinize the officials work in the series, something that rarely occurs for Ducks or Kings games.)
The topic of questionable calls against the Ducks has been broached time and again by fans, earlier this season by GM Bob Murray and lately by Randy Carlyle.
“To some degree, I think the reputation that we’ve had historically is hurting us,” Carlyle said. “We’re not saying we haven’t committed fouls, but when we play in the offensive zone for the number of minutes we’ve played, and watch what other teams do to defend our players, and if we do the same thing -- it doesn’t seem there’s an equal playing field at times.”
And even though he's a bit of a lunatic, we'll run the quote from Don Cherry again, just to show it's not only us.
“I’ll tell you one thing, I just hope Anaheim gets a break this year," he said. "I mean, I’m not saying the referees say ‘let’s get Anaheim,’ but they really get stiffed. I’ve checked it out, they have had to kill 85 more power plays than they get. I’ve watched them all year, and I’ve got to say they get stiffed. And I just hope when they get in the playoffs, I know they’re a rough, tough team, and I know we’re going in a new direction, but I just hope they get a fair shot."
You know what? I do too.
- Jonas Hiller gets it done
All signs point to Hiller getting the nod in net for the Ducks, especially after Giguere said this earlier this week: "I don't anticipate playing. I won't lie to you. Jonas is a great young goalie and I know he's going to do the job. On my end, I've just got to get ready, prepare and do the things that are needed.
"Obviously, this is not the scenario that I like," he said. "It's not in my hands right now. You've got to respect the way things are going. Accept your position. Once the playoffs come, you've got to be a team guy. It's about the team now, not about the individual."So that pretty much means it's Hiller, a guy with exactly zero games of NHL playoff experience, though he's seen postseason pressure in the Swiss leagues.
"I was never on the ice so far over here in a playoff game but I think I have quite a lot of experience from back home," he said. "Even though it's not the same league it's still the same procedure: You play seven games, you've got to win four to get to the next round and that's going to be the same.
"I played a couple of Game 7's so I'm not too worried about it. Sure, it's going to be a new experience and if I get a start hopefully I will enjoy it."
And if he proves shaky? The Ducks have the best postseason goalie in the league just waiting to get his shot.
- "Big Mo" plays a factor
As in, momentum. The Ducks went 10-2-1 in their last 13 games, including a remarkable 7-0-2 on the road. San Jose went 5-4-1 to close the season, including losses to two teams -- Phoenix and Los Angeles -- that were making tee times during the intermissions.
There's nothing more dangerous than a team who comes into the playoffs hot. And there is nothing more unsettling than a team who arrives on fumes.
- Nabby is shabby
Evgeni Nabokov's play in net is going to be a huge factor in San Jose's playoff success, and the Ducks have had varied success against him this year. He's pitched two shutouts against Anaheim this year, but gave up five goals in that April 5 game (there it is again) and four goals in an Oct. 17 Ducks victory at home.
Goaltending becomes monumental at this time of year, and this one could come down to which masked man is better.
- Prediction? Ducks in seven.
Come on, what did you think I was going to say?
Updated April 14 at 3:58 p.m.
The Ducks had their final practice at Honda Center before they head to San Jose tomorrow morning, and this was the message assistant coach Newell Brown scribbled on the grease board in the locker room:
WELCOME TO THE PLAY-OFFS
IT'S A NEW SEASON!!
Then below it, as he often does, he included a quote from a famous person. This one read:
"I AM ALWAYS DOING THINGS I CAN'T DO. THAT'S HOW I GET TO DO THEM."
I'm not entirely sure what the meaning of the quote was, but I got a kick out of the fact that below it, Newell wrote:
Guess he felt the need to add that last part. I hope the next time he puts up a quote from Socrates on the board, he doesn't add, "FAMOUS THINKER DUDE."
One of the major topics discussed by Randy Carlyle after today's session was the Ducks' tendency to lose their cool and commit needless penalties. And that was on display against the Sharks at Honda Center back on April 5. And here's what Carlyle offered:
“The higher the level of games and the more pressure that surrounds the games, usually leads to emotions, at times, running out of check. Those are the things that we’ve had our fair share of issues with as far as allowing emotions to control us. We cannot allow that to happen. Successful teams have the ability to channel emotion in a positive direction, and that’s what we’re going to ask our players to do.”
If the NHL listens to Don Cherry, the Ducks might get a little more love from the officials in this series. Said Cherry on an NHL conference call hyping the playoffs: “I just hope the Ducks get a break this year. They had something like 85 more power plays against them than for them. I watch their games. It gets ridiculous after a while. Last year in the first round they had something like eight straight power plays against them.”
As far as the goaltending goes, one thing Carlyle of course wouldn't comment on is which goalie he's going to start in Game 1, and I still get a kick out of reporters -- here to cover the playoffs and unfamiliar with Randy's ways -- asking that very question. But he did say this about Jonas Hiller, who has no NHL playoff experience: “He’s played in tense situations. He’s played in world championships. He’s played in club championships. He’s played at a higher level than the American Hockey League. He’s been on the world stage, so any player who has been there can use those experiences and then fall back to that.”
So, does that mean it's Hiller in net? No idea.
The one thing we do know -- you'll get to watch it on TV here in Orange County. I'm getting a lot of emails and seeing a lot of message board chatter about the local television schedule for the first round. And we need to set things straight. The TV schedule won't be officially announced until later today, but rest assured that most of the games will be on FSN Prime Ticket. There is a possibility of a conflict during Game 3 (if the Lakers have a playoff game), in which case that game could be on FSN West, or it could be on Versus locally. Don't have Versus? Well, find a way to get it. Can't? You could always attend one of two watch parties being held at two different Oggi's Pizza locations -- in Mission Viejo and Garden Grove (we'll have that officially posted later as well).
Every game of the series will be broadcast on Versus, but when it's also available on FSN, the Versus feed will be blacked out in the Ducks market.
So, not to be that guy, but just relax everybody. Ducks-Sharks will be on TV.
- - -
So, remember last year when Lauren Conrad of "The Hills" was sort of serving as a celebrity blogger last year, covering the Ducks during the playoffs? And remember how she turned fans off immediately when she admitted to being a Kings fan and was asking readers to fill her in on the Ducks? Well, apparently NHL.com has moved on and now we have actor William Fichtner ("Prison Break" and the phenomenal movie "Go") taking the reins, along with a fetching actress by the name of Jessica Rose. Jessica apparently is in the TV show "Greek" and was in the movie "I Know Who Killed Me," better known as, "I Know Who Killed Lindsay Lohan's Career." She's also apparently in an HBO internet-based shot called "Hooking Up" that I've somehow never heard of. Here is a snippet from Jessica's first blog post:
I may not be an expert but I know more than most people would give me credit for. For some reason, most boys can’t seem to understand I’m not interested in the game so that I can ‘look cute’ in a Ducks jersey; I’m interested in it because I actually love the game.
She proves it by writing:
In fact, I now know all the words to the ‘Free Credit Report’ jingle and can imitate Jiggy saying “Hi, I’m J.S Giguere from the Anaheim Ducks and welcome to my loft” like no other. All you fans that watched from home last year will know EXACTLY what I'm talking about!
And this is from her second post, which went up today:
So the Ducks are playing San Jose in the first round. In my opinion, this is far better than us playing Detroit.
And she mentions visiting the Ducks website to check out the poll we put up about which team fans would rather the Ducks face in the first round.
I think I'm in love.
- - -
Hey, Stanley Cup. Say hello to your mother for me.
Updated April 13 at 2:24 p.m.
It's Ducks-Sharks in the first round -- and that's just the way I wanted it.
After getting past the disappointment of not notching the sixth seed following the shootout loss in Phoenix (more on that later), I found myself rooting hard for the St. Louis Blues yesterday afternoon. Just to review, a win by the Blues over the ready-for-the-end-of-the-season Avs meant the Ducks would fall to the eighth seed and play San Jose. And that's exactly what happened, as the Blues rode goaltender Chris Mason (probably the single-biggest reason for St. Louis' remarkbable late-season charge) to a 1-0 victory over an Avs team that already had one foot on the first tee.
That left the Ducks with a first round date with San Jose, which I, for one, had been hoping for. Yeah, I know Detroit has some goaltending problems and have looked pretty beatable down the stretch. But I wanted the Sharks, and partly because it's a much easier fan road trip (I won't be travelling with the team in the first round). And yeah, I know they're the best team in the league and they simply don't lose at home (a 5-2 Ducks victory there nine days ago not withstanding). And it's going to be a heck of a tough series for Anaheim. But ever since that volatile finish to the April 5 game here at Honda Center, I've wanted these guys again. (And by the way, you can guarantee Sharks fans weren't rooting for the Blues yesterday afternoon. Between the Ducks and St. Louis, who do you think they'd rather face in the first round?)
And after all, we can have Detroit in the second round. As much natural pressure is on the Wings to repeat as Stanley Cup champs -- a tall task with a mediocre combo of Chris Os(not so)good and Ty Conklin in net -- it's nothing compared to the expectations the Sharks have to be putting on themselves. After boasting one of the best regular season teams the last three seasons, the Sharks have failed to get past the second round each time. That disappointment has led to some pretty impatient fans and one fired coach (Ron Wilson, who gave way to former Detroit assistant Todd McLellan prior to this season). Now this Sharks team is seemingly better than ever, having won the Presidents' Trophy with the help of a ridiculously torrid start to their season. So, the pressure to parlay a strong first 82 into their first Stanley Cup title? I say it's more intense than ever.
“Momentum is a funny thing,” Chris Pronger said yesterday. “I’ve won the Presidents’ Trophy and been on the so-called favorite team [with St. Louis in 2000, which lost to the Sharks in seven in the first round]. There is a lot of pressure on them, being the Presidents’ Trophy winner and having all these grand expectations, and on and on. It’s not an easy position to be in, and very few teams excel in that situation.
“It’s up to us to instill that doubt in them.”
The Sharks don't exactly come into this with the momentum they had back in the first months of the season. They're a little banged up and they finished the regular season by narrowly getting by lowly Colorado (1-0) at home, then followed that with a 4-1 loss to Phoenix and a 4-3 defeat in L.A.
Another reason to be thrilled with Sharks-Ducks: It stokes a natural rivalry between two high-powered California teams who previously have no playoff history together. In fact, this series is the first between two Cali teams since 1969, when the Kings played the Oakland Seals.
All that being said, man that sixth seed would have been nice for the Ducks, which would have earned them a first-round matchup with a Canucks team that, let's face it, is no San Jose. And the Ducks would have notched that sixth spot with a victory in Phoenix on Saturday night. But despite a valiant comeback from a 4-2 third period deficit in that game, and two different leads in the shootout, J.S. Giguere couldn't make the saves he needed to in that tiebreaker and the Ducks went down, 5-4.
Nevertheless, Giguere looked strong after Randy Carlyle inserted him at the beginning of the third period, saving all nine shots the Yotes fired on him. It was a wise move by Carlyle to put him in there, partly because Jonas Hiller was not his best and the Ducks badly needed a spark. It also was an opportunity for Giguere to build some confidence going into a postseason where the Ducks might need to call on him, a time of year where he's always been his best. Speaking of confidence and guys who shine in the postseason, Francois Beauchemin got a second game under his belt and looked good, hitting goalposts two different times in 22:03 of work.
Teemu Selanne had this to say in the locker room afterward: “I’m disappointed we didn’t win, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. It’s a little disappointing today, but tomorrow we start preparing for the first round, so it’s not that big a deal.”
The loss was the only dark spot on a heck of a great road trip for me and the four other Ducks staffers who flew out Saturday morning, spent all afternoon "preparing" for the game in the establishments around Jobing.com Arena and were plenty loud during that thrilling third-period comeback and shootout. So loud, in fact, one obnoxious guy in our group had the audacity to yell "SHUT IT!" at the top of his lungs whenever the Coyotes fans booed Chris Pronger. (Okay, that guy was me.)
Of course, we weren't the only Ducks fans there, as the several groups of jersey-clad rooters in the building included a pack of five Power Players and Wild Wing (not in costume). In fact, here's a picture that I regret I didn't sneak into.
And as further proof of the tight-knitedness of the Anaheim Ducks employees, the trip ended with four of the staffers and three of the Power Players somehow managing to all squeeze into a rented Hummer for the 20-minute trip to the airport. Good times.
Oh, man, I can't wait.