Even with a six-game defeat of San Jose under its belt, the Ducks are still finding plenty of skeptics going into the Western Conference Semifinals against Detroit.
But Anaheim has already quickly proven that all the pre-series talk means little. Nobody gave them much of a chance leading up to their matchup with the top-seeded and Presidents’ Trophy-winning Sharks either. Unfazed by that chatter, the Ducks promptly went out and limited the NHL’s best regular season team to 10 goals in six games in their 10th series victory since 2003 (the most in the league during that span). They now move on to the next biggest fish to fry.
“This is just another challenge,” said Ryan Getzlaf of facing the Red Wings in the second round. “We knew we were going to have to go through probably both San Jose and them to get to where we want to be."
Make no mistake, the Red Wings are probably an even more daunting opponent for the Ducks than the Sharks were. They have no problems with self-doubt in hockey’s second season, being the defending Stanley Cup champions and winners of four Cups in the last 11 seasons. Detroit was also victorious in the last three contests between the teams during the regular season.
Upon closer inspection though, this series features two teams very close in resemblance. Anaheim won a Cup of their own two years ago, knocking off the Red Wings in six hard-fought games of the Western Conference Finals to get there. The two teams have met a total of four times in the postseason with the Ducks prevailing in 2007 and 2003 while Detroit did so in 1997 and 1999. Three of those times, the victor has gone on to the Stanley Cup Final.
“It doesn't matter who we're playing or what seed we are in the playoffs,” said Getzlaf, who leads the Ducks with eight points in the postseason thus far. “We consider ourselves a contender. We felt that way right from the start.”
And as far as the season series goes, the Ducks transformed into a completely different team from when they last saw the Red Wings more than two months ago, particularly on defense, where they acquired Ryan Whitney and James Wisniewski before the March 4 trade deadline. The blue line also got back Francois Beauchemin, who provided the game-winning overtime goal in Anaheim’s lone win over Detroit in the regular season back on Oct. 29 at Honda Center.
Since they lost 5-2 at Detroit on Feb. 20, the Ducks have gone on to register an 18-7-3 record (9-1-3 on the road), Detroit has been 16-9-2 in that same period entering Friday night’s Game 1. It all seems to have the makings of another great playoff duel between the squads rather than a presumed mismatch.
“I think we are enjoying that we are still playing at all,” said Jonas Hiller, who had a 1.64 goals-against average and .957 save percentage during the Western Conference Quarterfinals. “And Detroit is a hockey city, so it should be a lot of fun.”
After getting a day off to savor their elimination of San Jose, the Ducks touched down in the Motor City on Wednesday. They immediately went back to work in practice in preparation of a new series.
“It’s just enough time to heal the body, but not lose sight of what we want, why we’re here,” said Corey Perry of what the agenda has been like since Monday. “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.”
The Red Wings on the other hand have not had a game since April 23 when they completed a four-game sweep of Columbus. ‘It’s kind of nice that we actually had three days before we play,” Perry said. “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.”
With a little more than 24 hours to go until puck drop, Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle was trying to put the finishing touches on his initial gameplan for the best-of-seven set with the Red Wings. “As the days dwindle down, you like to continue to do some review with your team, do some of the things you felt you needed to work on from the last series, and try to add a little bit to it with the opposition you’re going to play,” Carlyle said.
Playing in the first postseason of his career, Wisniewski (a Canton, Michigan native) is enjoying being in uncharted waters and would love to extend it with a series win over the team he once cheered for as a kid.
“It just keeps getting better and better,” Wisniewski said. “Now, to add a little bit more excitement, I get to play in my hometown for my second playoff series. It’s different when growing up you’ve been seeing this team win Stanley Cups and watching them play playoff hockey for a long time, and now we have a chance to knock them out and move on to the Western Conference Finals.”