I use the term "we" because I am that guy. I am a fan who treats the Red Wings like they are a part of who I am and how I live my life. There are fan circles who detract others for using the royal "we" in reference to the team they support. My blog isn't affiliated with the Detroit Red Wings organization in any way. I've never met a player who plays for them. But I belong to a very large community online and offline that identifies with what the team represents and how they play the game. I've met a lot of great people who feel the same way about the Red Wings. This season, more than others, has brought our community together as the Red Wings struggled harder than they ever have to continue their playoff streak.
And they did it.
Twenty-two consecutive playoffs. It's an impressive feat, although nowhere near the record. For those curious, the longest postseason streak belongs to the Boston Bruins, who made it 29 seasons in a row before missing. Former Central Division rivals Chicago Blackhawks (28) and Saint Louis Blues (25) also have longer streaks, but during those streaks, neither team was capable of capturing the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings have been able to score six Stanley Cup finals appearances, four of which turned into championships.
The relief of continuing the streak has provided time for insight on the regular season and how to grade this team. I will be posting the second of the promised "The Good, Bad, and the Ugly" upon completion, but in the meantime, let's get to brass tacks and talk about the playoff series that begins on Tuesday evening.
The Detroit Red Wings find themselves seeded seventh, which means that they will face the second seeded Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Quarter Finals. The most interesting statistic Red Wings fans will clutch tightly is Detroit's record against Anaheim this season: 2 wins to one loss. The Ducks took the first game of the season February 15th (Flag Day in Canada!) 5-2 at Joe Louis Arena, lighting up Jimmy Howard and the Wings at the peak of a 10-2-1 streak. More notable was the fact that this was just the fourth time in thirty-seven visits to Joe Louis Arena that Anaheim has earned a victory. It was also the first time since February 10th 2008 that the Ducks beat the Red Wings at the Joe. The game was tied 2-2 going in to the third when Detroit collapsed on themselves and gave up two quick goals two minutes into the third.
The second game was a blowout by the Red Wings, winning 5-1 on the back of a Justin Abdeldaker hat trick. Rookie (and regrettably ineligible for Calder nomination) goaltender Victor Fasth was chased from goal on a rare off night for the Swede. The legendary Teemu Selanne scored the lone goal for Anaheim. I may be the only Red Wings fan left who appreciates the Finnish Flash.
The third game was another 2-1 victory for Detroit , but it was also a symbolic victory in that in the final minute of play, Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne, and Ryan Gezlaf were all ejected thanks to their frustration. Strangely enough, the only penalty called until this triple-headed tantrum was a Johan Franzen tripping penalty. I'm very curious as to how an Anaheim fan/blogger can explain it. I still can't wrap my head around it.
Are the Red Wings living rent free in the heads of Anaheim's best players? They chased Victor Fasth, make the top line rage quit, and took the season series. If there was a psychological edge to this series, Detroit has to be a leg up on Anaheim, and not just because of the tantrums. The Red Wings are red hot coming into the series, with Jimmy Howard winning the last four starts for them, conceding just three goals in four games. Anaheim didn't exactly limp into the playoffs themselves, beating up on the Edmonton Oilers twice and the Vancouver Canucks before getting beat down by the Phoenix Coyotes 5-3 on home ice Saturday night. Still, the Red Wings would have been the last team the Ducks would want to see in the first round.
1997: The Detroit Red Wings defeated the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim 4-0 in the Western Conference Semi-Finals. The Ducks edged the Phoenix Coyotes 4-3 but were swept by the Wings, losing three of four games by one goal. The Red Wings would go on to win their first Stanley Cup Championship in 42 years.
1999: The Detroit Red Wings defeated the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim 4-0 in the Western Conference Quarter-Finals. The Wings outscored the Ducks 17-6 in another sweep, but would be bounced by Colorado 4-2 in the Semi-Finals after winning two consecutive Stanley Cup Championships.
2003: The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim defeated the Detroit Red Wings 4-0 in the Western Conference Quarter Finals. Future head coach of the Red Wings Mike Babcock coached the Ducks to four one goal victories, and the Ducks fell just one win short of capturing the Stanley Cup, losing to the New Jersey Devils.
2007: The Anaheim Ducks defeated the Detroit Red Wings 4-2 in the Western Conference Finals 4-2 in what some would say was a series more worthy of a Stanley Cup Final. Two overtime victories for the Ducks and four one-goal games were thrilling to watch. The Ducks finally won the Stanley Cup this year.
2009: The Detroit Red Wings edged the Anaheim Ducks 4-3 in a thrilling Western Conference Semi-Final. There were five one-goal games, a triple overtime game, and a series-clinching goal by Dan Cleary that no one could ever have expected.
The lifetime playoff series belongs to the Red Wings with three wins to two. None of these victories came with much ease, and as time progressed, the Ducks became more and more fierce opponents, almost to the point of being evenly matched with a Detroit team that captured four Stanley Cups between 1997 and 2008. This kind of history will be missed when the Red Wings move to the "Northeast" Conference for 2013-2014. I truly hope this isn't the last of the battles between these two teams.
The stage has been set for the playoff battle between the Red Wings and the Ducks. You all now know the history, so let's get down to brass tacks about how this series is going to unfold.
Why the Ducks will win: Quite frankly, the Ducks were not only the more consistent team of the two. They registered more wins (30 to 24), scored more goals per game (2.79 to 2.54), and had the better power play (21.5% to 18.4%). On paper, the team that scores more wins games. There's really not much else to say.
Why the Red Wings will win: The Red Wings have already proven they can control the game from start to finish against the 2013 Anaheim Ducks, and as I mentioned before, they are living rent free in the bulbous skulls of the Ducks' top line. Like it or not, if your top line is so rattled they all get ejected like a bunch of petulant sore losers, you've lost a major psychological battle.
Who will shine: For Anaheim, it's going to be Corey Perry. Whether you like him as a person or not, Corey Perry is an elite NHL talent who can score goals like Britney Spears churned out number one hits in the late 1990s. Similarly to Spears, Perry's meltdowns and foolish on-ice behaviour can develop into a sideshow of their own and take away from the task at hand.
For Detroit, it's going to be Jimmy Howard. Coming into the 2013 playoffs, Jimmy Howard has won his last four starts, conceding just three goals during the extremely tense final stretch of the season. There's nobody hotter than Howard in goal right now. The stark truth is that Howard played poorly against Nashville last playoffs, and that was with Nick Lidstrom in front of him. Don't...look up those stats. They hurt to read.
Dark Horse Picks: Victor Fasth and Justin Abdelkader. The former because he's a random Anaheim goaltender who could just as easily make 35 save performances en route to infuriating 2-1 victories as he could get lit up the same way he did in the 5-1 throttling the Red Wings handed him. The latter, because he seems to have found the means to kickstart scoring on a line with Pavel Datsyuk. If there's one thing I've learned from the Ducks over the years, if a fire hydrant like Steve Rucchin can have 50+ point seasons playing on a line with Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne, Justin Abdelkader's got a chance to shine.
Final Prediction: This one goes seven, no way it doesn't. Detroit holds an edge in terms of psychology, but Anaheim was the stronger team overall this season. The differences between these teams in terms of competitiveness are so small they may be negligible. It may once again come down to coaching. Bruce Boudreau vs. Mike Babcock in a steel cage match, perhaps?
Red Wings win a seven game slobberknocker, with at least two games going to overtime. Buckle up for this one, folks. It's going to be a hell of a ride.