By Allan Muir
A win is a win in the playoffs, especially when it comes on the road. But you’ll have to forgive the Detroit Red Wings for not puffing out their chests after this one.
The Wings beat the Anaheim Ducks 5-4 at the Honda Center on Thursday night, tying their series at a game a piece and stealing home ice advantage from the Pacific Division champs. But this wasn’t the way the Wings wanted to do it.
Sure, they got the fast start they needed, with goals from Justin Abdelkader and Damien Brunner staking them to a 2-0 lead before the game was five minutes old. And Jimmy Howard was outstanding in the early going, stopping the first 14 shots he faced, including this larcenous glove save of a Corey Perry blast that he somehow picked out of traffic worthy of the 405.
But they also needed an overtime goal from Gustav Nyquist to seal the deal after blowing a 4-1 lead they held midway through the third. And the victory was further tempered by the news that rookie defender Danny DeKeyser had suffered a broken thumb and is expected to be lost for the season.
The good news is, it’s the first to four, not the first to four with style. It may not have been one for the ages, but the Wings will take the split and run.
Here are four takeaways from the game:
• How significant is losing DeKeyser? “If we don’t [sign him], we don’t make the playoffs,” coach Mike Babcock said earlier this week of the coveted college free agent. “He’s made a huge difference to our team. Basically, [adding him has] allowed us to move the puck better, to get back and get pucks. If you improve your D zone play, it improves your offense and makes you a much quicker team. Obviously, we had deep growth amongst the group we had already and we added him, it made us all that much better.” You saw what happened to the team’s composure after DeKeyser got hurt in the third. So yeah, it’s kind of a big deal.
• If Babcock’s in a glass-half-full mood tomorrow, he can focus on a power play that clicked three times on six chances, including on Nyquist’s game winner. It was a middle-of-the-road unit during the regular season, but it is matched up against a nondescript Ducks PK in this series, giving Detroit reason to believe this might be where it can make hay. So was tonight a one-off collection of lucky bounces, or the payoff for some dedicated pre-series prep work? After it determined the outcome tonight, it’ll be interesting to see how the special teams battle plays out when the series resumes in Detroit.
• Howard will take the heat for completely losing his composure in the third, but he wasn’t the only Red Wing who spent the final frame chasing his tail. This is a young team that was undermined by its own fragile confidence too many times this season, so no one was surprised to see the Wings come unglued when the veteran-laden Ducks got the comeback rolling with Ryan Getzlaf’s backhander. Which begs the question: Are these Wings closer to the coolly efficient group that reeled off four straight wins to clinch a playoff berth, or to the easily flustered team that put that spot in jeopardy with a wildly inconsistent April? Howard deserves the benefit of the doubt. “Howie, he’s our guy,” Babcock said. “It’s unbelievable how he’s carried us all year. He had a couple go through him that normally don’t go through him.” In other words, he’ll rebound. It’s the rest of the team that has Detroit’s coach worried.
• The Ducks can build on the the effectiveness of their forecheck and the fight they showed in coming back from three down with just more than 13 minutes remaining. But they have to do something about the slow starts that nearly buried them tonight. “We weren’t ready to play at the start of the game, and the start of the periods,” said Ryan Getzlaf. “They scored in the first minute of each period. We’ve got to be ready to hit the ice and be flying for the next game.” After giving one away at home, expect them to do exactly that to start Game 3.