By Allan Muir
They were held without a goal by Jonas Hiller and the Anaheim Ducks for five consecutive periods. They trailed twice in the third period by margins of 1-0 and 2-1. Their best line on the night was their fourth. But in the end the Detroit Red Wings dug deep and forced overtime before pulling out a thrilling 3-2 win in Game 4 that knotted their Western Conference first-round series at two games apiece.
Here are some observations from Detroit:
• Before the game, Detroit coach Mike Babcock emphasized the need for the Wings to start planting some bodies in the crease in order to generate the second and third chances they’d need to rebound from a shutout loss in Game 3. Somehow, the message eluded most of the team. For much of the night, the Wings settled for long-range chances that ran up the shot counter but generated few real scoring chances.
By the third period, though, the message seemed to sink in. Joakim Andersson (doing his best Tomas Holmstrom impression) was battling Francois Beauchemin for space out front when Brendan Smith’s point blast bounced off the Anaheim defender and past Hiller for Detroit’s first goal early in the third.
And it was Andersson whose stretch pass deep into overtime sprung Gustav Nyquist on a partial breakaway. Nyquist had the puck poke-checked away by Hiller before he could get a shot off, but neither Luca Sbisa or Bryan Allen noticed Damien Brunner trailing the play. When the puck skittered away, it went straight to the net-crashing forward, who finished the game with an easy flick over the outstretched left pad of Hiller.
• Now that he’s the hero, everyone will forget that Brunner’s backside was nailed to the bench for nearly the entire third period. He got two shifts, for less than 90 seconds worth of ice time, likely as a result of inattention to his defensive responsibilities. Shades of Petr Klima back in 1990.
• I don’t want to take anything away from Pavel Datsyuk’s equalizer late in the third because it was a beauty — he got half a step on Sbisa racing down the left wing before sizzling a wrister that beat Hiller high on the short side. But honestly, that’s a goal the Anaheim goalie can’t allow. He played it way too conservatively, staying deep in his crease and waiting to react to a pass that never came. If Hiller skates out a foot or so, he cuts down the angle and probably takes that hole away. Instead, his caution let it get to overtime. It was Hiller’s only mistake on the night, and it likely cost Anaheim the game.
• Not sure who picked the Three Stars tonight, but they missed a terrific performance from Patrick Eaves. For much of the night, Detroit’s fourth line was its most effective, consistently hemming the puck in the Anaheim zone, working the body and getting so close to Hiller that he could smell what they’d had for dinner. It was Eaves who kept the line humming with his relentless forecheck (he was credited with a team-high six hits) and diligent work in the neutral zone that punched holes in Anaheim’s transition game. He might not have earned the results tonight, but that’s exactly the kind of game more of his teammates need to play if they’re going to win two of the next three.
• Best chant of the night from the boisterous Joe Louis Arena crowd? “You got Kronwalled!” to Nick Palmieri after the Anaheim forward was the victim of a beautifully violent hit delivered by Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall.
• Corey Perry will be looking hard at himself in the mirror after this one. He had a chance to stretch Anaheim’s lead to 2-0 midway through the second but shanked one wide right off of a flawless setup from Dave Steckel that left Howard at his mercy. He had another chance to put it away in the third when he found some dead space and took a pass that left him alone 10 feet in front of the Detroit net…and he put a wrister harmlessly into Howard’s gut. You simply can’t fritter away premium scoring chances at this time of year.