What measures the quality of a championship team is how it handles adversity. The Detroit Red Wings endured such adversity from the Anaheim Ducks. The last two teams to win the Stanley Cup battled to a conclusion leaving all watching having to catch their breaths.
The scoring of the Red Wings was not done by the marquee players, instead the combination of Jiri Hudler, Darren Helm, Mikael Samuelsson and Daniel Cleary allowed for the Red Wings to reach the Western Conference Finals.
The Hudler re-direct off of the setup pass by Johan Franzen is signature Red Wings. They are probably the best in the league at this play. Normally it is a slap shot to the waiting sticks of either Tomas Holmstrom or Franzen that lights the lamp. The Hudler version was shot by Franzen from the side of the zone to Hudler's stick past Jonas Hiller.
Helm's goal at the start of the second period left all watching with their jaws on the ground. He took the pass from Marian Hossa and outran the Ducks and some cars on the roads outside the arena to shoot the second goal past Hiller. The crowd at the Joe were now ecstatic, this game must be over now...
However later in the period, Teemu Selanne took a loose puck next to the net past Chris Osgood and snuck it in. Such a goal proved that there would be no shut-out, but the Wings still had the game, right?
Sammuelsson's goal a couple minutes later on rebound while a scrum blocked Hiller's meant that this game was going to be a blow-out. There is no way the Ducks are going to keep trying.
Roughly a minute later Corey Perry scored on another loose puck in front of the net. Suddenly the score was 3-2, but the Red Wings were in the driver's seat on this one. Only one period remained and they had this game.
Nearly halfway in the third period, the Ducks tied up the game on a Bobby Ryan goal on another rebound in front of the net. Suddenly what looked like a virtual blow-out was now looking like a possible overtime to decide the series. Such an option no Wings fans wanted to see. The Wings have not won their last two playoff overtimes and considering that the Ducks just crept back, worry persisted.
With about three minutes to go, Daniel Cleary saved the fans of Detroit from the dreaded overtime in a seventh game. Cleary hit the puck under Hiller's pads and his momentum carried the puck into the goal. There was talk of calling goalie interference on Cleary, but it was clear that the puck moved into the net by Hiller and not by Cleary messing with Hiller's pads.
That goal should have done it, but the Ducks are not a team that is going to give this game to the Wings. With about six seconds to go, the puck was knocked into the netting above Osgood. The net was empty in the Anaheim end, and their stacked offensive push after the face-off could not tie the game.
The handshake was somewhat funny as the Ducks could not hunt for Wings players to tackle and punch like they did at the end of the prior games in the series. Now they had to shake the Wings players and their body language did not instill any congratulations.
The Red Wings are now rewarded with the Original Six match-up against Chicago to go to the Stanley Cup Final. It is the first Original Six matchup in a conference finals since Detroit defeated Chicago in 1995. In that series, Chris Chelios was on the Chicago side of the ice in a losing effort.
The edge is on Detroit's side. They have home ice for the series and were dominant in many of the games this season, including the Winter Classic. The Wings are also healthy now that Kris Draper played in the game against the Ducks. His face off presence is a welcomed plus.
Also the scoring by the Wings in these playoffs have been done so spread out, they need to give Osgood a chance at an empty net just so he doesn't feel left out. Plus playing the series against such an intense Anaheim team made the Wings more focused on their play on both sides of the ice. They will be ready.
Chicago does have a lot talented scorers who tore apart goalie Roberto Luongo in their prior series against Vancouver. Jonathan Toews captains this combination of youth and experience.
Patrick Kane will be watched closely as he got a hat trick against Luongo in the deciding sixth game. Brian Campbell is a talented two way defenseman and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin has experience against the Wings in the playoffs when he played goal for the Coyotes.
These teams have a history as old as the NHL and the rivalry will come back to make its presence known. Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsey, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and other former players from both teams are sure to be present on ceremonial face offs, interviews and getting the crowds into a frenzy. Sunday afternoon starts the conference finals and what better a first game than Blackhawks and the Red Wings
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