May 4, 2009 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

Red Wings need their best players to step up in order to win series

Todd Marchant's shot sails over the left shoulder of Chris Osgood to win it for the Ducks at 1:15 of the third overtime. (John T. Greilick/The Detroit News)

Detroit

The Red Wings have seen this before, boy have they ever. That's the bad news. In their mind, it also happens to be the encouraging news.

The Wings had plenty of chances and missed plenty of chances, and again, for one game at least, they turned a good goaltender into a very good one. This was a game of attrition in a series of attrition, from early afternoon to early evening, and just when it appeared the Wings were wearing the Ducks down, the Ducks struck.

Anaheim's best players were its goaltender, Jonas Hiller, its defenders, led by Chris Pronger, and its top forwards. Detroit's best players may have matched the effort but they didn't match the production, and before this series turns dangerous, that has to change.

The Ducks pulled out a thriller, 4-3, on Todd Marchant's quick shot over Chris Osgood's left shoulder 1:15 into the third overtime Sunday. And just like that, incredible energy expended became wasted energy for the Wings, the series tied 1-1 as it heads to California.

The Ducks stole this one, after the Wings fired 62 shots at Hiller and held a 44-22 shot bulge in the third period and first two overtimes. But thievery doesn't happen if the Wings don't start slowly again, and their top scorers don't get shut down.

In the Wings dressing room, there were remnants of the battle, empty Gatorade bottles, bins of bananas and plates of half-eaten oranges. But there wasn't much despair because they knew they had prime chances. Eventually, the big guns will be required to convert them.

Johan Franzen scored again, tying the game in the third period. Brad Stuart and Mikael Samuelsson chipped in with goals. But through two games, the Wings don't have a goal from Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom or Dan Cleary.

It's too early to call it a trend. It's not too early to say Anaheim's defense will be every bit as difficult as expected.

"No question about it, your best players gotta be your best players," Mike Babcock said. "The good thing with those guys is, they know what's taken place so far, they know they have to be better. But we all can be better. We had some glorious chances and didn't score."

Nobody said it'd be easy

The Ducks were better early. The Wings were better late. That is a trend, and it's also why the Wings, while exhausted and disappointed, weren't wavering in their confidence. They controlled play after the first two periods, but that's like time-of-possession in football. It says something, but it doesn't mean much if you don't score.

Hossa had one of the best chances in the second overtime, firing a wrist shot that Hiller coolly gloved. Hiller is a 27-year-old playoff novice, and while he didn't have to be spectacular, he was tested often.

"We shot the puck a lot, and we had more legs at the end," Zetterberg said. "But we're not gonna win every game. We just gotta bounce back, and that's what we'll do."

This was the first bitter obstacle for the Wings in these playoffs after five victories, so there's no overreaction. But Anaheim's top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry has been great, which means the Wings' superior depth across their top two lines has to be a bigger factor.

The Wings' objective is to wear the Ducks down, and I suppose this is one way -- keep shooting until someone drops. But just like in the opener, the Wings started slowly, and that can't keep happening.

They can't dwell on this

So far in this series, two things have become abundantly clear: The Wings aren't going to simply out-skate the Ducks, and the Ducks aren't going to simply out-hit the Wings.

To win, the Wings have to outlast the Ducks, and they have the depth to do it. With defenseman Brian Rafalski out with an injury, rookie Jonathan Ericsson was very solid again. But Rafalski will be needed to put more jump in the offense and spread the minutes. Veteran replacement Chris Chelios didn't play much after the second period.

The Wings have been around long enough to know when a goalie is getting in their heads, and it's not happening yet. But make no mistake, this was a tremendous chance squandered.

"That's the big thing, you can't let it be a mental roadblock," Stuart said. "Their first line is three big guys with a lot of skill who can shoot as well as anyone. They're confident, but I think we're confident with who we can put out there. Obviously we're not happy, but we did some good things."

They've done it before, but these Ducks are a different bird, experienced former champs. The sobering news for the Wings is, for all the energy expended, it'll take even more effort from their top guys. And this: No more waiting around to get started because this series is staying tight, and every second and every shot are going to count.

bob.wojnowski@detnews.com">bob.wojnowski@detnews.com

Tomas Holmstrom and Chris Pronger collide against the end boards during ... (John T. Greilick/The Detroit News)
Daniel Cleary of the Red Wings and defenseman Scott Niedermayer of the ... (John T. Greilick/The Detroit News)
See Also