May 11, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Wings wear down Ducks

Marian Hossa tries to poke the puck into the Ducks' net, but Jonas Hiller makes the save. Hiller made 34 saves for the Ducks. (John T. Greilick/The Detroit News)

Detroit -- Finally, the Red Wings have the Ducks right where they want 'em -- backing up, slowing down, gasping heavily. The Wings are skating so hard and firing so many shots now, about all the Ducks can do is, well, duck.

Oh, it's still tough and it's not over yet, I suppose. But the Wings are making it look easier and easier, and they surely can see the light at the end of the danger.

All game long on Mother's Day, they fired away, hitting posts and moving targets. Persistence is rewarded in the Stanley Cup playoffs and the Wings finally collected their just rewards, beating the Ducks 4-1. From all directions and all lines, the Wings are swarming and the Ducks are buckling, and a tight series -- 3-2, Wings -- is splitting open as it heads back to California.

The Ducks' terrific top line, led by Ryan Getzlaf? Not much there now, with Getzlaf battling the flu and collecting one measly shot Sunday.

That scary goalie Jonas Hiller? He didn't get yanked in this one but the holes are there, and if I was in a goofy mood, I'd suggest he's transforming from young Swiss goalie to aged Swiss cheese.

"I think we're figuring out how we're supposed to play against them," the Wings' Johan Franzen said. "With the depth we have, we can put anyone out there, any line, and they can play against anyone. We dominated from the first minute, but they're hanging in there."

The Ducks somehow did have a chance, but imagine their poor plight. They'd taken another blow from Franzen, the amazingly clutch Mule, who scored the game's first goal. They'd watched Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg create tons of chances. But despite profound dominance, Detroit only led 2-1 in the closing minutes, when here came another Wing flying from another angle.

Young third-liner Darren Helm, a speedy pest all game, wouldn't let up, and with 3:08 left, he grabbed a rebound and ripped it past Hiller for the clincher, and perhaps the series crusher.

"Goals aren't a huge part of my game, so that was really nice," said Helm, 22, who has three career playoff goals. "I mostly just want to create energy and finish my checks."

Wings have a plan

And that's what the Wings are doing, ratcheting it more and more, just as they did in their 6-3 victory in Game 4. The idea is to wear the Ducks down, and it sure appears to be happening, although in this series, proclamations are best written in pencil, not ink.

You can tell it's happening because the Ducks didn't even have the strength to muster much nastiness, not that the Wings have been bothered by the physical play. The Wings are in control, tenuous control perhaps, but control nevertheless.

I mean, come on. When they can call up 22-year-old former Michigan State star Justin Abdelkader and toss him into his first NHL playoff game, and in less than seven minutes of action he leads both teams with nine hits, this series is tilting heavily.

The wavering Hiller didn't fall apart, but once again, the experienced Chris Osgood in the other net made the clutch saves, including some huge ones when Anaheim pressed late. Obviously, Hiller was tested more often, with the Wings out-shooting the Ducks 39-17, but Osgood has been very good.

The Wings' experience and depth are starting to show, and they picked up right where they left off in Game 4. With desperation in the air, they inhaled deeply.

In the first minute, Franzen clanked a shot off the right post. A short while later, Franzen dropped a nifty pass to Valtteri Filppula, who clanked a shot off the left post. The Wings were skating around and through the dizzy Ducks, and there was no doubt which team was ready. Uh, except for one little issue. The score was 0-0.

Gasping for air

But the Ducks were borrowing time, while the Wings were accelerating it. Heck, for stretches, it was tiring just watching the Wings skate. Thirty-nine seconds after Franzen opened the scoring in the second period with his seventh goal of the playoffs, Jiri Hudler knocked a rebound out of the air and past Hiller.

The Wings led 2-0 and now it was wild, and even started to get a little Harlem Globetrotterish. On a power-play, Datsyuk held the puck behind the Anaheim net, then flipped it high, trying to bank it off Hiller's back.

The crowd roared and the rout was on, right?

Well, the pesky Ducks might fade for a while, but they don't disappear for long. That's why, with the score 2-1, the Wings needed another big goal, and the buzzing youngster was the unlikely guy.

"He's been unbelievable," forward Dan Cleary said of Helm. "He's so fast, he's physical and his work ethic is contagious. That goal was the dagger."

Stuck in and twisted. The Wings have figured out what they need to do, and with unrelenting effort from all sorts of sources, they're absolutely doing it.

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

Ducks center Andrew Ebbett rides Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom into the ... (David Guralnick/The Detroit News)
Johan Franzen, who scored the Red Wings' first goal, makes a move on ... (David Guralnick/The Detroit News)