May 13, 2009 at 10:42 am

Bob Wojnowski

Wings get message too late

They come out listless and, as a result, a Game 7 beckons Thursday

Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller makes one of his 38 saves, blocking the puck off his pads. (Henry DiRocco/Associated Press)

From a possible clincher to an inexplicable clunker, the Red Wings let up, and it cost them. It didn't cost them the series, but it cost them their last whiffs of breathing room.

Now the Ducks have life, and the Wings have sudden tension. Anaheim forced a Game 7 with a 2-1 victory Tuesday night that was simply workmanlike. The problem for the Wings was they didn't work hard enough themselves until the third period, when they finally got rolling and it finally got interesting.

Somehow, star Pavel Datsyuk has become the mystifying man, or the missing man -- still playing hard, still skating circles, still unable to score. His shot as time expired was knocked aside by Jonas Hiller, and then the teams tangled, setting up what should be a compelling Game 7 Thursday night.

Actually, the Ducks did most of the ridiculous stuff at the end, with Corey Perry and Todd Marchant drawing misconduct penalties. If it was a goon-like message, the Wings must deliver a poised response. Datsyuk tried to exchange punches with a flailing Scott Niedermayer after the final whistle, and it was an ugly sight. Niedermayer was the aggressor, and if the Wings needed any more reason to be fired up, that'd better be it.

The Wings came out sloppy and lethargic, and that can't happen again. It was almost as if they thought they had control of the series with two straight victories and figured the Ducks would expire naturally. If so, dumb assumption. The Ducks, as we know, are far from a normal eighth seed and they weren't going quietly, even though this began as a strangely tame game.

If the Wings are to avoid a stunner and win Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena, they'll need to stop being cute with the puck and go back to firing the darn thing. And it starts with Datsyuk, without a goal in the series and with only one in 10 playoff games. He has to be frustrated. He's a skating marvel, but he too often went for fancy instead of forcing his way to the net, and he didn't really test Hiller until the end.

Most of the Wings didn't test Hiller either. Oh, they awakened in the third period and dominated the shots (18-6), as they generally do. But the quality chances weren't there, until Johan Franzen continued his torrid pace with a power-play goal, too little, too late.

"I didn't think we were as good as we could've been," a calm Mike Babcock said. "We were urgent at the end, but you gotta be urgent for 60 minutes. In the early going, we had way too many turnovers, and that disrupts your flow."

This was a weird reversal, in a lot of ways. Just when it appeared Ducks star Ryan Getzlaf was gassed, he shook the flu and was terrific, scoring a goal and setting up the other, a deflection by Perry. Just when it appeared Hiller was fading, he was tough and timely, although the Wings didn't force him to be spectacular.

Costly penalties

A last gasp by the Ducks, or a sign they're revived? The Wings will have to endure one more tense battle to find out, and while you have to like their chances at home, anything can happen in a Game 7.

Not much happened in this one for the Wings, outshot early and outfought for pucks. They had two delay-of-game penalties, by Jiri Hudler and Niklas Kronwall, for the same reason -- clearing the puck over the boards. Getzlaf made them pay with the first goal early in the second period.

Original Six rival Chicago is sitting and waiting for the winner, and the Wings would love that matchup. They just better not look ahead too quickly.

I have no idea what happened to the Wings who won the past two games by a combined 10-4, but this sure wasn't them. They'd better return immediately in the first period Thursday night because it's clear, the longer the Ducks hang around, the more dangerous they'll get.

Give Ducks credit

The Wings had been superb on the road, winning 10 of their past 13 road playoff games, but they weren't sharp in this one. The Ducks deserve credit for rebounding, no doubt. They keep hounding Datsyuk and they shoved Franzen, Dan Cleary and an oddly quiet Tomas Holmstrom away from the net.

The Wings shouldn't be shaken and surely aren't panicked. Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg pushed hard and played better late, but they must do more. The Wings also got defenseman Brian Rafalski back from injury and he was solid, and Chris Osgood has proven to be an excellent big-game goalie.

The pieces are still in place. But make no mistake, with a chance to bury the Ducks, the Wings whiffed. And Anaheim, loaded with experience and championship-type players, suddenly has the capability to make the Wings feel very, very uncomfortable.

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

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