If the Red Wings weren't alert before, they'd better be now. If they weren't angry before, they'd better be now.
This is no fluke and no joke, and there's no more time to waste. The Ducks have scrapped their way to a Game 7 tonight by doing what they do, playing the way they play. Edgy and tight-checking? Yep. Nasty? Sure. Dirty? Sometimes.
The Wings' response should be to do what they do, which is show poise and experience and skate the feathers off the Duckies. It has to start with their stars, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, whose effort has been good, but their production has not. Zetterberg has three goals in the series, and two were empty-netters. Datsyuk hasn't scored in eight games, and while he's had some tough breaks, there are no more excuses now.
Yes, the Ducks got ridiculously goon-like at the end of their 2-1 victory in Game 6, with Corey Perry, Scott Niedermayer and others flinging fists, specifically at the Wings least likely to fight -- Datsyuk and Brian Rafalski. Datsyuk punched back after a Niedermayer elbow, but it all was ugly and lame, and the NHL needs to examine these postgame scraps because penalties don't carry over to the next game, which gives players freedom to wail away.
It's part of the Ducks' game and they're proud of it. Now, in the biggest challenge of the season tonight at Joe Louis Arena, the Wings must show their complete game, and I suspect they will.
Home teams always have an advantage in tense Game 7s, and you have to like the Wings' chances. I doubt they'll be affected by the Ducks' intimidation tactics, and they're certainly not griping about it.
"It's not a big deal," Zetterberg said. "I think the emotions will carry over to Game 7, but I don't think the fighting will carry over."
Get traffic out front
The larger point is, the Wings must get back to intimidating goalie Jonas Hiller with crease action and lots of bodies, as they did in dominating the previous two games. Hiller has been hot at times, but let's not get goofy -- he isn't stealing the series or thoroughly out-shining Chris Osgood. Of the Wings' 39 shots in Game 6, very few were dangerous.
Johan Franzen needs to be active again in front. So do Dan Cleary and the suddenly invisible Tomas Holmstrom. So does Marian Hossa, who's firing too many easy shots into Hiller's pads.
Detroit hasn't played a Game 7 since it obliterated Colorado and Patrick Roy, 7-0, back in 2002. So it might have forgotten anything can happen, especially against a veteran, recent champion like Anaheim.
What can't happen is, Datsyuk can't be fancy when forceful skating will do. He's still one of the best in the world at out-maneuvering opponents, and he's due to break out. But he seems to be trying too hard, so eager to make something happen, he gets frustrated when the Ducks' defense, led by the always-edgy Chris Pronger, shoves him to the perimeter.
"Any time you're a scorer and you haven't scored, no matter what anybody says, you always are squeezing a little bit," coach Mike Babcock said. "The big thing for (Datsyuk) -- he's a real good, dominant player -- is to just play. Don't think too much."
The Ducks responded well the other night. The Wings weren't nearly as determined, but with their cushion gone, we need to see everything now, from feisty forechecking to persistent net-crashing to a classic clutch effort by Osgood.
The Wings can't be dumb and can't outpunch the Ducks. But they can outhit them, and have for much of the series. The blows they took at the end of Game 6 -- 36 penalty minutes for the Ducks, 10 for the Wings -- should rile them, not that they required any more motivation.
Play their game
Asked what the Wings had to do differently, Babcock didn't hesitate.
"Not a whole bunch, really," he said. "What we gotta do is, be that much more desperate so it allows you to win more battles. And it allows you to do it for longer, not just a push at the end."
The Wings must push from the opening faceoff, and that hasn't been their strength.
It's as if they've expected to naturally wear down the Ducks, and while there's some evidence of that, it shouldn't be a factor in Game 7.
If anything, the Ducks' top line, led by Ryan Getzlaf and Perry, looks invigorated. It has been the best unit for either team, which sends us back to the nagging issue.
Datysuk has been mystifying, still skating circles, still unable to score. He's not the only reason the Wings went from apparent control to real danger, but he provides one of the quickest ways to fix it.
In a Game 7 at home, the edge goes to the defending champs, as long as they do what they do. That means swarming and skating in waves with absolute desperation, and displaying their own style of intimidation.
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