In a game of wayward bounces and dramatic swings, it was destined to come down to one more push, one more play. Not much separates these teams, and the Red Wings didn't have quite enough Wednesday night.
With the flip of a pass and the slip of a puck, the Ducks' Nick Bonino scored early in overtime to beat the Wings 3-2 and push a tight series to the brink. Anaheim leads 3-2 with Game 6 back in Detroit, and if the first five games are a precursor, don't put the Pepto away just yet.
This was the third overtime of the series, and the first time the Ducks prevailed. The Wings led twice and had numerous chances to pad it, but couldn't. They'll lament a squandered five-minute power-play and their ears will ring from the sound of shots hitting goalposts. But at 1:54 of overtime, they couldn't stop an innocent-looking play, which is usually how these playoff overtimes end.
Jimmy Howard didn't have much of a chance on the winning goal, as Ben Lovejoy deftly avoided defenseman Brian Lashoff and sent a perfect cross-crease pass to Bonino, who avoided Joakim Andersson and slammed the puck in. Youngsters who have been so integral in the Wings' energetic effort were beaten on the play, but that's the way the series has gone, back and forth, up and down.
This is the Wings' final season in the Western Conference — finally, thankfully — so of course they had to play another late-night thriller for old time's sake. This series isn't over, and might not be over even when it appears to be over. Back to the Joe the teams go for Game 6 Friday night, wearily criss-crossing the country, repeatedly criss-crossing the ice.
"It's playoff hockey, they kept the puck in and got it down low," Howard said of the winning goal. "This team has scraped and clawed all year, and we got a lot of confidence in this group. This series has been a battle."
Back and forth, to and fro
The series has been strange, with so many missed chances for both teams. Really, did you expect anything different? The Wings and Ducks have been counter-punching for an exhausting week now — win-loss-win-loss — and were at it again.
Anaheim dominated the first period. Detroit dominated the second. And each team ducked the other's best shot. This is who the Wings are right now, alternately exhilarating and exasperating.
Johan Franzen supplied an early 1-0 lead because that's what the Mule does in the playoffs, charging straight to the net and poking until the puck dribbles in. But it was merely a respite in the storm, because the Ducks were scrambling all over the ice. They outshot the Wings 18-9 in the first period, and it took Howard's best effort to keep it tight.
In this series, neither team stays down for long. The Wings' young and inconsistent defense makes it difficult to smother anyone, and sure enough, the Ducks broke through on a quick shot by Kyle Palmieri to tie it 1-1. It was a snapped shot that was a snapshot of the series, which is all about sudden turns.
This is the New Normal for the Wings, and the idea is, perhaps veterans such as Howard can keep them in it while the youngsters grow up. Howard did his best and certainly matched Anaheim's Jonas Hiller, but these teams are unpredictable from period to period, shift to shift.
At the risk of repeating myself, the Wings at times are like kids at recess. They go racing all over the place, and sometimes the ball (puck) bounces over the fence (boards) into the neighbor's yard. They get it back, lose it again, get it back.
It can make for palpitating nights in Hockeytown, but I actually think fans have gotten used to it. That doesn't excuse mistakes, and the Wings came out poorly in the first period before picking it up. A start like that can't happen again.
"I think we did lots of good things, and our goaltender was superb in the first," Mike Babcock said. "It was one of those nights. We hit three posts and they didn't go in."
The Wings found their legs and were flying in the second period, and the veterans nudged them back in front. Pavel Datsyuk slid the puck ahead as he was falling to the ice, and Henrik Zetterberg skated in with it. His shot caromed off Hiller and laid there for Mikael Samuelsson, as juicy as a puck can look. He slapped it in for a 2-1 lead, but like any advantage between these teams, it was short-lived.
The Wings still lose too many face-offs and take sloppy penalties. But my goodness, they had their chances to push the Ducks to the brink, and just missed. Damien Brunner was stuffed on a breakaway. Brendan Smith fired a shot off the goalpost. Gustav Nyquist fired a shot off the goalpost.
Then the Ducks took their dirty turn, with Daniel Winnik slamming Daniel Cleary face-first into the boards for a five-minute penalty. Winnik could have been kicked out too, as the Wings' Justin Abdelkader was in Game 3. But Cleary wasn't hit in the head, and in today's safety-conscious NHL, that makes a difference.
So what happened with the Wings in the lead and on a long power play? Naturally, the action went the other way, and Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf took charge. He drew an interference penalty on Smith, and on the ensuing power play, Getzlaf ripped a shot past Howard for a 2-2 tie.
That's how it stayed until it ended and that's probably how the series will churn to the finish. The Wings get Abdelkader back after his two-game suspension, and you can figure on another taut game. It only takes one prime chance to alter this series, and the Wings have to ramp it up again, and make sure the next turn is theirs.