Friday May 8th, 2009

Sometimes, a change will do you good.

Not that Detroit coach Mike Babcock was inclined to mess with his lineup. His team may have lost Game 3 in Anaheim, but they were clearly the dominant squad on the night. And were it not for a premature whistle, they might have pulled out a win in overtime.

So he was prepared to let it roll Thursday night. Until the Ducks came out and knocked the champs flat.

Moments after the opening draw, Henrik Zetterberg was stripped of the puck in the Anaheim zone by Bobby Ryan. Two quick passes later and Corey Perry was in alone. He barged through the right circle and unloaded a sizzling wrister into the far corner. Just 42 seconds were gone, and the Wings were down 1-0.

The book on the champs is that they don't rattle easily, but you wouldn't have known it following that opening tally. They were knocked around by their hosts, outworked and outshot and heading for a deeper deficit, were it not for a couple timely saves by Osgood.

Just eight minutes in, Babcock had seen enough. And with a couple of subtle shifts, he turned around the game and possibly, the series.

As an antidote to the physicality of Anaheim's duo of Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, Babcock slid Valtteri Filppula in between Johan Franzen and Marian Hossa.

The Ducks never saw what hit them. Four goals and three assists later, the trio had propelled the Wings to a 6-3 win. The series is now tied at two games apiece with momentum clearly swinging Detroit's way.

"We talked a lot about having a real good start tonight and that didn't work very good," Babcock said afterward. "I'm not a big change guy, I like to be patient ... but the way we started tonight, I had to do something. I had already decided what I was going to do and for some reason we got a spark from that line."

Yeah, that was some spark. It's hard to explain why it worked out that way, but easy to map out how.

Speed through the neutral zone. Pinpoint passing. Aggressive play along the boards. And a willingness to drive to the net.

It didn't take long for their efforts to pay off. Filppula carried the puck into the Ducks' zone and dropped the puck to Franzen, who was trailing the play. Two strides later, he fired a snapper that snuck through Jonas Hiller's pads to tie the game at 11:49.

The unit continued to press, and when Drew Miller's weak clearing attempt was picked off at the point by Niklas Kronwall, Franzen was in front of the net to deflect the shot from the point with just 35.4 seconds left on the clock.

After Perry tied the contest with his second of the game, it was Hossa's turn. After going pointless in the first three games, he rifled a pair of goals just three minutes apart late in the second to break the game open and rev up a Honda Center that might have been half-filled with Wings fans.

"Hoss probably feels like the weight of the world is off his back, which is great for him," Babcock said.

Same probably goes for the entire team. The Wings have been the better team throughout the series and deserve a better fate than being tied after four games. Problem was, they weren't able to crack Hiller's armor. After watching Franzen, Hossa and Filppula pick him apart, that doesn't look like such a problem now.

The series is now down to a best-of-three, and the Ducks have to be wondering what changes they have to make to regain the momentum they've clearly lost.

Three of the five goals Hiller allowed were the sort that he has to stop. Mikael Samuelsson's coffin nail early in the third chased him, giving Jean-Sebastien Giguere his first taste of action in the playoffs. Though he looked solid, you have to think Hiller will be back for Game 5.

Ryan could be back on the Getzlaf line, too. The lack of effort that got him demoted earlier in the series was not an issue tonight. He was a constant presence along the boards, registering three hits and four shots, but never quite jelled with Teemu Selanne and Andrew Ebbett.

And the Ducks might have James Wisniewski back in the lineup. His replacement, Brett Festerling, was fine in a limited role, but lacked the physical presence that Wisniewski brings.

But the most important change Anaheim needs to make? Get the stinkin' puck on the net. They were again outshot by a wide margin. Worse, the difference between quality scoring chances seemed like a chasm. If they hope to come out on top, their best hope lies with rubber, and lots of it. Chris Osgood has turned up his game in the playoffs, but they've made his job too easy.

And they have to spread it out. The Ducks rely heavily on the Getzlaf line. The way things are going in this series, too heavily. Truth is, if they can't get some kind of contribution from the rest of the forwards, they probably don't deserve to advance.

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