Darren Eliot
Thursday May 14th, 2009

The Anaheim Ducks -- viewed as the 2007 Stanley Cup-winner or this year's eighth seed out west -- have pushed the Detroit Red Wings to the brink of the end of their reign as champions. This last straight-up showdown to decide what six prior games couldn't resolve promises to be the ultimate competitive scenario.

Not of consequence but certainly of interest is that home ice advantage in Game 7s is a raw and real 63% win rate. More pertinent is that both netminders, Chris Osgood of the Wings and Jonas Hiller of the Ducks, must keep their respective creases clean. Any goal surrendered must be earned. Nothing cheap. Neither team can afford a goalie gaffe in this situation.

So, if the netminders hold up, what potentially tips the balance in this final bout?

Well, the Ducks are coming off an impressive Game 6 effort. Coach Randy Carlyle paired his two veteran, future Hall-of-Fame defensemen -- Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer -- and played them behind his top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. It was a challenge posed to the champs: "Here are our best five players. See if you can beat 'em."

The Red Wings couldn't. Getzlaf and Perry scored Anaheim's goals and the D-pairing shut down Detroit's formidable Johan Franzen-Marian Hossa-Valtteri Filppula trio.

Franzen did score, but not until Wings coach Mike Babcock reconfigured his lines in an attempt to spark an offensive surge. Through two periods, Detroit's big line had but two shots on goal -- this after taking over the series offensively with five goals in the previous two games, both of which were wins. Carlyle's tactic worked. His best guys won the head-to-head confrontation and the double dare was that Todd Marchant would again handle Pavel Datsyuk defensively. Carlyle was correct. Datsyuk failed to score for the eighth consecutive game, despite having a glorious last-second look that Hiller nicked over the crossbar with his blocker side shoulder.

In the end, the Ducks will need the same effort and results from their top five if they are to advance. Conversely, for the Red Wings to succeed, Datsyuk has to hit the score sheet along with Hossa. Datsyuk is a Hart Trophy nominee as the NHL's MVP. He must find a way to be offensively relevant. Hossa came to Detroit for one reason -- to win the Cup. His personal motivation has to become a rallying point for the group and the impetus for his best effort yet.

The wild card in all of this will be how these teams handle the physical side of the game given the stakes involved and the subsequent undercurrent of tension. Game 6 ended with Datsyuk and Niedermayer exchanging punches while Perry pummeled Brian Rafalski and Getzlaf jostled Hossa. An edgy game could distract the incumbent champs just enough to favor the Ducks.

However, in Game 6, the Ducks took a couple of unnecessary penalties, both by Andrew Ebbett. One was a retaliatory crosscheck right in front of the referee. A lack of discipline to that degree won't work for them in Game 7. "Play tough but fair" should be Anaheim's motto.

Then it comes down to even strength play, which is how this game should be settled. In the series, the Red Wings hold a 12-7 five-on-five scoring advantage. In Game 6, the Ducks played their best even-strength hockey of the series at both ends and won on that front 1-0, the ultimate margin of victory.

Bottom line: the Ducks must reprise their Game 6 masterpiece. The Red Wings will require more from two guys capable of giving it. Should be epic.

Fun Fact: The Red Wings are 4-2 in Game 7s at Joe Louis Arena, where this will be the seventh Game 7 -- the last being seven years ago when Dominik Hasek and the Wings shut out Patrick Roy and Colorado -- you got it -- 7-0.

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