Friday, May 01, 2009

Ducks' "Puck Luck" Carried Them Past Wings In '07

It's not a stretch, really, to say that with a couple more favorable bounces, the Red Wings could be playing for their third straight Stanley Cup this spring.

The Red Wings are set to get it on with the Anaheim Ducks tonight in Round Two, and you've read and heard much by now about how this is shaping up to be quite the little rivalry.

The Colorado WHO??

The Avs are so 20th century. The 21st century Red Wings rivals are, I'd agree, these Ducks. There's some playoff history that's growing, both in terms of frequency and intrigue.

Take 2003, when the defending Cup champion Red Wings were broomed out of the first round by the Mike Babcock-led (yeah, that's another anecdote for the rivalry) Mighty Ducks.

Or how about 2007, when the Red Wings had the Ducks half-drowned, only to see them bob back up to the surface and turn the tables.

I love hockey terms. Some of them are trendy, just like any other sport, but that's OK.

One of those terms making the rounds the past few years is "puck luck."

Careful. It's bad enough that hockey has one word that ends in "uck". So watch it.

Babcock, who switched sides and became the Red Wings coach in 2005, likes to use the term.

"Puck luck" refers to either a player or a team that gets the bounces or, as in the case of an individual player, seems to score at a higher rate of frequency than other skaters.

In 2007, the Ducks had puck luck. Or else last year, the Red Wings might have become back-to-back champs.

In a way, I can't believe it was two years ago.

Seems like yesterday, when I sat in the press box for Game Five of the Western Conference Finals, covering the series for a former employer. It was a Sunday afternoon, I recall.

The Red Wings were clinging to a 1-0 lead late in the third period in a series tied 2-2. The Ducks pulled their goalie. Less than a minute stood between the Red Wings and a 3-2 series lead, one victory away from the Cup Finals.

Then puck luck struck. Another "uck" word.

Game action involving a sixth attacker is a frenetic, wild display. Throw everything at the net, including the proverbial kitchen sink. Squeeze as many bodies as you can in and around the goal crease.

The puck was shot from the top of the face-off circle, and with the usual heavy traffic in front of Dominik Hasek, thanks to the sixth attacker, there was bound to be a crazy bounce or deflection or carom.

Or, in this case, all of the above.

I can see it now, as if in slow motion: the puck ricocheting off a body, then glancing off the unfortuitously-placed stick of Nick Lidstrom, of all people. Then the puck flutters, like a butterfly. And you know how hard it is to catch a butterfly. Especially with no net. This isn't lacrosse, after all.

So the puck flutters and floats and no one can stop it, despite its lazy movement. Hasek helplessly watches it flit over his shoulder. And over the goal line.

Tie game. About 45 seconds remained in the third period.

I didn't think an arena could be deflated that quickly--until one year later, when I stood in press row and watched the Penguins tie Game Five of the Cup Finals, the Red Wings about 30 seconds away from parading the Stanley Cup in front of their home fans.

So the Ducks-Red Wings Game Five goes into overtime.

Then more Duck puck luck struck. Ugh! More "uck" words.

Red Wings defenseman Andreas Lilja was bringing the puck up ice, in his own zone. Not a soul was around him. Until he coughed up the disc, inexplicably. He simply fanned on a pass, leaving the puck sitting on the ice, maybe 20 feet in front of Hasek.

Then, where Lilja had been lonely, he was now joined, quickly, by Teemu Selanne, whose eyes must have been as big as the puck itself when he saw the gift that Lilja had left for him.

There are tons of players in the NHL who you could give the puck up to in such a situation and not be terribly worried, for they have hands of stone.

Sadly, Teemu Selanne was not one of them.

Selanne pounced on Lilja's gift, swooped in on Hasek, and made like the Hall-of-Fame caliber goal scorer that he is, neatly backhanding the puck over the sprawling goalie. You knew it was going in as soon as you saw who found the gift.

Ducks win, 2-1.

Two nights later, the Ducks finished the Red Wings off.

Selanne buries the puck, and the Red Wings' chances to move on, in OT of Game Five of the 2007 Western Finals

Had the Red Wings won Game Five, I'm convinced they would have won the series. And I'm just as convinced that they would have handled the Ottawa Senators in the Finals.

So here come the Ducks, once more. The playoff history between the two teams sits at two series wins for each side. After winning the first eight post-season games over the Ducks, the Red Wings are now in a 2-8 slump against Anaheim.

Yes, with any puck luck at all, this could be a three-peat attempt for the Red Wings.

But, as they say, two out of three ain't bad, either.

1 comment:

MCS said...

Very nice article. I like the personal touch.

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Click this link to join us --

Once you get there, please post some of your more recent writing to get started. It is not uncommon to get several comments per article.

I look forward to reading more of your stuff.