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INSIDE THE LINES | LONNIE WHITE

Ducks try to exploit their depth advantage

May 11, 2007|LONNIE WHITE

The new NHL may feature less clutching and grabbing, but the game maintains a physical element that will go a long way in determining this year's Western Conference champion.

But if you're expecting more fights, think again. The act of force will happen every time the Ducks dump the puck in a corner behind Detroit's defensemen, particularly veteran Chris Chelios.

At 45, Chelios may not be the type of player who can be intimidated. But, over a seven-game series, he can wear down against a relentless and physical attack. That will be part of the Ducks' game plan as they face the Red Wings with a berth in the Stanley Cup finals at stake.

Blue-line battle: With two top defensemen injured -- Mathieu Schneider is out for the rest of the playoffs because of a broken wrist and Niklas Kronwall is sidelined because of a fractured sacrum -- the Red Wings' blue line depth will be tested against the Ducks, who will try to keep constant pressure in the Detroit zone.

The key for the Ducks will be their No. 2 line of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Dustin Penner, who will be counted on to set the pace with aggressive hitting and smart forechecking.

"In the NHL playoffs, you expect things to get more intense as they move along," Getzlaf said. "There's more pressure as you get deeper into the rounds where you know that one or two plays could make a difference."

If the Perry-Getzlaf-Penner line can make its presence felt, Detroit's defensive core will be hard-pressed over a long series. Perennial Norris Trophy candidate Nicklas Lidstrom and veterans Andreas Lilja, Danny Markov and Chelios have had to play more minutes since Schneider's injury in the second round.

But the Red Wings have been here before. Over the first two rounds of the playoffs, Calgary and San Jose tried to beat up Chelios and Co. and Detroit advanced.

The Ducks can help themselves by getting production from four lines. In the second round against Vancouver, the Ducks' checking line of Samuel Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen did a good job of throwing their bodies around.

Look for Coach Randy Carlyle to give his fourth line a chance to have the same impact against the Red Wings. With Todd Marchant finally off the injured list and Brad May playing some of the best hockey of his career, the Ducks' fourth-line players could be the difference.

Summary: The crafty Red Wings are at their best when they are able to control the puck and keep opponents from scoring chances. The Ducks are at their best when they are attacking, creating turnovers and forcing opponents to play up-tempo. Whichever team is able to get the other out of its comfort zone the most, will advance.

lonnie.white@latimes.com

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