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HELENE ELLIOTT

Ducks need to skate smarter to defeat Red Wings

They need to avoid penalties if they want to advance to the Western Conference finals.

April 30, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

FROM ALLEN PARK, MICH. — Soon enough, Detroit winger Tomas Holmstrom will try to establish residence in front of the Ducks' net while a roaring crowd at Joe Louis Arena tries to rattle the Ducks' composure.

Wednesday was the calm before the storm for the Ducks, who went through a light practice at a quiet suburban rink after a long flight from LAX.

While youth-league players pressed their noses to glass doors for a glimpse of the NHL stars who had parachuted into their midst, the Ducks loosened their legs and put behind them any lingering congratulatory thoughts over their first-round playoff upset of the San Jose Sharks.

The Ducks weren't hiding from their fate at Allen Park Civic Arena, tucked between a bowling alley and a furniture store. They're meeting their destiny head-on by preparing calmly and deliberately, skating there because it minimized travel time from their hotel and enabled them to more sharply focus on the second-round series that will start Friday.

The Red Wings, who swept Columbus, will test the Ducks' defense, goaltending, penalty killing and discipline. The Ducks said they welcome each test.

"This is just another challenge," said center Ryan Getzlaf, who led the team with eight points against the Sharks and raised the emotional temperature in Monday's clincher by fighting Joe Thornton two seconds into the game.

"We knew we were going to have to go through probably both San Jose and them to get to where we want to be."

The Ducks got this far because of Jonas Hiller's superb goaltending, because the Getzlaf-Bobby Ryan-Corey Perry line was dominant and because their defense was rugged and firm.

They will need all that plus consistent second-line scoring and the restraint to stay on the right side of a line they've often crossed with both skated feet.

The Ducks -- yes, we'll say it again -- cannot take stupid penalties against the Red Wings or they will suffer. Detroit had the NHL's top power play this season, at 25.5%, and has the most efficient power play in the playoffs, at 31.8%

Leave Holmstrom alone and he'll deflect or redirect shots past Hiller. Try to move him and you risk a penalty.

"Now it seems like they're trying to develop another Holmstrom-type player in [Johan] Franzen. And even [Tomas] Kopecky at times has been in front of the net and fallen on the goalie," Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle said.

"So there's lots of areas that will be watched closely as we go on. That's where they score the majority of their goals from, the 10-foot range."

To try to make Holmstrom less of a factor Scott Niedermayer said the defense and Hiller will have to communicate often about how and when to clear the traffic.

"Sometimes you get caught wrestling with him and that puts two of you in front and the goalie then has two people to look around," Niedermayer said. "We've just got to figure out the right way to go about it. Obviously we have to be there before him and get in better position. He's good at what he does and he'll be a challenge for us."

That's not news. There's very little each team doesn't know about the other after two playoff series since 2003, including the Ducks' six-game victory in the 2007 Western Conference finals.

They know each other by name, face, stick blade and the smell of their gloves when they administer facewashes along the boards.

Usually, it's the Ducks on the wrong end of the law. Pronger was suspended for the fourth game of their 2007 playoff series after he hit Holmstrom from behind in Game 3. Defenseman James Wisniewski showed he was born to be a Duck when he cross-checked Mikael Samuelsson in the face during a game in March 2008, while Wisniewski was still with the Blackhawks.

That left him seven career suspensions behind Pronger, incidentally.

Adding Wisniewski and Ryan Whitney to their defense gave the Ducks mobility, first-pass possibilities and zing in the locker room. Wisniewski also brings toughness, but he spoke with the enthusiasm of a kid in saying he was eager to face the Red Wings, the team he rooted for as a boy in nearby Canton, Mich.

"It's going to be a little more surreal," he said. "I've been playing against them for 3 1/2 years now, but it's different when growing up you've been seeing this team win Stanley Cups and in the summertime you watch them play playoff hockey for a long time, and now we have a chance to knock them out and move on to the Western Conference finals."

The Red Wings are deeper and faster up front and every bit as gritty as the Ducks have become while fighting to get into the playoffs and ousting the Sharks.

But the Ducks do have a chance.

Hiller gives them that. Displaying some discipline, especially in the first two games at Detroit, could make that chance substantial.

"I think we are enjoying that we are still playing at all," Hiller said. "And Detroit is a hockey city so it should be a lot of fun."

--

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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