FROM PITTSBURGH — The last coach to win a playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings takes pride in that distinction, and he should. With Detroit poised to win its second straight Stanley Cup championship tonight with a victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena, Randy Carlyle might hold on to that honor for a while.
Carlyle's Ducks defeated the Red Wings in the 2007 Western Conference finals before defeating Ottawa to win the Cup. The Ducks didn't face Detroit in the 2008 playoffs but caused anxiety in Hockeytown during the second round this spring.
After avoiding elimination at home in Game 6, the Ducks pulled even early in the third period of Game 7 at Detroit but fell short when Daniel Cleary scored with three minutes left. That was the fifth one-goal game in the series, making it the toughest test the Red Wings have faced.
"The thing about Detroit is that the depth they've got throughout their lineup is starting to be the difference-maker in the games and inside the games," Carlyle said by phone Monday.
"Pittsburgh seemed to have them on the run in the two games they won in their building, but the other night it seemed after the first seven minutes it was all Detroit."
The Penguins won Games 3 and 4 at home and strung together some good shifts early in Game 5 but dissolved into a puddle of goo in a 5-0 loss. Even if they can recover -- they did erase a 2-0 series deficit against Washington in the second round -- to win the Cup, they will have to win at Joe Louis Arena on Friday.
Not only are they 0-3 in Detroit, wunderkind Sidney Crosby has been scoreless with a minus-3 defensive rating there and regular-season scoring champ Evgeni Malkin has a goal and an assist and a minus-3 defensive rating.
In their better moments, the Penguins have taken pieces of the Ducks' strategy against the Red Wings and recycled it effectively.
At their best, the Penguins -- like the Ducks -- have initiated an aggressive forecheck and maintained a quick tempo. They've also tried to pressure Detroit's defense by dumping the puck behind the defensemen and making them chase it while targeting them for punishing hits.
"I thought at times, especially in Pittsburgh, they really were able to get the body on them," Carlyle said. "But again, you've got to put the puck into areas and skate off of it."
The Penguins have also copied some of the Ducks' mistakes, primarily in taking unnecessary trips to the penalty box. Pittsburgh had more penalties and penalty minutes in four of the first five games, allowing Detroit to refine a power play that's now four for 19 (21%). The Ducks took fewer penalties than the Red Wings only once and -- surprise! -- won that game.
Again like the Ducks, the Penguins have too often allowed their emotions to rule them. Malkin should have been suspended for instigating a fight in the final minute of Game 2, Crosby showed poor leadership in slashing Henrik Zetterberg in the second period of Game 5, and hostilities in that game led to three misconduct penalties.
"What happened at the end of the game seemed to take them right out of their element," Carlyle said. "That's something you've got to turn the page on and come back at. Get back to basics. Do the things you do best."
For the Ducks, that meant riding a talented and mobile defense that could stymie opponents and initiate plays.
"I think we had two very competitive teams that neither team would break," Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said of that series.
"I thought the matchups were great too, with some of the lines we had offensively and the strong defense that they had."
It turned in his team's favor because of "the depth we had on our team," he said.
That's again Detroit's big edge. Malkin has a team-leading two goals and seven points in the finals but the only other Penguin with two goals is Maxime Talbot, and one was an empty-netter.
The Ducks had one strong line with Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, but they got little from their other lines.
No one connected with the Penguins has asked Carlyle for advice but he knows what he would say if he were coaching them tonight.
"What you want to do is play to your strengths. Always show the respect necessary, but always do the things that you do and do them to the highest level you can do them," he said.
"You can't forget that your team performed very well to get you where you're at. Show confidence in your group and say, 'Hey, we've done some good things and we're in a situation now where we need to win this hockey game. We want to force a seventh game. We want to give ourselves a chance. We've just got to play our game.' "
That philosophy got him a distinction that's likely to last beyond this spring.
"We were happy about the success we had and the competitiveness we had but we're not satisfied," he said. "We feel we can play the game at a pretty high level but we played a pretty good hockey club. They beat us. We took our hat off but we're about preparing our team now to challenge them."
In the last few seasons, they've been the only team that could.