FROM DETROIT — It would be easy to stereotype the Ducks as physical and the Detroit Red Wings as skillful and leave it at that.
But that wouldn't do justice to the many dimensions that carried them to the Stanley Cup the last two seasons and to a second-round playoff matchup that starts tonight at Joe Louis Arena.
The Ducks are brawny but have skill, and if you don't believe that, watch Scott Niedermayer jump into the play like a forward or watch Ryan Getzlaf dish thread-the-needle passes to rookie Bobby Ryan.
The Red Wings are three lines' worth of skillful and are tough, and if you don't believe that, watch Niklas Kronwall throw his body in front of shots and consider the punishment Tomas Holmstrom absorbs when he plants himself in front of opposing goalies for deflections and redirections.
"It's playoffs. It's supposed to be tough. It's supposed to hurt. And that's how it is," Holmstrom said Thursday after the Red Wings practiced at Joe Louis Arena.
That's how this series will go: Mental toughness will be as vital as muscle, and skill will battle will for every inch of ice.
The Ducks, who solidified their defense with late-season trades and have some speed among their forwards, still find themselves at a distinct disadvantage up front. They can overcome that only if many factors mesh.
First, they can hope the Red Wings became rusty since finishing a sweep of the Columbus Blue Jackets eight days ago.
The Ducks' better hope is that goaltender Jonas Hiller plays as well as he did against San Jose, their defense commands the area in front of Hiller, and Teemu Selanne (one goal) and the second line share the scoring burden with the Ryan-Getzlaf-Corey Perry line.
"They're a talented, good hockey club. They've proven that over the last few years," Niedermayer said. "Maybe we didn't prove it all that well during the regular season, but we felt we were better than that and we just want to continue to play as well as we can right now.
"We're going to have to."
The defense on both sides is outstanding. Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom is a finalist to win the Norris Trophy for the seventh time in eight seasons, and Niedermayer's the guy who interrupted that streak in 2003-04. The guy who won it before Lidstrom is Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger.
"I think maybe they're a little bit more physical than we are, but we have the physical presence as well in [Brad] Stuart, Kronwall and Jonny [Ericsson]," Lidstrom said. "They might have a little bigger bodies back there."
The Red Wings' distinct edge is their forwards' ability to come at opponents in dazzling waves, their skills supplemented by a strong work ethic that has become part of the tradition here in the last dozen years.
Of the Ducks' 18 goals against San Jose, nine came from Getzlaf's line and four from defensemen. That imbalance won't be good enough to beat Detroit.
"We can roll our four lines. On three lines we got guys who can score and that's our advantage compared to other teams that have one or maybe one and a half lines that can score," said Detroit right wing Marian Hossa, who scored a team-high 40 goals this season and will flank Pavel Datsyuk and Holmstrom.
"We just have to keep rolling four lines and make them tired and especially stay out of penalty troubles. Because that's going to be huge in this series."
Ah, penalty troubles. The Ducks know all about that.
Red Wings Coach Mike Babcock, who led the Ducks to the 2003 Cup finals but left when Brian Burke took over as general manager, made it clear he doesn't want his players to trade jab for jab and risk getting retaliation penalties.
"We won't be the second guy. That's not going to happen," he said. "It's simple for us. There's going to be no scrums on our part. We're just going to line up for the faceoff.
"Every team has a way they play, and I think you've got to play the way you play. Obviously, that's part of their game and what they think is an advantage for them, and part of our game is to go to the net on a consistent basis."
The message seems to have sunk in.
"There's going to be some nonsense, I'm sure, going on after the whistles and you've got to be prepared to try and keep yourself out of it," Stuart said.
If the Red Wings obey Babcock, the Ducks will have another big headache. Their penalty killing was 20 for 24 against San Jose, but the Red Wings converted a league-leading 25.5% of their advantages this season and seven of 22 against Columbus.
"If they hit you or whatever, it happens. Just suck it up," Holmstrom said. "Those bad penalties, you can't take them. It can hurt you pretty fast."
The Ducks don't need to add self-inflicted wounds to the damage Detroit's forwards have the potential to cause.
"We're playing a team that proves itself every year," Getzlaf said. "Detroit's always one of the best teams in the league and they proved it again this year, so it's a big test for us."