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Ducks' turn to play follow the leader


FROM DETROIT — Randy Carlyle clearly outcoached his counterpart, Todd McLellan, during the Ducks' first-round playoff series against the Sharks.

Carlyle let his top line, centered by Ryan Getzlaf, play against San Jose's physically big but competitively small Joe Thornton line, and the Ducks' success had McLellan scrambling. McLellan broke up his top line and eventually reunited it at the players' request, but by then the Ducks were well on their way to dismissing the Sharks in six games.

Carlyle forced McLellan to react to the Ducks' game plan when the top-seeded Sharks should have been dictating the tempo and strategy. It helped, too, that Carlyle had a deep well of character players to rely on and San Jose is famously lacking in the grit that's often more vital than skill during the playoffs.

The Ducks' second-round series against the Red Wings, tied at 2-2 as the teams flew to Detroit on Friday to prepare for Game 5 on Sunday at Joe Louis Arena, is unfolding a lot differently.

It's not that Carlyle is being outcoached. Not that it would be an embarrassment if he were. Babcock, after being on the wrong end of a first-round upset in 2006 and a loss to the Ducks in the 2007 West finals, found his footing and won the Stanley Cup last spring.

And with a few moves that were instrumental in Detroit's 6-3 victory in Game 4, he put Carlyle in the position of reacting instead of initiating.

Given the Ducks' lack of offensive depth compared to the roll-four-lines Red Wings, Babcock's team appears to have gained the upper hand in what is now a best-of-three series with two games on its home ice.

Babcock's decision to mix his top two lines Thursday might stand out as the turning point.

Taking Marian Hossa away from Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom to play with Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula jarred two goals out of Hossa's stick after three games' worth of excellent chances that went unconverted.

All the opportunities they said were bound to become goals finally were finished off, providing affirmation that even world-class athletes need more than you'd think.

The move also gave the Red Wings better balance, creating two swift, strong scoring lines. The Ducks' checking line of Drew Miller, Todd Marchant and Rob Niedermayer had done a good job against the Datsyuk line. But it can't stop that line, now with Henrik Zetterberg in Hossa's place, and smother the Franzen-Filppula-Hossa trio, too.

Babcock said after Game 4 that he's not "a big change guy" and thought his team had been doing fine but an early deficit persuaded him to throw a new wrinkle at the Ducks.

The Ducks didn't handle it well, turning the puck over repeatedly, taking bad offensive zone penalties (where have we heard that before?) and spending only 49 seconds on the power play. Goaltender Jonas Hiller was less than stellar, but he didn't get much help from his defensemen or his forwards.

"Hossa probably feels like the weight of the world is off his back, which is great for him," Babcock said.

"He's an elite player and they're all big bodies and they can all skate. It's an opportunity to send a different look. Datsyuk and Zetterberg played really well together so that should be good."

Good enough, probably, to sway the series in Detroit's direction.

"Sometimes when things don't go your way a little shakeup doesn't hurt," Hossa said.

The question becomes what options do the Ducks have to shake things up?

Short answer: Not many.

Carlyle on Thursday made a move he has done before, taking Bobby Ryan off the top line and replacing him with Ryan Carter to get the more physical Carter with Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Ryan had a tremendous rookie season but has been out of his depth in this series, especially defensively. He'll learn and he'll be better in years to come but that won't help the Ducks now.

The second line of center Andrew Ebbett, right wing Teemu Selanne and whomever Carlyle throws on the left side has underperformed in this round, too. Selanne has scored twice but was invisible in Game 4 and took no shots. Ebbett isn't winning faceoffs -- he's five for 22 in the series -- and he's getting pushed around by a team that's labeled as skillful but has size to go with its agility.

The Miller-Marchant-Rob Niedermayer line has produced some chances, notably Marchant's triple-overtime winner in Game 2, but Miller has muffed a couple of breakaways that could have meant a lot to a team that's relying on the Getzlaf line for most of its scoring. Getzlaf, apparently ailing, played only 15 minutes, 55 seconds in Game 4 but the extra day of rest before Game 5 should help him. The extra day should also help James Wisniewski, who planned to skate today for the first time since suffering a bruised lung in Game 3.

Carlyle always says the next game is the Ducks' most important game of the season. This one could be their season. It's a game of adjustments, and it's the Ducks' turn to find some that work.


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