While Ryan Getzlaf battled flu symptoms and needed IV treatment last week, the Ducks slipped onto the playoff critical list.
Rested and reinvigorated, Getzlaf restored his team to good health Tuesday at the Honda Center. Their franchise center and captain of the not-too-distant future prolonged their season by engineering both goals in a 2-1 victory that set up a seventh game Thursday in Detroit to determine who will face the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals.
"It's going to be awesome. It's exciting. This is what we play for," said Getzlaf, who scored the Ducks' first goal, during a power play, and took the shot that was redirected by Corey Perry past Chris Osgood for their second goal, both during the second period. "We're excited to go into Detroit and try and get a win."
They wouldn't have had that chance if not for his stellar effort, a 38-save performance by a well-protected Jonas Hiller and a focused effort by the Ducks that fractured occasionally but never broke.
They gave up a power-play goal to Johan Franzen with 2:25 to play but wouldn't let the defending Stanley Cup champions pull even, ending the Red Wings' streak of clinching eight consecutive playoff series on the road.
"I think they were more desperate tonight than we were," Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. "We had too many turnovers that created more time in our zone than we wanted to."
Both teams enjoyed the game so much they stayed on the ice for some fisticuffs at the final horn, with the main bout pitting Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk against Ducks defenseman Scott Niedermayer.
The Red Wings emerged with two fighting majors while the Ducks got two (Perry and Niedermayer) as well as a misconduct against Perry and a game misconduct against Todd Marchant. Getzlaf also got two minor penalties.
Niedermayer said there was "a lot going on" in the waning seconds including some punches to his head that he decided to return in kind.
"Next thing you know my gloves were off," he said. "That doesn't happen too often. . . . When? A long time ago. You guys could probably tell that."
Faced with the prospect of playing their final game of the season, the Ducks responded with vigor and energy and -- gasp -- a respectable number of shots on goal. They were outshot, 39-28, to make it 12 for 12 in the playoffs, but they were as assertive and determined on Tuesday as they were fumble-fingered and unfocused in losing Games 4 and 5.
"I think everybody knew what this game was about. We had to win and we had to show a better effort than in the last two games," Hiller said. "That's what we did and that's why we won.
"We showed the first three games that we can play better and we wanted to play that way again and we did tonight."
Getzlaf led the way, with Perry on his right again and Bobby Ryan on his left except for power plays. But on Tuesday Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle took that line and the newly formed defense pair of Niedermayer and Chris Pronger and created a five-man unit, to great effect.
"It's definitely a comforting feeling knowing those two are back there," Getzlaf said.
Getzlaf did the bulk of the work on the Ducks' first goal, lugging the puck out of his own end, through the neutral zone and deep into the Red Wings' zone on the left-wing boards before pivoting and passing the puck back to Pronger just inside the blue line.
Pronger passed to Niedermayer, on the right side, and Niedermayer took a shot that deflected off Perry in front of the net. The puck was lying loose in the slot when Getzlaf poked it home.
The Ducks extended their lead to 2-0 at 17:35 of the second period when Perry, standing by the left post, redirected a long shot by Getzlaf past Osgood for his fourth goal of the series and seventh in the playoffs.
"We knew we could be better than we were the last two games. There was no question about that," Niedermayer said.
"I think we were tonight."
Not that they were perfect. Andrew Ebbett was sent off at 16:43 for tripping Darren Helm and Franzen tipped in a shot by Jiri Hudler with 2:25 left in the third period, leaving the Ducks no margin for error.
But they made few enough mistakes to earn the right to keep going, for one more game anyway. Maybe more. Niedermayer, whose contract ends July, didn't seem like he was ready for his season or his Ducks career to end.
"What a great thrill to be playing a great hockey club like that in a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."
The last two Cup champions in a Game 7. The way it should be.