Dominant Wings put stranglehold on Ducks
Hiller's heroics not nearly enough as Detroit 1 game away from series win
The only surprise in Sunday's NHL playoff game at the Joe Louis Arena was that it stayed so close for so long.
Or perhaps, that goaltender Jonas Hiller kept his sanity.
Jiri Hudler scored the winner and Darren Helm the clincher as the Detroit Red Wings beat the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 in the Motor City, moving within a game of clinching their Western Division semifinal.
Hiller, the Ducks' keeper, sparkled all night under a 35-shot barrage but still had his often outclassed team right in it at 2-1 with under five minutes to go.
It took a disputed goal from Helm to end this charade and put everyone back on a plane for California, where on Tuesday night the Red Wings can wrap up a seven-game Stanley Cup series they now lead 3-2.
Replays showed Anaheim's complaint on Helm's goal may have been legitimate.
Complaints in vain
As the play was unfolding right on top of Hiller's crease, Detroit's Dan Cleary found himself behind the goaltender on the blue ice.
He put his left skate boot up against the rear of the keeper's right pad just as Helm's shot came in low and to that side. But the referee on the spot ruled it a goal and no amount of complaining from Hiller was going to change it.
Henrik Zetterberg's empty-netter at 19:08 merely added a final nail to a coffin that had already been closed.
Disputed goal or not, the Ducks have to work out why they were outshot 36-16 and pretty much outplayed throughout.
"We just have to get emotionally involved in the game right from the drop of the puck," said Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle.
The question of Hiller's ability to bounce back from a poor outing in Game 4 was answered quickly in this one as the lefty was pounded by 14 shots, to just three the other way in the first period.
There were also two goalposts behind the young goalie, including one by Johan Franzen in the opening seconds.
Hiller, who gave up five goals Thursday night before being pulled, put in an effort more like the NHL's top backstop of this year's playoffs.
Wings kept coming
By the second period, Hiller was looking very much like the boy sticking fingers in the dike to stop the flood. At the 3:23 mark of the middle frame, he simply ran out of fingers.
Franzen hustled into the Ducks zone on the right side and, just as he had the defender committed to his going wide, the winger put the brakes on in a shower of spray, cut into the middle and wired one past Hiller for 1-0.
Right off the puck drop the Wings attacked again, forcing the Ducks' keeper to make a terrific save off Pavel Datsyuk.
Seconds later Hiller made a solid stop but the puck popped up about waist high and Jiri Hudler batted it out of the air and into the net to make it 2-0 at 4:02.
Things got so bad the Wings had the Ducks in penalty-killing mode without a man in the box — five-on-five, they were still watching Detroit throw the puck around with impunity.
Datsyuk even tried a Gretzky-esque play that saw him flip the puck up over the back of the net and over Hiller's head, hoping to race to the front to get his own pass. It didn't quite work.
"We're giving him lots of shots every night, so maybe we're wearing him out a little bit," said Franzen, who has 20 post-season goals going back to last season. "I think it's more that we know where to shoot on him."
It also helps that speed kills.
"When we keep the speed up and put the pucks behind their 'D' it's going to be hard for them to create something," Franzen said. "If we keep doing that the next game, I think we have a good chance to win."
Better than good. When a series is tied 2-2, the Game 5 winner has won-out 26 of 29 times in NHL history.
Osgood peppered briefly
As improbable as it must have seemed to most observers, Anaheim found itself right back in the game thanks to a power play in the latter stages of the second.
Niklas Kronwall was called for interference and the Ducks finally showed some life, peppering Chris Osgood with six shots.
The sixth was the charm as Erik Christensen, foiled in an attempt to stuff the puck in the short side, passed it out to Ryan Whitney in the high slot. He took a step left and fired one into a big crowd, beating Osgood for 2-1 at 15:37.
Anaheim had another good chance right after that, but Osgood — the forgotten man to this point — made a solid stop.
Shots were 23-12 after two, but just 9-9 in the middle 20 minutes.