In the spirit of tonight’s regular season matchup with the Detroit Red Wings, during which the Anaheim Ducks will celebrate their early- to mid-2000s history, it seems fitting to recall one of the most memorable moments between the two franchises: the 2007 Western Conference Final. The Ducks emerged victorious after a physical back-and-forth chess match between historically elite rosters, and it was one to remember. Let’s rewind the clocks back to 2007.
Setting the Context
The series was the fourth playoff meeting between the Ducks and Red Wings. Two of the previous three ended with Detroit series wins (1997 and 1999), with the lone win for the Ducks until this point being their David-versus-Goliath-like upset over the second-seeded Red Wings in the 2003 Playoffs. Jean-Sébastien Giguère provided Herculean goaltending in that series, and was still the man in goal for the Ducks when 2007 rolled around.
These two teams were indisputably the two best in the NHL the entire season from start to finish. The Red Wings finished atop the league in points with 113, but didn’t win the Presidents’ Trophy because the Buffalo Sabres had more wins that season. The Ducks finished second in the West with 110 points, then a franchise record. Neither team had any weaknesses. Kryptonite, sure, but not weaknesses. The Red Wings weren’t all that physical, and the Ducks were far too physical and undisciplined. Something was going to give in the series.
Ducks Get a Crucial Opening Split in Detroit
The opening weekend of the series was, as expected, a chess match across the board. Randy Carlyle and Mike Babcock were two of the most thorough and detail-oriented coaches in the league. Lines were set, matchups were defined early, and storylines developed quickly. A bad bounce was the single difference in Game 1, and the Ducks found themselves in overtime in Game 2, after a back-and-forth offensive affair, needing a fortunate bounce of their own to come away with a victory and a series split.
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Scott Niedermayer, Conn Smythe winner that playoff, came up huge in overtime with a goal that beat Dominik Hasek. His brother, Rob, naturally, got the primary assist and the brothers delivered a huge win that kept the Ducks from falling into a potentially insurmountable 0-2 series hole. Especially against a team as deep and skilled as this Red Wings team was. It was one of Niedermayer’s many clutch plays throughout his illustrious playoff career.
Red Wings Dominate Game 3; Favored but Don’t Get Game 4
The series shifted to Anaheim though by the end of Game 3, the momentum was completely in the Red Wings’ favor. They won 5-0 in a game marred by one of the uglier moments of the playoffs – a Rob Niedermayer and Chris Pronger major penalty for boarding Tomas Holmstrom. Holmstrom was an effective, pesky, in-your-face, front-of-the-net player that was finding success, and Niedermayer and Pronger viciously sandwiched him head-first into the glass. The play resulted in Pronger’s suspension for the all-important Game 4.
So, facing a potential 3-1 deficit down their best defenseman and the odds stacked against them, what did the Ducks do? They put Ric Jackman into the lineup, and all he did was score in the first period to give the Ducks a 3-1 lead. They did surrender the lead but got it back en route to a series-tying 5-3 win. Getting that victory without Pronger gave this team all the confidence it needed to win the next two games.
The Goal – Game 5
It was pretty clear at this point that the winner of Game 5 was probably going to get the series win. The teams traded wins to this point, but a 3-2 series advantage wasn’t one either team as good or hungry as these two were going to give up.
Game 5 was another chess match. On home ice, the Red Wings were all over the Ducks, but couldn’t solve Giguère. They got one past him but he made 36 crucial saves that kept the Ducks alive long enough to get a goal in the final minute by (guess who) the ever-clutch Niedermayer. In the six-on-five situation, legends connected for the tying marker: Pronger fed Selanne who found Niedermayer in the slot and beat Hasek, a legend in his own right. Onto overtime they went, and we all know what happened there.
Selanne’s overtime goal is one of the top moments in Ducks history; it is certainly one of their biggest goals. When you pull it all together – the stakes, the series thus far, the people and teams involved – there just wasn’t a moment more crucial on the Ducks’ path to the Stanley Cup than getting that series advantage and putting the Red Wings on the brink of elimination.
Ducks Seal It in Six
Game 6 followed an all-too-familiar script: Giguère neutralized the Red Wings, and the Ducks scored just enough to earn the victory. The win sealed the series, and they dispatched the Red Wings in the playoffs for the second time in five seasons. The Ducks were Stanley Cup-bound.
An Iconic Series in an Iconic Playoff History Between These Two Franchises
This series was an all-time classic. It pitted a dominant, loaded, and historic Original Six franchise against an equally loaded organization still in its NHL infancy. There were Hall-of-Famers on both sides. Elite goaltending. Young forwards and legendary goal-scorers. The Ducks’ physicality and nastiness versus the Red Wings’ finesse. Just legendary stuff, and one of many chapters in the story of the Ducks-Red Wings playoff book.
The series delivered many of the most memorable moments in Ducks history. You have the overtime winner in Game 5 by Selanne, Giguère’s heroics all series, and what Ducks fan doesn’t remember Pronger and Niedermayer’s nasty sandwich of Holmstrom? The series lived up to all expectations, and you can bet it will all be recalled in tonight’s matchup with the Red Wings.