I was hoping to write a lengthy, insightful preview of this series. A blitz at work and more Memorial Day cook-outs than you can shake a stick at have forced me to change my plans. Instead, I'll just give you the short, short version, my prediction, then wrap up the games as they're played.
If you had told me in November that Anaheim and Ottawa would play for the Cup, I'd tell you that you were half right. Anaheim got off to a torrid start this season, then weathered a storm of mid-season injuries, most notably to Chris Pronger, to finish with the 2 seed in the West. Ottawa, on the other hand, stumbled badly out of the gate. They staggered into January just barely ahead of .500, then went on a hot streak of their own. They were too far behind Buffalo to win the Northeast, but they were able to out-race the Penguins to the 4 seed in the East.
In the playoffs, the roles seem to have reversed a little bit. Anaheim has had moments of total disorganization, especially in the West finals against Detroit. Ottawa has decisively disposed of Pittsburgh, New Jersey, and Buffalo, each in 5 games.
I believe Ottawa has bigger question marks than Anaheim. Have the Senators truly been tested in these playoffs? The Pens were inexperienced, the Devils had no scoring depth, and Buffalo, for lack of a better word, collapsed. The Ducks may be the first team to truly challenge Ottawa this year. At the same time, however, Anaheim can't afford another game like Game 3 against the Red Wings. The Senators are too opportunistic for that.
In the end, I think Jean-Sebastien Giguere is far more likely to steal a game than Ray Emery, and that will be the tipping point of the entire series.
Ducks in 7
Well, now we know how Ottawa would handle an aggressive, physical opponent: Get beaten to loose pucks, suffer a 14 minute shot-on-goal blackout in the first and second periods, and watch their goaltender get burnt to a crisp. Anaheim had an uneven game. Sami Pahlsson may begin searching the world for a Phillip K. Dick Plot Device that can erase the second period from existence. Ryan Getzlaf was pretty much invisible, until he suddenly appeared in Ray Emery's kitchen. Getzlaf's game-tying goal never should have happened, but Emery got beat while moving laterally, as he usually does.
The Ducks seemed to have a better game plan: Forecheck aggressively on offense, bend without breaking on defense, and bank on Giguere's experience. If it wasn't for some odd bounces, the Senators could easily have been shut out in this game. They were pretty good when momentum had swung their way in the second, but they were overwhelmed when the ice was tilted in Anaheim's favor.
With the Ducks holding home-ice advantage, Ottawa will need to win at least one game in Honda Center. If they don't make Game 2 that road win, they may have to hope for Anaheim to have one of those bad games at Scotiabank Place. That's a dangerous situation to be in, so I expect Bryan Murray to have the Senators back on track Wednesday night.
Emery almost stole it. For 2 1/2 periods, Razor was out of his mind. For much of the second period, he had to be, because Anaheim's attack was overwhelming the Senators. He was finally bested when Pahlsson stole the puck from Heatley, charged to the net from the right wing, and snapped a quick shot to the far post while Joe Corvo was turned around. That goal, the only one of the game, came at 14:16 of the third.
The Ducks played a more disciplined game, with only 4 minor penalties. It helped that the refs swallowed their whistles sometime in the second. And the lack of goals wasn't for lack of hustle. It was a total team effort for the Ducks tonight.
Bryan Murray's roster moves were ineffective. Patrick Eaves was out, and Oleg Saprykin was brought in for experience. He racked up a barely-noticeable 7:31 of ice time. Breaking up the Alfredsson-Spezza-Heatley line did nothing for the Sens' offense, as Ottawa only got 16 shots on Giguere.
Now the scene shifts to Ottawa for a right proper Saturday night game, and the Senators' last chance to save this series.
Bryan Murray got the bad game he was hoping for. The Ducks' propensity for bad penalties came back from the dead, giving Ottawa plenty of opportunities to get momentum back in this series. They didn't get any help from the replay officials. Argue all you want about Alfredsson's kick-in. It doesn't matter if it was intentional or not. When Sidney Crosby and Karel Rachunek had pucks bounce off their skates in previous rounds, the goals were disallowed. Suddenly, they're allowed in the finals? (For the record, I think it was a kick. Alfie changed the angle of his skate after he saw the puck coming.)
Chris Pronger's elbow was the icing on the cake. A one game suspension wasn't enough, especially after Pronger was suspended for the same thing in the Western Conference Finals. However, giving him the two or three games he deserved would create the impression that the league was trying to position the Senators to win the Cup.
So much for Pronger's suspension. Ottawa threw everything and the kitchen sink at the Ducks in the first period, and Giguere came within 0.3 seconds of completely demoralizing the Sens. While Anaheim settled down and played a more disciplined game, Ottawa started diving and taking cheap shots, peaking with Alfie's intentional shot at Rob Niedermayer in the closing moments of the second period. Dustin Penner's easy 2-on-1 tap-in, on a beautiful pass from Teemu Selanne, pretty much sealed Ottawa's fate. Now the series returns to Anaheim, with the Ducks needing one more win to claim the Stanley Cup.