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The Red Wings’ Biggest Rival: the Ducks? Here’s Five Reasons Why…

The Chief over at Abel to Yzerman has created a bit of a project to pass the summer dead time, trying to categorically determine who really represents Detroit’s best current rival. He starts his study with the Colorado Avalanche, the first of ten candidates, and scores them in six categories: Quality of Team, Hate Factor, Past Playoff Adventures, Blogger Quality, Regular Season Sadness Factor, and Miscellaneous. It’s a pretty decent set of criteria, and aside from Blogger Quality (Ducks bloggers are a bit shorthanded), Anaheim figures to score highly across the board.

Still, I think it’s worth writing up a case for the Ducks, though I should take a moment and clarify: in this post I am writing about the hatred of Red Wings fans, not who Ducks fans hate. Detroit’s rival search is much different from Anaheim’s, in that the Wings have been alone in the Central Division for so long that they need to their sights elsewhere. Go see Dan Wood for the Ducks rivalry question (bonus: my answer is in the first comment there)—we’ve still got plenty of options in the Pacific Division, with Detroit and Edmonton thrown in for fun.

Anyway, as promised, here's five reason why Wings fans should hate the web-footed ones, Five Guys Who Eliminated Detroit in their Last Two Playoff Meetings. Not many active NHLers can boast about eliminating the Red Wings in their last two tries, I think, and while this is by no means a complete list, I don’t think that it would get much longer with more research. It's a rare achievement, as Detroit has a 26-9 series record since the '94 lockout. Here's some Wing-killers, though:

1) J.S. Giguere: Really, this conversation should start and end with Jiggy and his 2003 upset sweep, but it’s worth talking about his 2007 series as well. In both series Giguere made just enough saves to win, but aside from that these series were quite different. Let’s take a look:

2003: I can’t stress enough how awesome the 2003 Wings were—hell, just look at their 12 forwards that postseason: Yzerman, Shanahan, Fedorov, Hull, Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Holmstrom, Robitaille, Larionov, Maltby, Draper, and McCarty. Heck, if they find a place for the Grind Line in the HHOF, this could end up being a list of eleven hall of famers plus Holmstrom. Sure enough, the Wings dominated play, outshooting the Mighty Ducks 171-120 in four-plus games (including a triple-OT and a single-OT). And yet, with all those snipers taking all those shots, they managed to score only six goals. Six. Goals. Giguere murdered in his playoff debut, sweeping the defending champs, which not only exorcised Anaheim’s playoff demons from the past (the Ducks were a combined 0-8 against Detroit in their first two postseasons), but also started a Cinderella run to the seventh game of the cup finals. And as impressive as Giguere’s later sweep of the Wild was (4 games, 1 GA), I really have to say that Minnesota represents his second-most impressive series of 2003. Giguere finished Round One with three first stars of the game and one second star. How sick is that?

2007: This was a different story completely, as the '07 Ducks were a much more formidable team in front of their netminder. Long gone were the days of getting murdered on the shot board, as were the days when Giguere had to be the unreal difference-maker. Still, the Red Wings were the top seed in the west, and were dominant especially on home ice and on special teams. Indeed, this was more a Goliath vs. Goliath battle than anything that had happened in 2003.

Giguere ended up with more saves in the four-game 2003 sweep than he made in the six-game 2007 win, and his save percentage wasn’t even in the same stratosphere (2003: .965, 2007: .908), but one thing that J.S. was able to duplicate against the Winged Wheel: overtime perfection. Combined, Giguere went to OT against the Wings four times, and four times he came away a winner. 46 Detroit OT shots. 46 Giguere OT saves.

2) Sammy Pahlsson: Another member of the 2003 and 2007 squads, Pahlsson remains the longest-serving Duck (his Anaheim debut was November 24, 2000, one day before Giguere’s) and of course has been my favorite player since well before this blog started. You want offense? Go buy a Selanne jersey. You want flash? Getzlaf is your guy. You want hard work, defensive positioning, and attention to detail? Welcome to the Pahlsson Party.

2003: In the first cup run, Pahlsson centered a line with 19-year-veteran Steve "Stumpy" Thomas and 19-year-old Stan "Cheesy" Chistov, which would prove to be a great source for secondary scoring throughout that playoff year. The Sammy line was a huge boost in the Detroit series, as that trio contributed 4 of Anaheim’s 10 goals scored in the series (including a really cheesy Cheesy goal in G3).

2007: By this time Sammy was the unquestioned shutdown center for the Ducks, on a "Nothing" Line with Travis Moen and Rob Niedermayer. It was a banner year for Pahlsson, who probably got robbed of both a Smythe and a Selke within weeks of each other, but as usual put up zero fuss. Against Detroit, he worked the most difficult minutes available against Zetterberg and Datsyuk, and even got the two split up in an attempt to escape the Swedish Shadow.

In each of Anaheim's long playoff years, Sammy ended up playing the defensive center position on my favorite line of the postseason. His point totals against Detroit weren't that stunning (5 points in 10 games), but he did finish each series a +2 while averaging more than 4.5 shorthanded minutes per game.

3) Rob Niedermayer: The last member of the "2003 and 2007" club, Rob also played a significant role in twice eliminating Detroit. In both years, he played wing on the shutdown line, but had surprisingly strong offensive numbers (well, at least for Rob) while playing against the Wings' best.

2003: In his first playoffs for the Ducks, Rob played on a shutdown line with Steve Rucchin and Mike Leclerc, and proved to be a really strong forechecker. I remember him being a fabulous "first man in" after a dumped puck; Rob's strength is really on the offensive boards. Rob got 3 assists in the 4 games, which in Rob terms is phenomenal. In his first 31 playoff games with the Panthers before 2003, Rob had 4 assists.

2007: While Rob’s biggest contribution to the post-lockout Ducks was probably being Scott’s brother, he was also a strong contributor on Pahlsson’s shutdown line, strong enough that the trio played together for all 103 games of that season/postseason. Rob scored 3 goals in the Wings series to lead the team, and even though one of them was an empty-netter, we'll see below the importance of being able to score on an empty net.

Despite his shut-down role, Rob’s actually had impressive points totals against the postseason Wings: in 10 games, he has scored 8 points (0.8 pts/gm). Over the rest of his Anaheim career, he has played 50 playoff games NOT against Detroit and scored 15 points (0.3 pts/gm). Of course, Rob has his drawbacks also – between the two series he played more than 18 minutes of power play time without being on the ice for a PPG-for, but that’s more of a bad-use-of-personnel issue than a knock on Rob.

4) Scott Niedermayer: With Scott, you have to go way back in the time machine to look at his first time eliminating Detroit – he was a third-year player playing in his first cup finals for the New Jersey Devils. Still, Scott is another player who is 2-0 lifetime against the Winged Wheel, and while he might not inspire the same level of hatred as a Giguere or a Pronger, he’s scored some awfully kick-to-the-nuts goals against the postseason Wings.

1995: Ah, remember the days when lockouts would only last part of a season? At any rate, the 1995 cup finals featured Niedermayer’s Devils and the Detroit Red Wings, who at that point were 40 years removed from their most recent championship. Scott and the rest of the smothering Devils continued that drought, dropping the Wings in four straight. Though Claude Lemieux would end up taking home the Conn Smythe, Niedermayer had an impressive finals, with a highlight-reel, end-to-end goal and three assists in the four-game sweep.

2007: And if you think that ’95 goal was a back-breaker, Scott got even more clutch a dozen years (and 127 playoff games) later. He scored two goals in the six-game ’07 WCF, and both turned out to be huge. Game Two in Detroit he scored the game-winner from down low in the 15th minute of overtime to tie the series at 1 game apiece (assists to Rob & Sammy). Then, late in regulation of Game Five, with the Wings up by a goal and Giguere pulled for a 6-on-4, Scott delivered the "kick to the groin": a weak shot that deflected off the stick of Nick Lidstrom and fluttered lazily over Hasek’s shoulder (1:15 into this video). That shot, more than anything, decided that coin-flip series in Anaheim’s favor, and was probably the strongest case for Niedermayer’s Conn Smythe win.

The craziest thing about Scott’s tendency for huge goals is that the guy is pretty mediocre at shooting pucks. He’s nowhere near Pronger or Lidstrom in this regard. Still, there’s a lot of benefit having a full-time rover, and sometimes his weak-sauce shot is exactly what is needed to disrupt a goalie’s rhythm. Scott might not be as despised by Wings fans like Giguere or Pronger, but it’s tough to argue the importance of the goals he’s scored.

5) Chris Pronger: Ah yes, Sasquatch (as they call him). Pronger is the only member on this list to ever get eliminated by the Red Wings (four times on the Blues, I believe), but he’s certainly had his comeuppance since the lockout. In fact, one could make a claim that one of the biggest differences between Detroit’s 2008 cup run from the two previous attempts was that this time they didn’t have to go through Pronger. Or his elbows.

2006: Pronger was a monster for the Oilers in ’06, as the Red Wings would learn early and the Ducks would find out two rounds later. He scored seven points in the six-game Detroit series and ended the series a +4. That began a 2003-like run for the 8th-seeded Oilers, who proceeded to eliminate the Sharks and the Ducks before bowing out in their own SCF G7. Pronger finished Round One with three first stars of the game and one second star. How sick is that?

2007: Pronger was much more muted offensively in the ’07 WCF, only recording three assists in five games played, but his defensive numbers more than made up for that. In the '07 series, Detroit didn't score a single even-strength or power-play goal while Pronger was on the ice. While that’s impressive enough, I doubt that’s what Red Wings fans remember most.

Get off my elbow, Homer.

There’s a real case to be made that Pronger was the best player in both the 2006 and 2007 playoffs. Except for the technicalities that in 2006 he was a cup-loser and in 2007 he was suspended twice, he could have been the first back-to-back Conn Smyther since Mario Lemieux. Against the Wings both those years, he scored 10 points in 11 games and was on the ice for 20 GF, 10 GA, all while averaging more than 32 minutes per game. And despite his reputation, against the Wings he only had eight minors (somehow Rob Niedermayer went to the box for five minutes after this play).

The Two-Time Wing Killers. Can they make it Three?

I know this piece got awfully long and if you’re still with me, congrats. Still, I think it was worth going through the stories of these two-time Wing-killers, because there doesn’t seem to be a lot of players who have such streaks going (the only other one I could come up with in very limited research is Sandis Ozolinsh, who eliminated the Wings in his last three meetings – ’99, ’00, and ’03).

Combined, these five Ducks players made huge contributions in eliminating the Wings in ’95, ’03, ’06, and ’07, and it’s not a huge stretch to think if they hadn’t, Detroit might have won as many as four additional Stanley Cups by now. And really, who wants to live in that alternate reality? (Wings fans are insufferable enough as is.)

There's still plenty of other reasons for Wings fans to hate the Ducks (I didn't even mention the yappy mouth of Corey Perry), but I think this fivesome might prove as strong a rivalry argument as any. I'm hopeful that Detroit fans found this post as angering to read as I found it pleasing to write, because you know what that means. They'll be licking their lips for the next matchup, their chance for postseason revenge.

Welcome to the rivalry, Wings fans. Go Ducks.