Welcome back to Last Word on Hockey’s summer series where we look at the biggest game in team history. Each day we will be back with a new team to review. Looking at things like the lead-up, what happened, followed, and why it makes it the biggest game. The biggest game does not automatically mean a win, either. Sometimes, it can be a loss that set the franchise back massively. Sit back and enjoy as we break down all 31 Team’s most important game. The full series is found here.
The Anaheim Ducks have won only one Stanley Cup in their 25 seasons. In the 2002-2003 season, they reached the Stanley Cup Final only to lose in seven games to the New Jersey Devils. It was a heart-breaking end to the then best season in franchise history. Four years later, in the 2006-2007 season, the Ducks returned to the Stanley Cup Final, this time winning it in five games against the Ottawa Senators. There were no game sevens in that entire playoff run for Anaheim, but the road to the final could have gone another way if it weren’t for the heroics of Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne in the Anaheim Ducks biggest game: Game Five of the Western Conference Finals against the Detroit Red Wings.
Anaheim Ducks Biggest Game
It wasn’t the first time these two clubs had met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was, however, the first of their four meetings to go more than four games. The Ducks lost to the Red Wings in four games twice in the 90s before sweeping Detroit in 2003, the first year the Ducks made the Stanley Cup Final.
Detroit was a perennial threat in the early 2000s. They had won the Stanley Cup twice in the late 90s and then again in 2008, the year after the Ducks won. The Ducks roster knew the history. They knew Detroit would be a difficult matchup for them.
“Detroit has always been tough for us, and we knew if we could get by them, we would have a good chance to win the Cup.” says Selanne reflecting on the series with NHL.com years later.
The First Four Games
Detroit was the number one seed in the West at the end of the 2006-07 season, Anaheim the second seed. The Ducks had faced little adversity in the first two rounds, beating both the Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks in five games. They lost game one for the first time that post-season in Detroit by a score of 2-1.
An overtime win in game 2, a 5-0 loss in Game Three back in Anaheim, and then a 5-3 win in Game Four tied the series at two games apiece. Game Five was back in Detroit, at Joe Louis Arena, a place few road teams could say they were successful playing in.
“It’s not an easy building to play in, because of the history and the culture and the fans there. We haven’t had a lot of success there,” commented Selanne.
May 20th, 2007: Western Conference Final Game Five
The game didn’t go well for the Ducks. In the end, they were outshot 37-26 and an Andreas Lilja goal midway through the second period gave Detroit a 1-0 lead. This lead went unchanged until the 19:12 mark of the third period. A Detroit lead didn’t mean the game was uncontested. The Ducks were relentless in their pursuit of a win. The two teams combined for 49 hits, with seemingly everyone being a bone-crushing blow. Yet, the refs didn’t call a single penalty all game long. This only promoted more physical play, adding an extra spark to an already exciting game, riddled with scoring chances for both teams.
With such a tight contest, something had to give. With 47 seconds left in the game, the Ducks were surrounding the Detroit net. They had a trio of players in front, with Niedermayer possessing the puck in the middle. He drew Detroit goaltender Dominik Hasek to one side of the net, then attempted a pass to Andy McDonald, who was perched on Hasek’s backdoor. Red Wings captain Niklas Lidstrom put his stick down in an attempt to block this pass. Instead, it simply redirected the puck past the sliding Hasek and into the net. When all hope was lost, Anaheim wished upon a star and managed to tie the game.
“We couldn’t score,” Hasek said after the game. “They pull the goalie and scored on a deflection off my defenseman’s stick.
“It was a lucky goal, but it still counts the same as the others.”
It did count, although how lucky it was is debatable, and the Ducks had forced overtime. One of the biggest goals in franchise history set the stage for yet a bigger goal.
Teemu Selanne took the NHL by storm in his rookie season scoring 76 goals and 132 points. It’s the fifth most goals in one season. He went on to a Hall of Fame career, mostly with Anaheim. He never reached those lofty numbers again.
Selanne joined the then-named Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1996. He was traded to the Ducks by the Winnipeg Jets. At the time, Selanne hated the trade.
“I didn’t want to leave, I was happy there, I was very pissed off when it happened.” Says Selanne to ESPN.
The Jets were moving to Phoenix the following season and the new owners didn’t want to pay for Selanne.
“There was a point made, an emphasis made by new ownership — looking at the longer-term picture — how can we afford three $3 million-a-year forwards in Keith Tkachuk, Teemu Selanne, and Alexei Zhamnov?” said Paddock to ESPN.
Anaheim needed a dynamic player to keep interested fans going in southern California. Selanne would help sell tickets. He scored 425 goals for the Ducks including playoffs, but none were bigger than the goal he scored in Game Five against the Red Wings.
It started with a harmless dump-in by Chris Pronger for an Anaheim line change.
“I was forechecking behind the net and their defenseman came around the net and Andy Mac came up right to him. He got confused and lost the puck. I got the puck and …” reflects Selanne to NHL.com.
Lilja, the goal-scorer for the Red Wings, had the puck in front of the net when Andy McDonald got in his way. McDonald put his stick down inches away from Lilja. The puck squirted out to Selanne who was coming out from behind the net. Left alone in front, it didn’t take much for Selanne to get the ever-flopping Hasek on the ice. With the top of the net open, Selanne’s backhander sent Hasek’s waterbottle crashing to the ice behind the net. Game over. Ducks win.
It was the biggest goal in Ducks history in the biggest game of the franchise’s biggest season
History Was Made
The Ducks went back to Anaheim for Game Six, which they won 4-3, but with less drama. Had the Red Wings managed to win Game Five in the Conference Finals, they would have had a chance to win in Anaheim or back in Detroit for Game Seven. It was a pivotal game in the series and in Anaheim’s Championship season. Without that win, another Red Wings Championship was more likely than not.
Anaheim met the Senators in the Stanley Cup Final. They took the first two games at home by one goal each, before winning in Anaheim in game five. The Ducks controlled the series despite each game being extremely close. None of the games had the entertainment value of game five against Detroit.
The game that wins the Stanley Cup is always one that remains with fans forever. Yet the series and games leading up to that moment can carry even more weight. For Anaheim, the biggest game in franchise history wasn’t the best-played game or a game with everything on the line. It did have the two best players in franchise history willing the team to victory with two memorable goals. Sometimes it only takes a moment, or two, to make a forgettable game the biggest game in a franchise’s history.