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DETROIT - The big hit became a game-changer.
And it was of no help to the Detroit Red Wings in a 4-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
A vicious hit that Justin Abdelkader put on Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman with less than five minutes left in the second period instead turned Game 3 of a Western Conference quarterfinal in favor of the Ducks, who almost immediately capitalized on the opportunity to break the game open.
Abdelkader rose from his feet to hit Lydman near the corner of the rink, behind the Anaheim goal, and knocked Lydman out of the game. The Ducks media relations department told reporters that Lydman was under evaluation for the hit and he did not return for the remainder of the game.
As a result, Abdelkader received a game misconduct and a five-minute major for charging, and the major penalty set up Nick Bonino’s goal 18 seconds into the penalty.
“That was a big penalty to get a goal on, especially going into the power play,” Bonino said. “I didn’t see [the hit] but from what I heard, it was to the head, but, honestly, I can’t say anything.”
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Now, the Ducks will take a 2-1 lead into Monday’s Game 4, scheduled for 8 p.m. Monday at Joe Louis Arena, before the series returns to the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., on Wednesday.
And Abdelkader’s long-term playoff fate may be determined by the NHL higher-ups, as the league has cracked down on hits to the head.
Abdelkader was not available for comment after the loss, and Detroit defenseman Jakub Kindl wouldn’t speculate on any potential discipline against or suspension of his teammate, nor would Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau.
“It’s a big loss,” Kindl said of Abdelkader’s ejection. “We all know he’s not a dirty player. He just tried to finish his check. [Lydman] had his head down so obviously he didn’t see him coming. I saw the replay. I wouldn’t say it looked that bad but obviously you don’t mean to hurt anybody.”
After Abdelkader’s ejection, Gustav Nyquist filled in for Abdelkader on Detroit’s top line for the remainder of the game, but unlike Thursday night, when the University of Maine product scored the game-winning goal in overtime in California, there were no late-night theatrics for the Red Wings.
Instead, the Ducks scored two more goals in the third to regain the series lead Saturday at Joe Louis Arena.
Outshot 14-7 in the first period, the Red Wings were unable to convert more than five minutes of power-play time against the Ducks - more than a quarter of the opening period. Anaheim took four penalties in the game’s first 15 minutes, and Detroit had 80 seconds of 4-on-3 time and 20 seconds of 5-on-3 time, the result of a high-sticking call against Saku Koivu at 9:07 and a delay of game call against Francois Beauchemin 1:17 later, when he shot the puck over the glass.
“The last two games, we had our power play going,” said Kindl, whose team was 3 for 11 on the man-advantage in the first two games of the series. “We just couldn’t score. It’s a tight series, it could go both ways. But at the same time, they had their chances and they scored so special teams have to be way better.”
Anaheim and Detroit went four minutes without a shot in the second, before Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller (23 saves) and Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard (25 saves) made clutch saves to keep the game scoreless.
Then, with 4:49 left in the second, Abdelkader put a crushing hit on Lydman in the corner, behind Anaheim’s goal, and Detroit’s left wing received a game misconduct for the hit and a five-minute penalty for charging, which was served by Damien Brunner.
Immediately, Bonino responded.
“[Eighteen] seconds later, we score a goal,” Boudreau said. “Taking the lead, getting the lead before the end of the second period was pretty vital for us. We thought it was big. It was a big turning point in the game.”
Boudreau added after the win that Lydman “has a headache. He’s not feeling like celebrating.”
After Bonino’s goal, the Ducks killed off an interference penalty to Luca Sbisa, and Ryan Getzlaf scored a shorthanded goal with one second left in that penalty to give the Ducks a 2-0 lead, and Emerson Etem and Matt Beleskey scored third-period goals for the Ducks.
“We had to get that next goal,” said Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, whose team finished 0 for 6 on the power play. “Unfortunately, they got the second one.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.