Darren Helm, I'm thinking, is the ideal guy for this. He's fast enough that he might force Pronger into a couple of lazy hooking or tripping penalties. He's a pest that the Wings have not had since Sean Avery (and by the way, unlike everyone who's had him since, we actually used him correctly), and if he can get Chris Pronger to take some undisciplined penalties, that could be the difference in a very tight series. Hand in hand with this, has to be Babcock using the media a bit to draw attention to Pronger and his tendencies to be a little bit too aggressive out there. Babcock needs to make sure the referees are watching Pronger closely. Then Helm (and probably Homer too) need to go out there and make him do something stupid when the ref is watching. Obviously, Pronger is a smart guy, and this strategy will not be wildly successful, but I do believe it can at least be somewhat successful. If this series is as tight as I anticipate it will be, every little edge will be significant.
2. Please, please, PLEASE protect Ozzie.
Face it: Ozzie ain't that good. He's had his moments for years, but he's generally been a league average goalie. He's getting older, and thus slower. He had an absolutely atrocious regular season. The defense protected him for most of the Columbus series, but the Ozzie we saw in Game 4 looked more like the Ozzie we've seen this season. The Ducks will be attacking down low, trying to occupy the front of the Detroit net, screen Ozzie, and grab rebounds. The Red Wing defense has historically not been very physical. Kronwall needs a series here like he had all last playoffs. Stuart needs to do the same, and in addition, live up to the contract he got this summer. Ericsson needs to show that he knows how to use his giant frame. The Red Wings cannot be pushed around in front of their own net, because the Ducks will rip Osgood apart if they can occupy the spaces around him. Shot block everything. Play the body (and the stick) in front of your own net, not the puck. Absolutely do not allow someone to skate to the front of the net without getting knocked down for their trouble. These are the things the Ducks are going to do in front of a hot goalie. The Wings are going to have to do these same things in front of a very much inferior goalie, if they are to stay alive.
The Ducks will be trying to keep one of their top two pairings out at all times against the Red Wings. Niedermayer and Pronger are both capable of carrying the play when they're on the ice, and making life extremely hard for the forwards they're opposing. This will be partially countered by the Red Wings' forward depth. Hossa, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Hudler, Cleary and Filippula are all guys capable of creating offense all by themselves, and they're going to have helpers like Samuelsson and Holmstrom out there too. However, in the playoffs, you need timely depth scoring to supplement your stars. In order to get those stars going, you're going to have to try to get them out there without a Norris brother on their back. Jumble the lines, especially in the away games. Nothing is going to work well, but some things will have to work well enough.
4. Smart shots!
One thing I noticed the Sharks doing a lot of, especially in Game 6, was taking stupid shots. This was especially evident in the Sharks continuing to take shots from the point, with a defender coming up on them, where they would just drill it into the opponent's shinpads. This easily can turn into a rush the other way, and more than that, you've just given up the puck and possession in the offensive zone for no reason. With the Ducks style of defense (read: mass shotblocking and not allowing possession of the middle or passes through the slot), you're going to have to fight for everything you get in that end of the ice. You can't just drill it into shinpads, you can't just give it up along the boards. The goal that in round 1 that was indicative to me of how to beat the Ducks was Boyle's goal, where the Sharks finally established a presence down low, they put one guy in the slot, and ended up with one coming out from the corner to one side of the net, and Dan Boyle pinching down on the other side of the net on the backside. A cross-crease pass later, and Boyle scores a goal. That's the kind of thing the Wings will have to do. Lots of back-side attack when you're in the offensive zone, and make passes down low across the top of the crease. Defensemen are reluctant to always get those passes because its risky to poke a pass near the net, and are often busy tying up their man in the slot or attacking the puck carrier himself. Some pinches down, and bang, you got one. Especially as the Ducks take penalties (and they will), this becomes easier.
5. Pay the Price
This series is going to suck for the winner. Theres no way anyone gets out of this series unscathed. It's like if you made two boxers fight each other, and then the winner gets to go have another match next week. But that's the playoffs, and both teams are well aware of what it takes to get back to the Cup. You can't look ahead to the WCF against CHI or VAN. There is no WCF if you can't beat the guy in front of you, the one with the elbows, the one with the beard, the one squeezing you into the boards when your feet don't want to move anymore. For the Wings, the Ducks are going to make their forwards pay for every inch they gain in the offensive zone. But no matter how many times you get hammered into the boards, no matter how many times someone falls on you, no matter how many times you get hooked and poked and slashed and tripped up, you have to keep it coming relentlessly. Every time you go to the front, someone's going to hit you. But you have to keep doing it. If the Wings' forwards stop paying the price, and allow the Anaheim defense to dictate how the puck will be handled and played in their end, this series will be over.
The Lightning had a slogan for their Cup run: Safe is Death. I liked that, but I think Still is Death is probably a little more accurate, because I think it exemplifies what hockey is. If you're standing still, you've already been beaten. If you're slowing down, you're already behind. The game is so fast and so hard, that if you start to let up, you've already given up. If the Wings' forwards grow reluctant to go head on against someone bigger and meaner, then the Wings will lose. This series will be won and lost in the Anaheim offensive zone, and I think its accurate to say that the same thing happened in the ANA/SJ series. Detroit has to be smart, they have to be relentless, and they have to keep moving, so that the big angry bear doesn't get a chance to lay his claws (or elbows) into them.
Honestly, my head tells me the Ducks win this series in 7, because their defense and goaltending is too much, and the Wings goaltending will bite them in the ass at some point. My heart says the Wings take it in 7. I'm going with my heart. What is a hockey player anyways, if he doesn't lead with his heart?