DETROIT -- The Anaheim Ducks' penalty kill was just starting to settle in after a slow start to the series against the Detroit Red Wings. Early on in Game 2, as the Red Wings' power play got chance after chance, the Ducks' PK was up to the challenge. Toni Lydman was a big part of that.
Before a hit from Justin Abdelkader knocked him out of the game, he had logged 3:17 of ice time on the PK, and it was perfect.
Now, a player who has a history of concussions hopes the result of this hit doesn't mean another one.
During the Flames' playoff run in 2004, Lydman suffered his second concussion in less than a month in the opening round against the Canucks. He made it back for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Lightning, assisting on a Martin Gelinas goal. He also missed time in 2001 with a concussion.
A lengthy absence from Lydman would be a blow to a defense that relies on his steadiness and contributions on the PK. During the regular season, Lydman averaged 2:09 of short-handed ice time per game, trailing only Francois Beauchemin and Sheldon Souray among Ducks defenseman.
"He's a solid defenseman. He plays smart, plays the game smart," said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. "He doesn't look too big out there. He's strong as an ox. We're hoping that he's not out too long."
Both Ryan Getzlaf and Nick Bonino mentioned how much of a calming influence Lydman has on the Ducks, on and off the ice. The 35-year-old Finland native has played in 847 career regular-season games and 55 career playoff games, and led the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs with a plus-14 in helping the Sabres advance to the Eastern Conference finals. It gave the Ducks a top pair in Game 3 of Beauchemin and Lydman, which had loads of experience.
"Experience, especially on defense, you can never have too much of it," Beauchemin said. "He's a physical guy. He's really strong. He's playing safe defensively and just makes simple plays, easy passes. He's played in the playoffs before and knows what it takes to win."
Souray, who was a healthy scratch in Game 3, would be the likely replacement if Lydman can't play. It's where having depth pays off for the Ducks' defense, but advanced stats during the regular season suggest the Ducks lose in this exchange. According to behindthenet.ca, Lydman's relative Corsi was 5.7 compared to Souray's 1.1, with both playing against tough competition. That suggests the Ducks are better at driving possession when Lydman is on the ice. Only Ben Lovejoy had a higher relative Corsi among Ducks defenseman, and his came against weaker competition.
The consolation for Ducks fans is that the Red Wings could be losing a key player because of this hit as well. Abdelkader faces a 4 p.m. phone hearing with the NHL's department of player safety, and it appears as if a suspension is coming.
"He [does] a good job. He just [fights] through, [stays] in front of the net and [makes] the puck delivery back to us," Daysuk said. "I'm happy with [a] hardworking guy."
Abdelkader was more than happy to go into the tough areas of the ice to retrieve pucks and brought a physical edge to that line. Despite missing the third period of Game 3 because of the hit, he still leads all Red Wings with seven hits. He led the Red Wings in hits during the regular season with 120, with the next closest (Drew Miller) at 81.
He also grew in confidence as a goal scorer this season, with 10 goals in 48 games. It was a career high in nearly half the season. He scored the first goal in Detroit's only win of the series in Game 2.
He said his confidence offensively grew as the season progressed.
"I got my first goal as an open net. [Datsyuk] shot a couple off me, before I know it I have three and it's like, you start firing a couple and you start feeling good about it and getting confidence," Abdelkader said on Saturday morning. "Sometimes all it takes is a few goals to go in and you start feeling good."
Mike Babcock tried Gustav Nyquist and Damien Brunner in Abdelkader's spot on the top line in Game 3 and will likely continue the shuffle if Abdelkader is suspended. The advanced stats suggest that Brunner is the better option offensively with a relative Corsi of 1.7 compared to minus-2.3 for Nyquist, who played against weaker competition. However, Brunner is still learning the defensive game and his turnover against Getzlaf in front of Jimmy Howard led to the Ducks' second goal in Game 3. There's risk playing Brunner top-line minutes.
Johan Franzen could be a possibility with Zetterberg and Datsyuk as well, but that weakens Detroit's second line.
And none of those players brings the physical edge Abdelkader brought to the top line.
"We don't have anybody with any kind of weight to play there," Babcock said after Saturday's game. "When you're like us and you lose people, it's a bigger deal."