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From The Point: Thoughts On The Conference Final

• With all-star Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger serving a one-game suspension in Game 4 – for driving Tomas Holmstrom's head into the boards in Game 3 – the pressure was on Scott Niedermayer to play well and play often. Which he did, but surprisingly, Niedermayer did not lead the Ducks in ice time – despite playing 31 shifts and a phenomenal 34 minutes in a 60-minute game.

Rather, it was Francois Beauchemin, at 34:29, who logged the most minutes for the depth-challenged Ducks. It should be noted, though, that Ric Jackman, playing his first playoff game this season in place of Pronger, chipped in with a goal despite seeing only 6:37 of ice time. And Joey DiPenta, who usually holds down the well-rested third ‘D' pairing, saw only 8:47 of ice time, but he was out there for a crucial 3-on-5 penalty kill with the score tied 3-3 early in the third period.

Meantime, don't forget that Detroit has been without top defenders Mathieu Schneider and Niklas Kronwall, heaping more pressure and ice time on Conn Smythe Trophy candidate Nicklas Lidstrom. Danny Markov and Chris Chelios also have taken on more responsibility.

• Buffalo defenseman Teppo Numminen, who has played more regular season games (1,314) than any other active NHLer without ever winning the Stanley Cup, leads all players in the playoffs with a plus-11 rating.

Numminen has never made it to the final; in fact, last season's run to the Eastern Conference final with Buffalo was the first time he had made it out of the first round. He's back in the East final again this season, but the soon-to-be 39-year-old is running out of chances. Numminen's partner, Dmitri Kalinin, is tied for second overall at plus-9.

Sabres blueliner Toni Lydman, meanwhile, who's usually paired with Henrik Tallinder and plays against the opposition's top line, is at the other end at minus-4. (Three players are tied for last at minus-8.) Lydman plays close to 24 minutes per game; Numminen and Kalinin average around 19 minutes.

• That Henrik Zetterberg (66) and Pavel Datsyuk (58) lead the post-season is shots on goal isn't shocking, although both of the Red Wings linemates usually bide their time looking for the perfect scoring opportunity rather than blindly firing shots at the net. And seeing Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson in third place, with 52 pucks reaching opposing goalies, is also well within the realm of believability.

But the player with the fourth-most shots on goal in the 2007 playoffs is none other than Detroit grinder Daniel Cleary, who has launched 51 vulcanized missiles while playing six or seven fewer minutes per game (16 compared to 22-23) than the high-octane all-stars ahead of him.

Prior to this season, Cleary had one goal and four points in 16 career NHL playoff games. This spring, he has four goals and 11 points in 16 games. And only two players have more than Cleary's 30 penalty minutes in the '07 post-season – San Jose defenseman Scott Hannan (33 PIMs in 11 games) and Anaheim's Rob Niedermayer (37 PIMs), who received a five-minute major and game misconduct for the hit that hurt Holmstrom (a hit that, for the most part, was delivered by Pronger, not Niedermayer.)

• No netminder has stood out as a bona fide Conn Smythe hopeful – not yet, anyway – but 13 of the 19 goalies who have played at least one full playoff game have a save percentage of at least .916.

And pity poor Marty Turco. The Stars goalie, slagged for playoff flops in recent seasons, earned three shutouts and boasted a scintillating .952 save percentage, only to lose out to Vancouver in seven games in Round 1. (Canucks stopper Roberto Luongo, eliminated in the second round, is next behind Turco at .942.) Jean-Sebastien Giguere is third at .930 to pace the final four playoff goalies; Ottawa's Ray Emery is 12th at .918.

Of the final four teams, Buffalo's Ryan Miller is facing 30.1 shots per game, while Detroit's Dominik Hasek only has to deal with 24.3 per contest. Giguere (25.8) and Emery (25.1) are closer to Hasek than Miller. And then there's Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff, who averaged 42.5 shots against in the Flames' six-game, first round ouster against Detroit.

FINAL THOUGHT
It's been 80 years since the Ottawa Senators last won the Stanley Cup. They're due.

(The first incarnation of the Senators, in the early 1900s, claimed seven titles between 1909 and 1927.)

Sam McCaig's From The Point appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Have a point to make with Sam McCaig? You can reach him at smccaig@thehockeynews.com.

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