Hard not to watch the Red Wings battle the Ducks tonight and not notice the absence of veteran Detroit blueliner Brian Rafalski, who is missing his third straight game.
Rafalski's veteran cool and braininess on the Wings blueline is one of the understated factors behind the club's success. With him out, players like Brett Lebda and aged wonder Chris Chelios (playoff game No. 263!!) are seeing the ice more, and while, they're not bad players, they're not Rafalski.
Chelios helplessly watched Teemu Selanne blow past him on Anaheim's first goal, and while the Detroit power play did finally click late in the second to cut a 2-0 Ducks lead in half, the Wings have clearly struggled with the man advantage against a Ducks team that becomes emboldened and more aggressive when its clear opposing clubs can't do damage on the power play.
Rafalski is finishing the second year of a five-year, $30 million contract, and the bang he's giving the Wings for their bucks was part of the reason GM Ken Holland felt comfortable giving long term contracts to Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen.
Here was Holland's reasoning. Rafalski is now 35, and could easily play another five years. If the Wings had signed him to a 12-year deal when he was 28, he would now be seven years in with no danger of looking like he's past his prime.
The Wings hope the same will be the case with Zetterberg and Franzen. That said, they need Rafalski to reappear in the short term as the Ducks appear to be gaining an upper hand in the series.