Inspired Ducks soaring
By GRANT KERR
From Monday's Globe and Mail
Monday, June 9, 2003
Anaheim Long before Anaheim Might Ducks captain Paul Kariya bounced back from a crushing bodycheck to become the focus of Game 6, his teammates made sure the Stanley Cup final would be extended to the limit.
Steve Rucchin and Steve Thomas combined for three goals in the first period, while rising star Jean-Sébastien Giguère stonewalled the New Jersey Devils en route to a convincing 5-2 win on Saturday night.
Game 7 tonight in New Jersey will be the culmination of a National Hockey League season gone right for the Ducks, the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference who now have an opportunity to record a fourth-consecutive playoff upset.
"We still know there's one huge hockey game coming up," Thomas said. "Everyone in [the dressing room] understands the importance of this."
The Ducks have not won a road game in this best-of-seven Stanley Cup final, having been outscored 12-3 in New Jersey by a Devils team that's 3-0 at home and 11-1 in the 2003 postseason.
But in winning Game 6, the Ducks proved again they have the resiliency and determination that's part of any championship team.
"The mandate from Game 1 of this playoffs was to get pucks to the net, with havoc in front," Thomas said. "You get lucky bounces when you work hard and you battle hard.
"We're in a situation where the season's over. We're definitely going to bring our best bottle to the party."
Rucchin scored the opening two goals Saturday night, the first coming when his long shot ricocheted into the net off the leg of Devils defenceman Scott Stevens. Rucchin set the tone early strong on the puck, unwilling to give up possession in struggles along the end boards.
Also steadfast was Giguère, who made huge saves on Turner Stevenson and Scott Niedermayer when the game was in doubt.
Later, Thomas scored Anaheim's first power-play goal of the series after a fortuitous bounce off a goal post and his leg left the puck on his stick for an easy tap-in and a 3-0 lead.
With the Ducks leading 3-1 in the second period, Stevens checked Kariya with a hit that stunned the forward and sent him to the dressing room after lying on his back for several minutes at the New Jersey blueline.
Kariya returned five minutes later and scored his first goal of the series with a blistering slap shot over the catching glove of New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur.
"It was inspiring," Thomas said. "You're not going to keep a guy in the dressing room in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final, no matter what happens to him."
"I expect the same thing from Paul in Game 7," Rucchin said. "That's just a sign of leadership right there to come back after that [hit] and score that goal."
Kariya, who had recorded just one assist in the first five games against New Jersey, had a three-point game on Saturday, as did linemate Petr Sykora, who scored a goal and two assists.
"You just hope for this opportunity," said Rucchin, as the Ducks look to become the first team since the 1971 Montreal Canadiens to win a Stanley Cup Game 7 on the road after the first six games were won by the home teams.
"We're feeling good about ourselves and the way we're playing right now."
As for New Jersey, they were in a similar position two years ago in the final against Colorado. The Avalanche won that Game 6 on the road and Game 7 at home, but this time, the Devils have home-ice advantage in the last game.
"It's been like a homer series so far," Brodeur said. "You rely on a bounce here and there, not just to win the series or advance to win it all."
With the Ducks up 5-1 in the third period on Saturday, Brodeur pulled himself from the game. He look tired as he sat on the bench and watched backup netminder Corey Schwab finish the game stopping both shots he faced.
The Devils got goals from Jay Pandolfo in the second period and Grant Marshall on a power play in the third to run their team playoff total to 60, 15 more than the Mighty Ducks.