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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Ducks rewriting an all-too predictable ending

Globe and Mail Update
Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Anaheim — In the fairy tale - as in the National Hockey League - the clock eventually strikes midnight on Cinderella.

Think of all the unlikely Stanley Cup finalists during the past half-dozen years (Buffalo in 1999, Washington in 1998, Florida in 1996) none of whom stayed around too long once they finally got to the ball.

Seventy-two hours ago, that looked as if it would be the Anaheim Mighty Ducks' fate as well. The Ducks were, as Steve Thomas would later say, "embarrassed" by the token resistance they put up in falling behind 2-0 to an ultra-experienced New Jersey Devils, featuring a future Hall Of Famer in goal, a rock-solid defence corps led by Scott Stevens and a coach, Pat Burns, who took a team to the Stanley Cup finals 14 years ago.

By contrast, the Ducks boast just three players with championship experience and they rely on a goalie, J.S. Giguere, and a coach, Mike Babcock, appearing in their first-ever Stanley Cup final.

The fact that the series is now deadlocked at two wins apiece following Monday night's 1-0 Ducks' win suggests that, possibly this Cinderella is busy re-writing the all-too predictable ending.

The Ducks' leader right now is its goaltender, Giguere, who spoke up last week when the team was down in the series and desperately in need of a adrenalin jolt.

To his ever-lasting credit, Giguere didn't go along with the accepted psychobabble and instead, challenged his team to play with a winning mindset.

Giguere talked about how well the Ducks had performed in the second half; about how their playoff performance was not a fluke; and that they were fully capable of playing at a higher level because they had done so in previous rounds against equally illustrious competition.

To go out on a limb in that way requires a level of confidence usually associated with a more established player. It's something that Patrick Roy, Giguere's idol as a boy, might have done actually.


"I wasn't even worrying about the team responding," said Giguere, "because we've been responding all year. Nothing I said wasn't the truth. Everybody knew that. [What I said] in the paper, everything was true, and we only needed to go out there and do it. We gave them too much respect. We needed to go out and play our game, to do what we did all year.

"It's been like this the last two games. There is a hell of a lot of difference on the ice."

Indeed there has been a considerable improvement in the Ducks' execution of late. Thus far, the series has featured two one-sided games (both won by New Jersey) and two toss-ups (both won by Anaheim in overtime).

Sometimes, teams just get on these types of rolls. In 1993, for example, Roy led a middle-of-the-road Montreal Canadiens to an unexpected Stanley Cup championship by winning 10 overtime games in a row.

A decade later, the Ducks appear to be following a similar script. They have won seven consecutive overtime games, largely because Giguere has not allowed an OT goal in the playoffs. Even Roy lost one OT game, against the Quebec Nordiques, in the 1993 playoffs.

Brodeur, by contrast, is 8-18 lifetime in playoff overtimes, a statistic which doesn't bode well if these games continue to go into extra time.

Overtime, suggested Giguere, brings out the best in Ducks.

But why?

"Obviously, in overtime we feel good going in," said Giguere. "You don't have time to think. You've got to go out there and play. That's what we have been doing so far. We go out there and play our game, go after them. We're not scared to lose. We go out there to win. It's been great so far."

Now, the series switches back to New Jersey and suddenly travel becomes a factor. On Tuesday morning, both teams boarded airplanes back to New York for the 2,441-mile flight, which can take anywhere between five-and-a-half and six hours. On Friday, they'll return to Anaheim for Game 6 and if the series goes to a decisive seventh game, they'll log that many travel miles again, upon their return home next Sunday.

As a West Coast team, with a challenging regular-season travel schedule, Anaheim is far more accustomed to the rigors of coast-to-coast flights than New Jersey, which is essentially a commuter team, based in the northeastern U.S. corridor. Brodeur alluded to the fact that the Devils weren't used to the travel before they came to California for the first time. If the series goes the limit, they'll like it even less now.

The Devils are 10-1 at home in these playoffs, but Anaheim is a respectable 6-3 on the road. So which team holds the momentum?

"It's with them," assessed Devils' winger Jamie Langenbrunner. "They won Games 3 and 4. They have the momentum. We have to find a way to do what they did - and get it back."

Just in case anyone thought the Devils would timidly surrender, Langenbrunner added this: "The series isn't over yet. We've got a great opportunity here. This team can respond.

"We have to find a way to score. We have to find a way to get to the net and create opportunities, the way we did in the first two games. One thing we'll use is, it's a three-game series and we've got the home-ice advantage."

Devils' team captain Scott Stevens has seen this type of series from both the winning and losing sides. Stevens was part of two New Jersey Stanley Cup teams, but he was also there when the Devils frittered away a 3-2 series lead to lose the 2001 championship to the Colorado Avalanche.

So under no circumstances was Stevens prepared to take anything for granted.

"We'll go home and give it our best shot there and see what happens," said Stevens, who suggested the Ducks were "more aggressive, even with their defencemen [in Anaheim]. They're not sitting back as much, but we're still getting chances. We've had a chance to win both games. It was a back-and-forth game both ways and once again, it could have gone either way."

The fact that it went Anaheim's way suggests that Cinderella is alive and well and crossing her fingers that, for the first time in a long time, midnight might come and go without her carriage turning into a pumpkin. ROBTv Workopolis