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Mighty Ducks Continue to Save Best for Last in Bid for Playoffs

Hockey: In beating Capitals, 4-1, Anaheim controls final period for fourth game in a row.

March 01, 1997|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LANDOVER, Md. — They weren't ready at the beginning of the season, so now the Mighty Ducks have to be ready at the end.

That's what they've done the past week, going unbeaten in four games because of a string of determined third-period performances.

Tied going into the third Friday at USAir Arena against the Washington Capitals--another team scrambling to make the playoffs--the Ducks shut down Washington and scored three times to take a 4-1 victory in front of 18,130.

It was the fourth game in row they haven't given up a third-period goal, and it enabled them to move into a tie for seventh in the Western Conference standings.

No one has scored against the Ducks in the final 20 minutes since the Kings did Feb. 20 in a 3-1 Duck loss that Coach Ron Wilson called "a slap in the face."

Two days later, the Ducks went into the third period tied with Phoenix, 2-2, and won, 4-2.

Sunday, they were tied with Vancouver, 2-2, after two periods and ended up with a 5-2 victory.

Wednesday, they trailed Edmonton, 3-1, going into the third and eked out a point with a 3-3 tie.

"Every time you come from behind and win in the third, you gain more and more confidence," said Paul Kariya, who scored his 31st goal and assisted on another. "It becomes a snowball effect. We know we can do it. Now when we're faced with that situation, we know we can come back."

The Ducks also got a rare victory on the road--only their ninth in 31 games. It makes it a little easier to go into Detroit--where they have never won--on Sunday.

"It's key to get the first win, but any win on the road is important, especially at this time of year," Kariya said. "To go into Detroit after playing like this helps."

By Wilson's estimate, the Ducks will need to play close to .500 on the road down the stretch and win the majority of their games at home--where they have a five-game unbeaten streak--to make the playoffs.

"We just needed a few games at home to get something rolling," Wilson said.

The Ducks' only real gaffe led to the Capitals' only goal, when Andrew Brunette scored after Duck defenseman Jason Marshall made a bad pass in the second. Kariya tied the score with 1:21 left in the period.

Teemu Selanne broke the 1-1 deadlock 7:06 into the third, scoring on a power play when he put the puck over the outstretched leg of goalie Jim Carey from close range off a perfect set-up pass from Dmitri Mironov in the slot.

The goal, Selanne's 37th of the season and 200th of his career, gives him 84 points, only three fewer than the league's second-leading scorer, Jaromir Jagr, who recently aggravated a groin injury.

Only 68 seconds after Selanne scored, the Ducks led, 3-1, after rookie center Sean Pronger corralled the rebound of a long shot from center ice by Joe Sacco and sent the puck cross-ice to Warren Rychel cutting to the net.

"It's hard for young teams to learn how to win," said Rychel, who played for the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche last season and the Kings' Stanley Cup finalists in 1993. "You have to be mentally prepared and do the little things. Move the puck, stay out of the box, stay disciplined. The last couple of weeks, we've learned how to do that, and it can't come at a better time of the year."

The Capitals, in fairly desperate straits after a spate of injuries contributed to them dropping out of an Eastern Conference playoff spot, pulled their goalie for an extra attacker with 2:14 left in the game, then got a six-on-four power play after the Ducks' Brian Bellows was called for interference.

Once more, the Ducks and goalie Guy Hebert fended off the Capitals, and the suspense ended when Mironov scored into the empty net.

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