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Ducks Fly Backward in West's Playoff Race

Hockey: Loss in Vancouver, 5-3, is their third in four games and puts them one point above eighth place.

March 27, 1997|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VANCOUVER, Canada — Their leading scorer has a pain in his side. Their goalie hyperventilated.

Now, the Mighty Ducks are all gasping for breath.

The Ducks were without injured Teemu Selanne for a second game Wednesday, and they are no longer the cohesive and explosive team that went on a 12-game unbeaten streak.

Instead, the Ducks have become faltering and undisciplined.

Their 5-3 loss to Vancouver in front of 16,050 Wednesday at GM Place was their third in four games, and Calgary, Chicago and St. Louis are breathing down their necks in the Western Conference playoff race.

"We've really put ourselves back in the middle of the race instead of pulling out," said the Ducks' Brian Bellows, who had two goals and an assist.

With seven games left, the Ducks are only one point ahead of Calgary and Chicago, who are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot. St. Louis is two points back in 10th.

"I think we're looking over our shoulders, and we should be looking ahead," Wilson said.

Chicago is the Ducks' opponent Friday in a crucial game for which Selanne, the second-leading scorer in the NHL, hopes to return after missing 2 1/2 games because of a strained muscle in his left side.

"We are so close to making the playoffs but still so far," Selanne said before the game. After the game, they were not so close.

Hebert, the Ducks' workhorse during their incredible run, has started 23 games in a row and 42 of the last 43 games, and he might finally have run out of gas.

He was pulled 1:48 into the second period after giving up the Canucks' fourth goal on 12 shots, and Mikhail Shtalenkov replaced him with Vancouver ahead, 4-2.

Shtalenkov played well in relief of Hebert on Sunday after Hebert left a game against Edmonton feeling exhausted after hyperventilating.

But Hebert was ready to return to the lineup, and despite the chance to rest him, Wilson went with Hebert in back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday.

"I can second-guess myself, but I trust Guy's judgment," Wilson said. "It certainly wasn't his fault. It was our failure to clear people from in front of the net."

The Canucks were being counted out of the race in most circles, but the victory pulls them to within five points of the final playoff spot.

Vancouver brought back center Trevor Linden to play against the Ducks, even though he isn't yet 100% after missing the last eight games because of bruised ribs.

Another Canuck brought out of mothballs was goalie Kirk McLean, who had missed the last nine games because of a broken finger.

He relieved Corey Hirsch after Steve Rucchin scored at 9:02 of the first period, giving the Ducks a 2-1 lead.

"We've got to regroup," Wilson said. "Some guys just aren't getting the job done. People have to accept their roles. Our game shouldn't change. We're not going to generate the same offense without Teemu, so we have to play one goal better defensively, and we're not doing that."

The Ducks' history without Selanne is almost as dramatic as their history without Paul Kariya.

Without Kariya in the lineup this season because of an abdominal injury and later, a concussion, they went 1-10-2.

Kariya and Selanne are a true tandem, though, and either one is diminished without the other.

Though he had missed only one game as a Duck before Tuesday--taking a brief leave for the birth of his first child in February 1996--their record before he arrived last season tells the tale. They were 18-30-5 when he was traded from Winnipeg on Feb. 7, 1996. They finished the season with a 35-39-8 record--17-8-3 with him in the lineup.

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