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Canucks Deflate Ducks

Hockey: Vancouver wins, 5-3, to add to Anaheim's road woes.

March 27, 1997|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VANCOUVER — Their leading scorer has a pain in his side. Their goalie hyperventilated and might be just plain beat.

Now the Mighty Ducks are all gasping for breath.

The Ducks were without injured star Teemu Selanne for a second game Wednesday, and they are no longer the at-once cohesive and explosive team that went 12 games without a loss.

Instead, the once-unbeatable Ducks have turned faltering and undisciplined.

Their 5-3 loss to Vancouver, in front of 16,050 Wednesday night at GM Place, was their third in four games, and now 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 ahead," said the Ducks' Brian Bellows, who had two goals and an assist.

With seven games left, the Ducks are one point ahead of Calgary and Chicago, who are tied for seventh place. St. Louis is two points back of Anaheim in ninth.

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

Chicago is the Ducks' opponent Friday in an extremely 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 as before.

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.

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

Shtalenkov played well in relief of Hebert Sunday after Hebert left a game against Edmonton feeling exhausted after hyperventilating during a five-minute Oiler power play.

But Hebert felt ready to return to the lineup, and despite the chance to rest him, Wilson went with Hebert in consecutive 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, but the victory pulls them to five points out of the final playoff spot. The Canucks pulled out the stops, bringing back center Trevor Linden even though he isn't yet 100% after missing the last eight games because of bruised ribs.

They also brought goalie Kirk McLean out of the mothballs. He had missed the last nine games because of a broken finger, but relieved Corey Hirsch after Steve Rucchin scored at 9:02 of the first, giving the Ducks a 2-1 lead.

With Selanne out, the Ducks' defense has crumpled, giving up chance after chance after a stretch when they rarely gave up more than a goal or two in a game.

Alexander Mogilny, Jyrki Lumme, Martin Gelinas, Donald Brashear and Lonny Bohonos scored for the Canucks.

"Some guys just aren't getting the job done," Wilson said. "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 Kariya.

Kariya's importance to the Ducks has been well-documented. Without him 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 Selanne had missed only one game as a Duck before Tuesday--taking a brief leave for the birth of his first child last season--their record before he arrived tells the tale. They were 18-30-5 when he was traded from Winnipeg on Feb. 7, 1996, then went 17-8-3 with him in the lineup.

"Really, his leadership in the dressing room is what I miss, too," Wilson said.

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