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Get-Tough Policy With Selanne Paying Off

Hockey: Coyotes have hit Ducks' leading scorer hard, and it has helped them take lead in Western Conference quarterfinal series.

April 25, 1997|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Teemu Selanne was held in check in Games 3 and 4 of the Mighty Ducks' Western Conference quarterfinal playoff series against the Phoenix Coyotes.

He also was speared in the ribs, punched in the back of the head and hooked to the ice on a breakaway.

The Coyotes' roughhouse tactics paid off in victories. Selanne did not have a goal or an assist in either game at America West Arena, which is probably why the Coyotes won both.

It didn't take Lord Stanley to figure out that if you neutralize the NHL's second-leading scorer, you have a better shot at winning.

So, instead of skating past defenders for repeated attacks on Phoenix goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, as in Games 1 and 2, Selanne was slammed against the boards and rubbed out of the action.

Only twice during the regular season was Selanne blanked for more than one game--once for three games in October and once for two games in early February.

"For sure, it's a big challenge to find a way to win the games no matter how physical the other team plays out there," Selanne said. "To me, I didn't think it was anything special. All the games have been physical."

The tough checking continued in Game 5 Thursday night at the Pond, but Selanne wriggled free long enough in the first period to break two lengthy scoring droughts.

His goal at the 17:37 mark of the first period was his first since an empty-netter in the waning seconds of the Ducks' 4-2 victory over the Coyotes in Game 2.

And it ended Khabibulin's shutout streak against the Ducks at 118 minutes 48 seconds.

"In the two games at Phoenix there were no scoring chances at all," Selanne said. "We needed to get more guys driving to the front of the net because [Khabibulin] gives up a lot of rebounds."

That was precisely how Selanne scored the Ducks' only goals in a 5-2 loss that gave Phoenix a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Stationed at the left post, Selanne picked up a rebound and easily beat Khabibulin to tie the score, 1-1, at the 17:37 mark of the first period.

Then, Selanne scored his fifth of the playoffs when he slammed another rebound past Khabibulin to pull the Ducks within one, at 3-2, at the 6:52 mark of the third period.

Unlike past games, the Coyotes didn't have left wing Darrin Shannon shadowing Selanne. This time, defenseman Teppo Numminen followed Selanne around the ice. Numminen lost his former Winnipeg roommate only once in the first period and Selanne came up with a tying goal.

"That isn't fun," Duck Coach Ron Wilson said of the Coyotes' relentless pursuit of Selanne. "Teemu's frustrated because he hasn't generated the offense he expected. He's got to learn to pick his spots. He's also frustrated because the puck hasn't gone in for him. Maybe that's a lack of experience.

"It's a learning experience for everyone here."

For all his acclaim as one of the league's top goal-scorers, Selanne played in only his 11th career playoff game Thursday.

As the playoffs have progressed and the level of brutish play has increased, the Ducks have noticed a difference in Selanne. He has become more intense, more of a vocal leader than in the regular season.

"He's definitely not as relaxed," center Steve Rucchin said. "He's aware he has to be on his game every night if we're going to win. There are 17,000 fans in the arena watching him, everyone watching on TV has their eyes on him, the focus of the other team is on him and he still performs."

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