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STANLEY CUP NHL PLAYOFFS

Unlike First Game in 1993, the Ducks Are Feared Now

May 02, 1997|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DETROIT — This whole thing started against the Detroit Red Wings, 303 games ago.

Back then, Mighty didn't belong in their name and Duck was what they forgot to do.

But that first game in franchise history--a 7-2 loss at the Pond of Anaheim on Oct. 8, 1993--is as far behind the Ducks now as Sean Hill, Bill Houlder and Terry Yake.

Tonight, the Ducks take their place among the final eight teams fighting for the Stanley Cup, meeting their oldest rivals at Joe Louis Arena in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series.

Instead of simply turning loose the Red Wings' speed and skill, Detroit Coach Scotty Bowman--the only coach in NHL history to win 1,000 games--is trying to figure out how the Red Wings will slow down Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne.

The Mighty Red Wings, worried about the Ducks?

"The better the competition gets, the better you want to play," Detroit's Steve Yzerman said.

If there's concern, it's because the Red Wings didn't beat the Ducks once this season, going 0-3-1, reversing the history of a series Detroit dominated for three years.

"I think the respect factor has changed this season," Duck Coach Ron Wilson said. "I think it started to change last season."

In almost the same breath, Wilson says the Ducks' record against Detroit during the regular season means about as much as Phoenix's 3-1 record did against them: Not much.

But the Ducks had never beaten the Red Wings until this season, and it was worse than it sounds.

Detroit games were a Duck goalie's nightmare. In 12 games, the Red Wings went 9-0-3 and outscored the Ducks, 61-33, averaging 5.1 goals a game.

Only once did the Ducks hold them under four goals. Nine times, Detroit scored five, six, or seven. Twice, they won by five goals.

Their power play? It was 36.2% against the Ducks.

"Every year, they just dominated us," defenseman Bobby Dollas said.

Then came this season.

The Ducks won, 3-1, on Nov. 24 in Anaheim--their first victory over the Red Wings.

They tied, 1-1, March 2 in Detroit.

They won, 2-1, March 12 in Anaheim.

And they won in overtime, 1-0, March 30 in Detroit.

A series once owned by Detroit has changed.

"Offensively, they have so much speed with Selanne and Kariya, but they also have a good system and are well coached," said Detroit's Kirk Maltby. "They don't abandon their system when they're down. If they're up a goal or two, they'll be tougher to catch because they can play the trap. For us to get the first goal is very important, and we just have to keep going at them."

Ultimately, forget that these games pit such players as Brendan Shanahan and Sergei Fedorov against Kariya and Selanne. Wilson predicts defense.

"This series could be very low scoring," he said. "It could be games like 1960s playoff hockey, 2-1, 1-0."

The Ducks have changed, obviously. But so has Detroit.

"I think we match up better," goalie Guy Hebert said. "Teemu and Paul are as quick as anybody, and [the Red Wings] have to expend their energy and be committed to stop them.

"But they don't have Paul Coffey anymore, and I think that makes a difference. They don't have Keith Primeau, and he used to give us a hard time.

Wilson says one of the reasons for the turnaround is that the Ducks are less susceptible to the Red Wings' opportunistic offensive attack.

"No. 1, we have a different defense altogether. We're a lot more mobile," he said. "We have guys who can move the puck out of our end, and we didn't have that before. I saw Scotty Bowman on TV, and he was saying our defense is totally different with Dmitri Mironov and J.J. Daigneault moving the puck."

But the Ducks' offensive threats are as big an issue. The Ducks have lost to Detroit only once with Selanne in the lineup.

In 19 games against the Red Wings, Selanne has 10 goals and 21 points.

How long before the Ducks' season will be done? All Wilson will promise is they aren't satisfied just to reach the second round.

"That's what everybody thinks out there, but that's what they thought about our first series," he said. "They're wrong. Anybody who thinks that is wrong."

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