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DIANE PUCIN

Ducks Were Left for Dead From Start

April 28, 1999|DIANE PUCIN

Octopus. One, then another, and another. Out they came, plopping onto the ice at the Arrowhead Pond, slimy, smelly, gross. But that wasn't the final insult. No, the final insult was the bottom part of the broom that came down from the hands of someone wearing red.

But that wasn't the final insult either.

The final insult was when the hometown announcer had to say that if any more debris was tossed onto the ice, it would result in a delay of game penalty. Against the home team. Against the Mighty Ducks. Yep, that was going to stop all those Detroit people from throwing their seafood onto the ice.

It is a good thing that the Ducks lost to the Detroit Red Wings, 3-0, Tuesday night. It is good to get these rude, crass, crazy Detroit fans away from the pristine Pond for one thing. Disney is going to need to find a sea-creature detector if the Red Wings and Ducks meet in the playoffs again.

And it's also good that this NHL Western Conference quarterfinal ended, that the Ducks didn't have to go back to Detroit, that they won't have to play any more games this season without Paul Kariya, that Teemu Selanne can take a rest and get back whatever it was that was missing from his game, all his spark, his oomph, his creativity, it was all mostly absent from this four-game debacle.

"Let's go Red Wings, let's go Red Wings."

OK, maybe that was the final insult.

The chant was loud, it was harsh, it cleared the Pond of anyone who wasn't wearing red.

Or was it the two goals, bang, bang, Brendan Shanahan and Slava Kozlov, blasted past Guy Hebert in the closing minutes of the third period? The goals that brought out the octopus and the broom, the goals that have mercifully put an end to the Ducks' season?

No, those weren't the final insults, those goals, those were the final blessing. Sending the Ducks home.

This wasn't a scientific poll so there is no plus-minus 5% for error. But in the parking lot before this game, 25 people were asked who would win--the Anaheim Mighty Ducks or the Detroit Red Wings.

The vote was unanimous. You think people don't agree on anything? They agreed in the parking lot. The Red Wings would win this game. Win easy. Win going away.

After all, the Ducks had been soundly thrashed in Games 1, 2 and 3 and then it was announced Tuesday morning that Kariya, the best player for the Ducks in this series, had broken a foot in Sunday's game while trying to stop a shot.

It wasn't all that easy to find Duck fans first of all. Red, red, red, red sweaters, red pennants, red hats, red signs. So many Red Wings fans were coming into the Pond that one was prompted to wonder--if all these people like Detroit, why did they move out here?

But even Ducks fans, quiet and polite as they are, and as much as some of them tried to be upbeat, couldn't come up with one reason to think the Ducks would avoid the four-game sweep.

"Maybe Hebert will pitch a shutout," Jim from Huntington Beach said. "But then, that won't matter. Without Kariya, nobody's gonna score for the Ducks." And, Jim, could we have your last name. "No," Jim laughed, "I don't want people to think I'm crazy to be out here. I'm supposed to be playing softball."

And then, for almost 38 minutes, Jim looked brilliant. The score was 0-0. Hebert was fabulous. He sprawled, he twisted and turned and he seemed to have so many arms and legs that one was reminded of the many-tentacled octopus that is the symbol of Red Wings fans.

Plus the makeshift lineups that Duck Coach Craig Hartsburg concocted were fearless. Defenseman Ruslan Salei was scratched because of a bad shoulder. Suddenly there were guys like Antti Aalto who were throwing themselves against anything that moved. Anything wearing red. Aalto blasted Chris Chelios into the boards, then did the same to Sergei Fedorov. Didn't matter if the particular Red Wing had the puck or not. Just smash him.

But passion flames out. Manic energy subsides. Kariya on crutches, that can't be overcome. It is time for the Ducks to go home. Time to rest, reflect and find more players for next season. Talent, lots of talent, that's what counts.

Diane Pucin can be reached at her e-mail address: diane.pucin@latimes.com

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