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Ducks Lose Their Heads, Then Game

Pro hockey: Blackhawks exploit penalties and poor decisions in 4-2 victory.


CHICAGO — When the Mighty Ducks' legs turned to mush midway through Sunday's game against the Chicago Blackhawks, their brains seemed to follow suit. How else to explain a mistake-filled final 35 minutes that sent the Ducks reeling toward a 4-2 loss before an announced crowd of 13,360 at the United Center?

The Ducks have been saying for weeks that hockey isn't a complicated game. Skate, pass, shoot, score. Simple, eh?

But they made things unnecessarily complicated, and messy, with a string of poor decisions after taking a 2-1 lead on Marty McInnis' wraparound goal that ended a wild scramble in front of the Chicago net 4:40 into the second period.

Up a goal, on the road and playing for the second consecutive night against a strong skating club, the Ducks would have been wise to play it safe and sane the rest of the way. Naturally, they didn't.

Tough guy Jim Cummins kicked things off by taking a slashing penalty against Chicago's Mark Janssens only 1:16 after McInnis' goal. Ryan VandenBussche had knocked Cummins into the Chicago bench with a tough hit and Cummins went looking for a payback.

"VandenBussche hit me and I thought that could have been a penalty, then Janssens came in and I just reacted," Cummins said. "The ref could have evened it up there, but he didn't."

Instead, Tony Amonte evened it up for the Blackhawks with a power-play goal at the 6:50 mark.

Next, with the teams tied 2-all early in the third period, German Titov set up the go-ahead goal for Chicago, a quick shot from the left faceoff circle by Eric Daze at 5:43.

Titov is a Duck, by the way.

His clearing attempt from beside Dominic Roussel's net was poked away by an alert Steve Dubinsky. The puck went directly to Daze, who put it directly into the back of the net.

"It probably would have been smarter to put the puck away from the net, around the boards and into the corner," Titov said.

Defenseman Pascal Trepanier took a needless kneeing penalty against Chicago's Alexei Zhamnov at 10:34 of the final period. Titov followed with a holding penalty at 13:20, which blunted any hopes the Ducks had of repeating Saturday's third-period comeback and a 3-3 tie against the Nashville Predators.

Steve Sullivan added an empty-net goal in the final minute.

"If you're a tired team, the last thing you want to do is put your team at a disadvantage," Duck Coach Craig Hartsburg said. "The hardest thing to try to do if you're tired is to kill penalties."

Of Cummins' penalty, Hartsburg said, "No need for it."

Of Titov's giveaway, Hartsburg added, "Just a bad play. He's a veteran player. He knows what to do in that situation. He made a bad decision."

The game didn't exactly start as planned for the Ducks. Hartsburg mistakenly circled Guy Hebert's name on the lineup card instead of Roussel's. So Hebert got an unplanned start, playing the first 15 seconds. Or as long as it took the Ducks to gain possession, ice the puck and substitute Roussel for Hebert.

No harm done.

The Ducks' steady march to the penalty box was a different, however. The Ducks took seven minor penalties to the Blackhawks' two and were fortunate that strong penalty killing kept them in the game.

"In the third period, we had so many penalties," said Teemu Selanne, who scored the Ducks' first goal on a backhander over Thibault's left shoulder from point-blank range.

"It killed all our momentum. Those guys were better, no question. It was a tough night. But for two periods we were right there. In the third period, we just ran out of gas. We didn't have the energy. Those are excuses, but they're facts too."

Here's another fact: The NHL's Western Conference is simply too competitive for the Ducks to lose their smarts as they did Sunday against the Blackhawks and expect to stay in the thick of the playoff race until April.

"Once in a while," Selanne said when asked if he glances at the tightly-bunched conference standings. "I look at the scores and it's unbelievable. All the teams in the West are winning."

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