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Ducks Do More Than Just Talk

June 02, 2003|John Dellapina | New York Daily News

In the lead-ups to and postmortems of the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals, the Mighty Ducks did a lot of talking about what they had to do. And it amounted to as little of significance as what they actually did in twin shutout losses.

They talked about liking the line matchups that Pat Burns rammed down their beaks in the Meadowlands. And about how they needed to "manage the puck better" -- a pretentious way of describing making good, smart passes and dump-ins and receiving and retrieving same -- and remaining patient.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the goaltender who had spent the three previous rounds erasing all of the Ducks' mistakes, cut through half of that nonsense Friday morning, when he called out his team. And Duck Coach Mike Babcock sliced through the rest right off the drop of the puck [Saturday] night when he gave the lie to his own rhetoric by using the advantage afforded home teams -- the last line change on play stoppages.

Babcock got his top players away from the Devils' top checkers. And, lo and behold, a competitive game -- if not a series -- broke out with Anaheim's 3-2 overtime victory in Game 3 at the Arrowhead Pond.

The first clues that this game would be different came even before the opening faceoff. That was when Babcock, who Saturday morning insisted he liked the matchups and line combinations from the first two games, changed his most important one. He started sniper Paul Kariya with playmaker Adam Oates, signaling that he planned to go for it.

Veteran Steve Thomas wouldn't spend many shifts on their right wing the rest of the night -- finisher Petr Sykora got that assignment. But Thomas began the game there. And before the puck was dropped, he whacked and jabbed at Devil winger Jeff Friesen, signaling that the Ducks planned to initiate rather than absorb.

The Ducks were going to play as if it actually mattered to them that they were being embarrassed right out of the only finals they are likely to see for a while -- Detroit, Dallas and Colorado still reside in the Western Conference and Vancouver might eventually figure out the postseason thing.

And, even if it meant conceding that his top players couldn't handle a challenge Burns was posing, Babcock was going to do a little bench coaching -- getting the Kariya-Oates-Sykora line away from John Madden's line and the Scott Stevens-Brian Rafalski defense pairing while getting them on whenever possible against the Devils' third pair of Oleg Tverdovsky and Tommy Albelin.

Kariya uncorked his first threatening shot of the series on just such a shift late in the first period. Martin Brodeur stopped it with a left toe save. But the line's effectiveness had finally been established and the entire Ducks' bench had to be relieved to actually witness Kariya doing something productive.

Rather than just talking about something reactive.

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