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He Fuels Duck Line to the Third Power

Once frustrated by the thought of going to the minors, Duck center Pahlsson not only picks up his game along with Thomas and Chistov, he helps set up winning rebound in Game 4 overtime.

June 03, 2003|Elliott Teaford | Times Staff Writer

Tough to win the Stanley Cup from your couch at home in Sweden.

So center Samuel Pahlsson quit pouting on the sideline and got back in the game after taking what amounted to an unauthorized two-month vacation because he didn't want to play for the Mighty Ducks' minor league affiliate at Cincinnati.

Tough to win the Stanley Cup from the banks of the Ohio River too.

But when Pahlsson decided to return to the fold, not long after General Manager Bryan Murray made it clear that he would not release him to play for a Swedish club team, he got his head and his game together. It took a while, but he has energized a third line that's often every bit as good as the Ducks' first two.

Pahlsson and wingers Steve Thomas and Stanislav Chistov were no-shows for the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals at East Rutherford, N.J. But they sparked the Ducks to a 3-2 overtime victory Saturday in Game 3 with their physical play and teamed to score the only goal of Game 4, a mere 39 seconds into overtime Monday.

"It wasn't like we held a meeting or anything," Pahlsson said.

His line swarmed the Devils in the two games at the Arrowhead Pond, hammering them against the boards on almost every shift.

They also mastered the subtler aspects of the game, with a highlight-reel goal to account for a 1-0 victory Monday that tied the best-of-seven series at two victories apiece.

Pahlsson's near miss from the right goal post, after a pretty cross-ice pass from defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh, set up the winning goal -- with the long rebound deflecting off goaltender Martin Brodeur's left leg to a hard-charging Thomas, who sent a laser into the back of the net.

"I got a great pass and I should have got it up off the ice," Pahlsson said, wincing as he described the play. "I didn't have time to be disappointed. The rebound came right out and [Thomas] scored."

One shift, one more bolt of lightning.

"Sammy's been huge for us," center Steve Rucchin said. "That line won the Dallas series for us [in the second round], but that's just how this team is. You look around the locker room and it's a different guy every night."

Coach Mike Babcock never hesitated to put Pahlsson's line on the ice to start overtime Monday, with the teams locked in a scoreless game and the fingernails of Duck fans down to their stubs.

New Jersey Coach Pat Burns had a more skillful line to start the second overtime in as many games, with Jamie Langenbrunner, Sergei Brylin and Jeff Friesen countering the Ducks' scrappy line. Turned out to be a mismatch.

"I assume they thought it was a good matchup," Babcock said, referring to the Devils. "It became a three-line game, not a four-line game. We thought our best bet to win was the matchup we were going with."

With Game 4 on the line, Pahlsson, Thomas and Chistov roared into the Devils' zone. Thomas broke into the attacking zone from the right and zipped a pass to Ozolinsh on left wing, with Pahlsson rocketing down the right flank.

"We got a three-on-two or maybe it was a two-on-one," Pahlsson said. "Ozo was really poised with the puck. I didn't do much with it, but I got it off his pad. I was right by post when the puck went in. There was a lot of emotion. It's always great to win in overtime. Everybody wants to score and be the hero."

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