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Ducks Boost Confidence

Goalie Gerber sparks a 3-1 victory over Vancouver that gives Anaheim a positive outlook for the playoffs.

March 31, 2003|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

Maybe there was little to take from this game other than another victory for the Mighty Ducks.

Maybe the message was plain to the eye, a great effort by a goalie and a few key goals, rather than subliminal -- see you next week.

Maybe the Ducks' 3-1 victory over Vancouver on Sunday had extenuating circumstances. The Canucks playing consecutive games, having routed the Kings on Saturday, and the Ducks fresh from five days off.

Still ...

"It's another one for the memory bank, that we can beat these teams," center Adam Oates said.

The Ducks can file away a less-than-perfect but highly satisfactory performance in front of an announced sellout of 17,174 at the Arrowhead Pond.

Goalie Martin Gerber stopped 41 of 42 shots, taking the heat off his teammates for a lackluster second period. Steve Thomas, Oates and Petr Sykora scored goals. Steve Rucchin, Rob Niedermayer and Mike Leclerc prevented what may be the NHL's best line from running amok.

With all that, the Ducks continued to push toward the Stanley Cup playoffs, which begin for them next week, possibly at Vancouver.

"There is always a Cinderella story in the playoffs, so maybe we'll be it," said Oates, who had a goal and an assist to become the 15th NHL player to top 1,400 points. "If you'll pardon the Disney pun.

"I have been on a lot of playoff teams and I can't really tell you what it takes. I just know when it works. I know a game like this gives us confidence."

The Ducks have played a game of leapfrog with Minnesota for sixth place, one-upped the Wild again and would face Vancouver if the standings remain as they are now.

Of course, with three games left, the Ducks could also face Dallas or Detroit.

The Ducks got their first victory over Vancouver this season and can thank Gerber for that, as he took a beating, twisted and flopped. The Ducks were outshot, 18-5, in the second period, yet ended it with a 2-1 lead.

"I thought we were way too respectful [of the Canucks] in second period," Coach Mike Babcock said.

Gerber, though, took it away at times. He did receive some help, as Rucchin, Niedermayer and Leclerc had the size and skill to handle the Canucks' top line of Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison, who have combined for 118 goals this season.

The only goal he gave up came on a power play, when Bertuzzi went behind the net, then slipped a pass behind him to Naslund. Gerber kept tracking Bertuzzi and never saw the shot, which went off his arm into the net 9:47 into the period to cut the Ducks' lead to 2-1.

It was the Canucks' 12th power-play goal in the last six games and gave Naslund the league lead with 47 goals. The Canucks' Trent Klatt managed to get two other shots past Gerber, but both goals were waved off -- one was ruled to have been batted in by a high stick and the other came after a whistle had been blown.

"I think we have really improved as a team drastically, still when you're playing those good teams, you're saying, 'Oh, gee, are we good enough?' " Babcock said. "We are good enough, so play like we're good enough."

The usual suspects provided the Ducks with offense.

Thomas, acquired from Chicago on March 11, took the puck off the stick of defenseman Marek Malik, then whipped a wrist shot past goalie Dan Cloutier for a 1-0 lead four minutes into the game.

It was Thomas' sixth goal in nine games since the trade.

Paul Kariya's perfect pass allowed Oates to split two Canucks and zero in on Cloutier before putting a shot top shelf for a 2-0 lead 18 minutes into the game.

Oates then did what he does best, as he managed to kick the puck to Sykora at the side of the net. Sykora easily chipped in a shot for a 3-1 lead 41 seconds into the third period.

"I don't think I would read too much into this," Rucchin said. "It was a big win. It shows we can challenge the upper-echelon teams. It will be a different situation if we meet them in the playoffs."

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