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Elliott / ON THE NHL

This Goaltender Is in a Zone 'That's Hard to Understand'

May 01, 2003|Helene Elliott

He flung his arms skyward, pads and blocker and all, then pitched face-first to the ice as his happy teammates and a roaring crowd exulted around him.

For one moment, no more, Mighty Duck goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere lost control of his emotions. The buzzer had sounded, after what seemed like an hour to him but had really been less than two minutes, and it was finally safe for this positionally sound goalie to abandon all pretense of staying square to shots and to revel in the 1-0 victory over the Dallas Stars that put the Ducks on the verge of upsetting the top seed in the West.

"I was exhausted," a still-sweaty Giguere said 15 minutes after the game had ended and the crowd of 17,174 had filed out of the Arrowhead Pond. "You battle hard all game to see the puck and there's 50 million people in front of the net.

"I'm just trying to fight to see the puck. Obviously, it's pretty hard. The only thing going through my mind is, 'Where's the puck? Where's the puck? Battle as hard as you can.'

"If you work really hard, good things will happen."

Impossible things, too.

The Ducks, seeded seventh in the West, are one game from adding the best team in the conference to their list of upset victims, a string that began with a sweep of the second-seeded Detroit Red Wings. "Our next game is the most important game of the year," Giguere said, repeating the mantra the Ducks have lived by throughout the season but this time with more than a grain of truth to support it.

"If we're not motivated for that, we'll never be."

They would never be in this position without Giguere, who made 28 saves Wednesday and has frustrated the Stars time after time in this nerve-jangling series. Because of him, the Ducks on Saturday can advance to the conference finals for the first time in their 10 seasons. If they lose Game 5 at Dallas, a sixth game would be played Monday at the Pond.

"Crazy," Duck forward Jason Krog said.

It has been three weeks of nail-biting craziness for the Ducks. Each of their eight games has been decided by one goal, four of them in overtime. On Wednesday, Giguere kept them on even if slippery footing on the mushy ice at the Pond by stopping a deflection by Jere Lehtinen in the waning seconds, after Mike Leclerc had finally beaten Star goalie Marty Turco with a splendid power-play wrist shot over the diving goalie.

"He made a couple of phenomenal saves," Dallas center Mike Modano said. "He's in a zone that's hard to understand right now."

Giguere kept the Ducks from panicking and prevented them from ever falling behind. And because he did, he gave them strength to keep pushing against the resistance of a solid, determined Stars' defense.

It was, unquestionably, another step in the change of the NHL's goaltending guard, another move that puts Giguere at the forefront.

Colorado's Patrick Roy is pondering retirement. Toronto's Ed Belfour and Detroit's Curtis Joseph were sent home for the summer in the first round. Only New Jersey's Martin Brodeur is still active among the group of 30-something goalies who have won the Stanley Cup, and even he has been eclipsed this spring by Giguere and Turco, a pair of 20-somethings who have positioned themselves as the leaders of the next generation of dominant goalies.

"Because of his composure, we get confidence," Krog said. "And we just kept at it. That's what the game is for us -- stick with the game plan for 60 minutes. Sometimes we get [their offense] going early and sometimes we don't get it going until the 58th minute."

Nothing like waiting until the last minute, eh?

"At the moment it ended, I was glad to hear the clock wind down," Giguere said, smiling. "You push your body to the limit. All 11 guys on the ice were pushing to the limit."

Giguere responded to the challenge, as he has throughout the playoffs. But so did Turco, who on Wednesday learned he was one of three finalists for the Vezina trophy, awarded annually to the NHL's top goalie. Turco, a more unorthodox goalie than Giguere, had no chance on Leclerc's goal but had made superb stops on Leclerc and Steve Thomas earlier in the period.

"Both goalies were playing great," Duck defenseman Keith Carney said. "It was pretty tight checking, obviously.

"It looked like it might go a while, but we were able to get the [penalty] call at the end, and our power play scored a huge goal for us."

Like Roy, the goalie Giguere idolized while he was growing up in Montreal, Giguere is thriving under the most suffocating of pressure. There are, of course, many victories and Stanley Cup championships separating the two, but anyone who would challenge Roy's status must start somewhere. Giguere started Wednesday, although he insisted the Ducks haven't won anything yet.

"We're taking it one game at a time," he said. "The next game is a big game. The only thing we can control is how we play."

As long as Giguere is playing, they seem to have few worries.

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