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Ducks Can Finalize Deal

With a victory over Stars in Game 5 today, franchise can go where it has never gone before, but players taking things one at a time.

May 03, 2003|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

This is so close, the Mighty Ducks can reach out and touch it.

They are drawn to the idea like a moth to a flame but are wary of being burned.

Western Conference finalists: The Mighty Ducks.

Uncharted waters. Watch out for icebergs.

With a victory today in Dallas, the Ducks will eliminate the Stars and advance to the conference finals for the first time in franchise history. They will have ousted the conference's top-seeded teams, having already swept second-seeded Detroit. They will have stunned the so-called experts. They will attract even electronic media gadflies.

You can almost hear the primal screams from the Duck dressing room.

"We just have to focus on the next game," captain Paul Kariya said. "Looking back on what we have done is something I will do this summer. We still have a step to take.

"At this time of year, certainly with all the emotional play we have had in games, it is important to keep your focus. The extra adrenaline you have in a game like this can help you. But you have to channel it in the right direction and not think too far ahead."

The Ducks prefer eye on the prize rather than head in the clouds.

As always, Coach Mike Babcock is leading the chorus. The Ducks may have a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, but ...

"St. Louis was up 3-1 this season, Colorado was up 3-1 this season and they are both out of the playoffs," Babcock said. "[The Stars] are going to come at us today."

It would be surprising if the Stars did roll over and go paws up. After all, they haven't been dominated in this series, having lost three one-goal games, two in overtime.

Goalie Marty Turco has been solid, even if Duck goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere has been better. The Stars have generated at least as many scoring chances as the Ducks. A tip here, a save there and it could have been Dallas trying to close out this series today.

"We're still alive," center Mike Modano said after Wednesday's 1-0 loss in Game 4. "We have a couple of days to get our thoughts together and get some rest. We have to push hard Saturday. It's been said a million times, but that's what our focus has to be."

And a million times it has been said, by the Ducks, that this is the most important game of their season.

Yet, there are a few in the dressing room who know just how significant a moment is at hand.

Keith Carney, a 12-year veteran, reached the conference final as a bit player with Chicago in 1995. He has never returned.

Rob Niedermayer made it to the conference final and all the way to the Stanley Cup finals with Florida in 1996. He has played only 17 playoff games in the six seasons since.

For a poster boy to drive the point home, consider Marcel Dionne, who scored the third-most goals in NHL history, spent 18 seasons playing for Detroit, the Kings and the New York Rangers and never once made it as far as the conference finals.

The message can be clear to the youngsters in the Duck dressing room. Just climb up on Grandpa Carney's knee and listen.

"It has been, what, eight seasons?" Carney said. "It's a big deal getting to the conference finals. You never know when you are going to get your next chance to go back. You need to take advantage. That's the way you have to approach this."

The Stars' approach is different. Win three games in a row? No problem.

"I have no doubt we're going to pull it off," forward Claude Lemieux said. "When you are a Stanley Cup contender, at some point, you have to win three games in a row in the playoffs."

The Stars had seven streaks of three or more consecutive victories during the regular season. They won three in succession in closing out Edmonton in six games in the first round.

And all they need is one and the Ducks will be the ones fidgeting.

Or so goes the spin.

"The trick to win it is Game 5," right wing Scott Young said. "Win that, and then all that pressure is on them. All of it. They don't want a Game 6 because then they start thinking they have to win that one to win the series. That's what they don't want. If we win Game 5, and then if it goes to Game 7, it's anybody's series.

"Right now, they are supposed to win this series. It's all on them."

The Ducks are not ready to move on to Game 7 just yet. Winning three of the first four has been difficult enough.

They won Game 1 with a late goal to tie the score in regulation and the game-winner in the fifth overtime.

They won Game 2 with a game-winning goal in overtime after letting a 3-1 lead slip away.

After Dallas won Game 3, the teams sweated through 58 minutes of a scoreless game before Mike Leclerc scored.

"We'll look back on this when it's all over," said Giguere, who leads all playoff goalies with a 1.27 goals-against average and a .960 save percentage.

"We have worked really, really hard, but we haven't won anything yet."

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