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Helene Elliott ON THE NHL

Time for Ducks to Choose Path

May 05, 2003|Helene Elliott

The Mighty Ducks have come to a fork in their playoff road, which brings to mind what the immortal philosopher Lawrence P. "Yogi" Berra said about such dilemmas:

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

It's up to the Ducks to take the initiative and close out their second-round series against the Stars tonight at Arrowhead Pond, or they can take the chance they can return to Dallas for a decisive seventh game Wednesday and ignore a hostile crowd in defeating a team whose confidence is growing.

It's up to them to decide if they'll let the Stars run amok and barge into Jean-Sebastien Giguere's crease with impunity or if they will take revenge -- not with raised fists, but with a power play that puts Dallas under persistent pressure and fuels an offense that needs broader contributions than it has gotten in this series.

Or they can, justifiably, say that to have come this far is a major achievement and they can leave it here.

They said all the right things Sunday after holding a brief meeting at the Pond. They're not ready to stop now, they insisted, and they've learned from every step. That includes Giguere, who learned Saturday what it's like to watch from the bench after Coach Mike Babcock granted him a third-period reprieve from the Stars' crease-crashing slashes and whacks.

Giguere, ever upbeat, said being on the wrong end of a 4-1 rout taught the Ducks "you need to show up off the bat.... We're a better team today than we were yesterday. We know how good they can play and we know we can match their work ethic and intensity."


The Ducks can't match the bulk and force of Dallas defenseman Derian Hatcher, among the hardest hitters in a bruising game.

"Any time this team can play physically like we did [Saturday], that helps a great deal," Hatcher said. "Playing a physical game creates space and wears down the opponent, which are good things in this game. I think that's the most physical we've been in the playoffs."

Nor can the Ducks match the playoff experience of agitator extraordinaire and four-time Stanley Cup winner Claude Lemieux, who tried to set up house in Giguere's crease and get under the skin of this most unflappable of goalies.

"It must mean I'm doing something good if he's doing that," Giguere said, smiling.

What the Ducks can do is what they did to sweep the Detroit Red Wings in the first round and to build a 3-1 series lead over the Stars.

They can let no loose puck go uncontested, no faceoff be easily lost. They can burn the Stars on the power play by stationing a big body such as Rob Niedermayer in front of the net and hope he will screen Dallas goalie Marty Turco or be in position for deflections and redirections. If the Stars aren't forced to pay for physical indiscretions, they have no reason to worry about hog-tying Paul Kariya or beating a tattoo on Giguere's legs and arms. They can use their speed and waste no scoring chance, making something out of nothing to strike telling blows.

Or they can resume the passive, deer-in-the-headlights posture they assumed Saturday when they were overrun by a team that looked like the top-seeded squad in the West.

The Stars were aggressive from the outset and were never discouraged; if they got a fortunate bounce on their first goal, off the skate of Rob DiMaio, it's because they made that break. The Ducks took only 15 shots, their fewest in nine playoff games and not nearly enough to make Turco sweat.

"Just like in anything in life, sometimes little setbacks are great for you," Duck Coach Mike Babcock said. "There are just speed bumps there that allow you to get to another level. In the playoffs, you have to continually get to another level.

"These are defining moments for players, for organizations. This is where you're measured. Not in the regular season, but right now. So if this is where you're measured, this is where you want to be, most things in life worth having are worth fighting for."

Not fighting as in fisticuffs, but as in refusing to be outworked or intimidated.

"We need to take advantage of the opportunity we have here," defenseman Keith Carney said. "We earned the right to be in this position. This is the most fun we could ever have, and we want to continue this. To do that, we have to all be at our best and compete hard and have the same type of desperation they did.

"We had the momentum going into their building and we didn't capitalize on it, so maybe they think they have momentum now. We need to set the tone and take that away. We have to out-will them."

That means no lapses for even a second and no tentativeness. If the Stars smell fear, they will exploit it and what was once a two-game cushion in this series will be no cushion at all. "We played better and got a good result," Star Coach Dave Tippett said, "and now the key is getting that same effort [tonight]."

The key for the Ducks is responding more emphatically. "We'll see what we're made of," Giguere said.

And whether they choose to take the short fork or long fork in their playoff road.

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