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Ducks Progress, Little by Little

Taking advantage of limited chances has fueled their unlikely run in the playoffs.

May 11, 2003|Elliott Teaford | Times Staff Writer

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Welcome to hockey's dead puck era, when one bolt of lightning could be all a team gets in a given game. Baseball had its time of limited scoring, back in the days before cable or satellite dishes or even color TV.

Now it's hockey's turn. Or maybe it's simply a return to the days before Wayne Gretzky turned the game electric two decades ago.

And so it was with a great sense of purpose that Mighty Duck winger Mike Leclerc chased a puck that had squirted out of the Minnesota Wild zone and into center ice early in the second overtime of a scoreless Game 1 of the Western Conference finals Saturday afternoon.

Who knew what might develop?

"Today's game is a different game," Duck Coach Mike Babcock would later say. "It's like chess out there. You can't get through the neutral zone. Free opportunities are so few. You get a free opportunity, you better bury it."

As it happened, the Ducks created something from nothing, turning a simple play of aggression along the boards into the only goal of the game, the only goal they would need for their third consecutive multi-overtime victory to begin a playoff series.

Center Adam Oates had chipped the puck along the left boards, deep in the Ducks' end of the ice, and out of harm's way.

Leclerc tamed the bouncing puck near the red line, skated into the attacking zone, drew Minnesota defenseman Lubomir Sekeras to him, then slipped a pass to teammate Petr Sykora, who was charging unchecked down the middle of the ice.

"I put my head up and there was nothing," Sykora said of his shooting options. "There was nothing, and so I put my head down again and I made my move."

That's when Sykora moved the puck from his forehand to his backhand, faking a helpless Minnesota goaltender Manny Fernandez to the ice before depositing the puck over the goalie's left shoulder for the game-winning goal 8:06 into the second overtime.

A sellout crowd of 19,350 at the Xcel Energy Center groaned, the Wild trudged to its dressing room and the Ducks poured over the boards to celebrate their fifth consecutive overtime victory in these playoffs, and their second with Sykora as the man beneath the mob of celebrating teammates.

Sykora's next overtime goal will tie the NHL record of three in one postseason held by the Boston Bruins' Mel "Sudden Death" Hill in 1939 and the Montreal Canadiens' Maurice "Rocket" Richard in 1951.

Of course, given the defensive nature of the game, circa 2003, Sykora might not get another chance as glorious as the snap shot he put by Marty Turco of the Dallas Stars to end a five-overtime marathon in Game 1 of the previous round or his breakaway Saturday.

Minnesota Coach Jacques Lemaire smiled faintly when he was asked about Sykora's latest goal.

Lemaire had seen it before -- not in the identical situation, mind you, but certainly it was familiar enough to him. Lemaire had coached Sykora for three seasons when both were with the New Jersey Devils in the late 1990s and Sykora was a rising offensive standout on Lemaire's defense-oriented team.

"I wanted to jump on his back, so he doesn't shoot," Lemaire said. "I know the way this guy shoots the puck, so I don't want him to shoot."

Right man, right situation for the Ducks.

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