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Helene Elliott ON THE NHL

Nobody's Perfect, but Giguere Close

May 13, 2003|Helene Elliott

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Mighty Duck goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere is not perfect, although the Minnesota Wild might disagree after being shut out Monday for the second successive game in the Western Conference finals.

Giguere believes he can improve, no matter that he stopped 24 shots in a 2-0 victory that extended his shutout streak to 153 minutes 17 seconds, stretching back to the third period of the Ducks' second-round clincher against Dallas. It was as close to a rout as the Ducks have enjoyed in their 10-2 playoff run, their first triumph by more than one goal and decisive enough to send the Wild faithful streaming toward the exits of the Xcel Energy Center well before the final horn.

Nonetheless, Giguere insisted it wasn't his ultimate performance. "Every game is a great challenge," he said. "I'm feeling like I'm getting better."

That must mean there are parts of his game that can be refined.

"Yeah," backup goalie Martin Gerber said. "He can score some goals."

Well, Ron Hextall and Martin Brodeur have scored in the playoffs, for Philadelphia and New Jersey, respectively. Maybe it's time for Jiggy to get with it.

Not that the Ducks needed offensive contributions Monday from their netminder extraordinaire, having squeezed out short-handed goals by defenseman Kurt Sauer and Rob Niedermayer to counterbalance a power play that continues to fizzle but not impede their advance to within two victories of a berth in the Stanley Cup finals.

Giguere's sole responsibility is making saves, which he's doing at an astonishing rate. He has stopped 63 shots in this series against a team that had scored 16 goals in its last three games against Vancouver, and has stopped 417 of 436 shots in 12 playoff games, a .956 save percentage. That goes with his 1.32 goals-against average.

And he thinks he's getting better and hasn't yet peaked?

"That's why he's moving up the ladder to be one of the top players in this league," Duck winger Steve Thomas said. "He's taking the bull by the horns and doing everything he can to be one of the top guys in the league."

No goaltender's performance is ever flawless, not even in a shutout. There are too many variables to contend with, too many slippery spots on the ice and caroms that can turn a standup goalie into a flipping, flopping flounder.

He might have bad form, making a flailing save by the length of his big toe instead of standing up to be square to the shooter. Or he might misjudge an angle but be rescued by the clang of a shot off the post or crossbar.

"The perfect game doesn't exist," said Francois Allaire, the Duck goaltending coach and long-time tutor to Giguere. "But we can work to get as close as possible."

If Giguere isn't flawless, he's not far off. His dedication to his craft remains as intense as ever, and so does his rapport with and respect for his teammates. He readily deflects praise to his defensemen and his forwards, who on Monday did a superb job in blocking shots and keeping shooters at angles where Giguere could easily see them and keep his body in front of shots.

This was not his easiest game in the playoffs, he said. No game is ever easy, not with opponents shooting the puck at speeds of 100 mph or more and so many legs and skates and sticks to redirect shots to places he can't reach. But his teammates' staunch support Monday kept his workload within reasonable limits and never overtaxed him.

"I thought it was a better game as a team," he said. "We played very well in the neutral zone. There was no speed as a team for them. [His teammates] made sure I was going to see the puck and they took the rebounds away and blocked a lot of shots in front of me."

The score, he said, "could be 8-7 or 1-0. We just want to win."

Which they've been doing, also at an astonishing rate.

"Two shutouts in a row -- I guess he is getting better," Steve Rucchin said. "He's doing his job but we have to do a better job in front of him."

If the Ducks believe they haven't yet played a perfect game, that's perfectly fine with Giguere. His eagerness to learn is second only to his fondness for insisting the Ducks' next game is their most important, a cliche that will come to life Wednesday when the series moves to the Arrowhead Pond. The Wild has twice erased 3-1 playoff deficits this spring, but a 3-0 deficit would almost certainly be too much to overcome against a goalie as steady and determined as Giguere.

"I was ready to play in the playoffs. I've been practicing this for three years," he said. "I've been trying to get ready for this exact moment, and right now I'm having a lot of fun."

There could be more fun in store if Giguere isn't merely being modest and can, indeed, hone some part of his game. The notion that Giguere could reach an even higher level brought a smile to Paul Kariya's face.

"Who knows?" Kariya said. "But it would be a nice thing to find out, for sure."

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