YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Conference finals, Game 3, Tonight at the Arrowhead
Pond, 6, ESPN

Scare Tactics

A fear-of-losing philosophy has guided upstart Ducks throughout postseason

May 14, 2003|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

The memory is seared in the mind of Mighty Duck winger Steve Thomas, etched there like a name on the Stanley Cup.

David Volek scored a goal five minutes into overtime to give the New York Islanders a Game 7 victory over the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1993 Eastern Conference semifinals. Thomas, then an Islander, went through the giddy celebration with the rest of the team.

"We thought we had just won the Stanley Cup," said Thomas, whose name has never been etched on the Stanley Cup. "We didn't even realize we were only halfway through the playoffs."

The point, Thomas said, is obvious.

"We lost to Montreal in the next round," said Thomas, a 19-season veteran. "I have carried that lesson with me since. We had only played a month and a half of hockey. There were two months left. You can't get ahead of yourself."

Thomas should know. He has been to the conference final four times but never once has he had a crack at the cup ... so far.

The Ducks are poised for their first visit to the Stanley Cup finals, up two games on the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference finals. All they need are two more victories and ...

This, the Ducks echo in eerie consistency, is getting ahead of themselves.

"They are not going to roll over for us," winger Mike Leclerc said. "That puts a little fear in us. That's good for us to play that way."

Scared straight.

"We were scared to lose a game against Detroit [in the first round] and we were scared to lose a game against Dallas [in the second round]," Duck winger Dan Bylsma said. "We're scared again. But it's different this time. We know we can't be looking ahead."

So the mantra remains the same: This is the most important game of the season.

"I know you [reporters] had that line fed to you many times, so you know it starts at the top and goes down through our team," Duck captain Paul Kariya said. "If you look at our team, we do have players who have been through this before. They realize that this approach works."

Coming home with a 2-0 lead is a pretty good approach too.

This is nothing new for the Ducks. They had the defending champion Detroit Red Wings in such a bind. They put the top-seeded Dallas Stars in that hole. Those pedigreed teams are home for the summer and the Ducks play on.

The Wild is a different breed, though, more mutt but more resilient, having won six elimination games.

Twice, the Wild has been one game from vacation. Each time it won three consecutive games, shocking Colorado and Vancouver. No NHL team had ever before pulled off such a double feature.

And, the Wild has a 6-2 record on the road in the playoffs.

So the task ahead doesn't seem quite so daunting. "I think this is a totally new series, a different set of circumstances and a different team," Wild winger Andrew Brunette said. "But one thing we learned from the last two series is to stick to our game plan and don't deter from our system. A couple of right bounces and we could have won both those games. We can be successful."

For that to happen, the Wild must solve Duck goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who has a 153-minute 17-second shutout streak, most of it the result of consecutive shutouts of the Wild. The Ducks have needed that effort, considering that they have scored only 10 goals in the last six playoff games and, amazingly, have won four of them.

But the Wild, also shut out by Giguere twice in regular-season games, has seen enough of Giguere's handiwork.

The Wild tried the Giguere's-pads-are-too-big tack after the first game. They were ready to clam up after the second.

"We have to stop worrying about him," Brunette said after Monday's 2-0 loss to the Ducks. "That's our biggest problem right now. We can't have that."

Added teammate Pascal Dupuis, "I'm tired of talking about him."

Wild center Wes Walz said, "He's a good goaltender, but teams have scored on him in the playoffs before. We have scored goals on him before."

But not lately.

"They have been frustrated," Thomas said. "If Jiggy continues to play like that, they will get even more frustrated. He has been the star of the playoffs."

Stars, and teams, burn bright ... and sometimes burn out, Thomas knows. He had a goal for the Islanders in their Game 7 victory over the Penguins in 1993, then 10 days later he was on vacation.

"I have been on three other teams that made the final and didn't have any business being there," he said. "Everyone is usually so banged up this time of year. This team is healthy. But we have to be mindful that [the Wild] has come back twice in the playoffs already. This isn't over."

For a reminder, all the Ducks have to do is trot down Thomas' memory lane.

"What we didn't understand [in 1993] is, you have to play every game like it is a Game 7," Thomas said. "If you don't, you're not going to get a sniff at [the cup]."

Los Angeles Times Articles