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Lemaire Beaten at His Own Game

May 14, 2003|Dan Barreiro | Minneapolis Star Tribune

In unleashing on the NHL a certain defensive style, Jacques Lemaire is viewed by some puck enthusiasts as the Baron von Frankenstein of the game.

If it makes those angry villagers feel any better, the Frankenstein Monster has turned on his master and has both big paws wrapped tightly around his neck.

The Mighty Ducks are not only playing the Wild's game, they're playing it better than Lemaire has ever seen his own team play it. Of this, there no longer can be any question after the Ducks' extremely convincing 2-0 victory on Monday night in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.

Baron von Lemaire is no fool. He sees it. Asked whether he observed too many of his players trying to go one-on-three during Game 2, Lemaire said: "You saw the game. You saw the game. We did at different times there. The worst thing you can do in the playoffs is try to do it by yourself. That is the worst thing. Then you don't have the team anymore. You're not working together, and one guy is easy to stop."

This, of course, is just the way the overachieving Wild finished sixth in the Western Conference during the regular season, and it also helped the club knock off the Avalanche and the Canucks to reach the conference finals: Play a patient, defensive game. If necessary, wait for the game to come to you. Frustrate your opponents so completely and totally that out of sheer agony, they eventually start taking silly chances. Then you pounce on their mistakes, kill them softly and leave them wondering how they ever let such an unimpressive team beat them.

"We should know better," said a disgusted Andrew Brunette, fully aware that the Wild had been beaten at its own game. "We have to be as patient as those guys."

Clearly, the Wild, which gave up two short-handed goals in the same game for the first time in franchise history, was nothing of the sort. In Game 1, it was as simple as the Wild playing well but being denied by one terrific goaltender. This was followed by some whining from Wild players regarding the size of Jean-Sebastien Giguere's pads. In Game 2, Giguere could have played in a loin cloth.

Though the Duck goalie made several nice stops, and again gave away nothing, his defense was brilliant in front of him. As Lemaire said, the puck seldom even got to Giguere, who stopped 24 shots. The few times the Wild did get to Giguere, the team still couldn't find a way to solve him. On Sunday, Lemaire had insisted that even Giguere had not only strengths but also weaknesses, and his team needed to exploit the weaknesses. He refused to divulge to reporters what those deficiencies were. He apparently also refused to divulge this intelligence to his own players.

Eventually, the Wild became frustrated enough that it started to play uncharacteristically hare-brained. The Ducks, meanwhile, looked far less lethargic offensively than they had in Game 1. They looked very much like a better version of the Wild.

But the larger question that remains is whether Lemaire & Co. can come back from a 2-0 series deficit, with the next two on the road. Here's a real cerebral, inside-hockey answer: not without scoring.


Dan Barreiro can be reached at

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