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Depth Is Proving Decisive

May 15, 2003|Elliott Teaford | Times Staff Writer

Ten goals, 10 names on the score sheets. These Mighty Ducks click together like Lego blocks, so is it any wonder they are one victory away from eliminating the game-but-overmatched Minnesota Wild and reaching the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in their 10-season history?

Mike Leclerc, Paul Kariya, Steve Thomas, Stanislav Chistov, Ruslan Salei, Sandis Ozolinsh, Petr Sykora, Kurt Sauer and Rob Niedermayer had scored the Ducks' goals from a 1-0 victory April 30 in Game 4 of their six-game victory over the Dallas Stars in the last round to a 2-0 victory Monday over the Wild in Game 2 of this round.

Then Steve Rucchin, skating purposefully into the slot, golfed a rebound past goaltender Dwayne Roloson only 4:59 into Game 3 on Wednesday at the Arrowhead Pond for the Ducks' 10th goal from their 10th different player.

Kariya scored twice, ending the streak but becoming the first Duck with a multi-goal game during this playoff journey, and Chistov had another to propel them to a 4-0 rout of the Wild and a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is Friday at the Pond.

"These are all veteran players," Rucchin said, trying to describe the depth that's put the Ducks within one victory of the finals. "They're not looking for individual glory or statistics. Our depth has been the story of our team in the playoffs. Every night it's been a different hero. We've had different contributions from different players. We've had a lot of guys contributing, so that's been great."

Instead of relying on one player or one line, as so often had been the case in the Ducks' first nine seasons of mostly forgettable hockey, Coach Mike Babcock can count on four lines. Instead of crossing his fingers and hoping for the best after his top pair on defense leaves the ice, Babcock has six quality defensemen he can mix and match and frustrate the opposition.

Teams that count heavily on one top line or one standout pair on defense often are easily neutralized. That certainly was the case during the Ducks' last two playoff runs, which, in hindsight, were nothing more than a few quick turns around the rink.

The Ducks' depth on their forward lines is such that Kariya and Rucchin don't often play together. Babcock has had Kariya playing on a smooth-skating line with Sykora and Adam Oates and Rucchin has teamed with Leclerc and Niedermayer to form a line with speed and size.

The Wild has been unable to match up with either line, joining the Stars and Detroit Red Wings in failing to contain the Ducks' top two lines. The Wild also hasn't stopped the Ducks' third line of Chistov, Thomas and Samuel Pahlsson.

"Obviously, we wouldn't be in this situation if we weren't getting balanced scoring," Babcock said. "Tonight, I think, we got goals from three lines, as well. That's important. You have to have balanced scoring and balance all throughout the lineup."

Five players have scored three or more goals in the playoffs, led by Kariya's five. Four others have scored two goals.

"We've got a lot of guys who can put the puck in the net," Leclerc said. "This is only the second time we've won a game by more than one goal. It just shows you that guys are stepping up and scoring big goals and everybody is real confident right now."

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