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Feeling Their Oates

Veteran scores two goals and Anaheim rides Giguere to first Stanley Cup finals

May 17, 2003|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

A mass of humanity with that silly-looking logo on each sweater swarmed around Mighty Duck goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who emerged to wave to the ear-numbing noise from seats that had so often been empty.

Steve Rucchin found Paul Kariya, two survivors in a 10-year odyssey, and hugged him.

Fans stood outside the Arrowhead Pond afterward, cheering players as they walked to their cars.

And Kariya, the team captain, refused to touch the Clarence Campbell bowl, the spoils for winning the Western Conference championship.

Where the Ducks have been showed in the emotional outpouring. Why they are here can been summed up in that refusal.

There are more important games to come.

A once-unthinkable moment was etched on so many minds after the Ducks eliminated the Minnesota Wild with a 2-1 victory Friday. With it, the Ducks barged into the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in franchise history.

With the decibel level climbing from the 17,174 at the Arrowhead Pond, chants of "sweep, sweep, sweep" echoing, the Ducks parried every Wild thrust in the final minutes to arrive at a promised land that has been a mirage in the last decade.

"This is unbelievable," Rucchin said, grasping for words. "I look at a guy like [Duck winger] Steve Thomas. He has been around 19 seasons and this is his first trip to the Stanley Cup finals. That shows that you never know when you will get there again. You got to take advantage of the opportunity now."

That carpe diem outlook was evident in Kariya's not touching the conference championship bowl, the superstition being that if you touch that trophy, the Stanley Cup will slip through your fingers.

"I'm going down swinging," said Thomas, 39, who was acquired in a trade deadline deal. "I will never get another chance like this again. I'm numb."

The Ducks scored two power-play goals after having only four in their previous 13 playoff games, getting both off kind bounces. Adam Oates, who has passed the puck to earn an eventual Hall of Fame induction, scored both goals. And Giguere gave up a goal -- a goal, singular.

The Ducks have suffered for years from internal sabotage. If upper management wasn't firing the coach after a successful playoff run, it was trading away its most popular player.

From that, the Ducks have risen from rubble to the top of the Western Conference heap.

"When you play the way we did the last couple seasons, when you're the bottom two or three teams in the league, it is demoralizing," Duck winger Mike Leclerc said. "Everything that is going on is so negative. That is why this means so much more to us than it probably has to any other team."

The Ducks can bask in this dream come true for a few days, as they will have to wait for New Jersey and Ottawa to finish up in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey leads that best-of-seven series, 2-1. The final will not begin for at least a week.

Oates provided the lengthy time off by being in the right place at the right time on the power play ... twice.

In the first period, defenseman Niclas Havelid shot the puck into the Wild zone, where it hit a seam and bounced toward the net. Leclerc tried to center a pass, with the puck going off two Wild players and landing at Oates' feet near the right post. Oates slapped the puck in for a 1-1 tie at 8:30.

In the second period, Oates was again camped by the right post when a ricochet put the puck on his stick. He slid a shot under Fernandez's right leg for a 2-1 lead at 9:31.

"There was no one hero who got us here," Thomas said. "Everyone had a hand in this. That's what is so special about this team."

Andrew Brunette finally solved Giguere, deflecting a shot past him 4:37 into the first period for a power-play goal. That ended Giguere's shutout streak at 217:54 -- the fifth longest in playoff history -- for which fans gave him a standing ovation.

"Nobody is invincible," said Giguere, who had people wondering after three consecutive shutouts. "It's not that I was glad it was over, but it was kind of a distraction."

The one Wild goal was the fewest in a four-game series in NHL history. Boston in 1935 and Montreal in 1952 both gave up only two goals. Giguere stopped 122 of 123 shots in the series.

"No one believed in us," Leclerc said. "We had to believe in ourselves."

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