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Ducks' Dream Marches Onward

Players savor triumphant moment after earning chance to play for the sport's ultimate prize.

May 17, 2003|Elliott Teaford and Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writers

The cheers from 17,174 fans reached a crescendo around the Mighty Ducks late Friday night, enveloped them and carried them toward their dressing room, on weary legs but with their minds set on capturing this moment for posterity.

At center ice, captain Paul Kariya posed for photographs with the Clarence Campbell bowl, given to the Western Conference champion. He was mindful not to touch it, following a tradition that dictates that the only hockey trophy worth carrying for a victory lap is the Stanley Cup itself.

"It's not the trophy we're going after," Kariya said after the Ducks' 2-1 victory gave them a four-game sweep over the Minnesota Wild. "It's a nice accomplishment for our club, but it's not the trophy we're after."

Standing nearby, with his locker stall next to a framed photo of the Stanley Cup, defenseman Keith Carney now finds himself playing for the real thing for the first time in his 12-season NHL career. The actual photo has changed over the seasons, but one has remained in that spot since the Ducks' inaugural season in 1993-94.

"It's been a great season and it keeps getting better," Carney said. "It's so much fun. We've beaten some great teams. It's hard to believe we'll be waiting a few days to play for the Stanley Cup. We're going to enjoy this night then get back to work."

Almost lost in the crush of reporters and well-wishers in the dressing room, defenseman Ruslan Salei sat at his stall, alone with his thoughts, slowly unlacing his skates. Like his teammates, he wore a gray T-shirt and cap given to the new conference champions.

"This means a lot," Salei said. "We've accomplished so much. We've come from the bottom all the way up. We're one step away. We're just living a dream right now."

Dan Bylsma, a penalty-killing specialist, took in the relatively measured celebration scene in the dressing room, a camera dangling from his wrist. He was looking for the perfect shot -- one with his young, purple-haired son who was across the room in the stall next to the crowd around Steve Thomas.

"It's kind of strange," Bylsma said. "You don't know how to feel. It's an odd moment because you feel elation, and it's unbelievable and you know you have a chance to play for the Stanley Cup."

He was asked about the final chaotic seconds, which involved one last flurry by the Wild around Duck goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

"I was sitting next to Adam [Oates] and Steve Thomas on the bench and when that buzzer went, there was a sense of relief, a sense of elation, the sense of 'I can't believe it,' " Bylsma said. "You couldn't grab enough guys and hug them quick enough and get on the ice and jump. I didn't know whether to throw my gear or to keep it on. We're all standing there thinking, 'What do we do now?' "

Bylsma wasn't the only one feeling out of place.

"This may sound funny, but we've only won three rounds," said Thomas, who turns 40 in July and will be playing in his first finals. "There's one more round to win and that's going to be the toughest one. I'm going to enjoy every millisecond I'm out there in the finals."

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