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Helene Elliott ON THE NHL

Ducks Should Cast Vote for the Senators

May 20, 2003|Helene Elliott

For once, the Ottawa Senators didn't fold like a cheap accordion.

Patrick Lalime remembered how to play goal -- cover the short side, eh? -- and 19-year-old rookie Jason Spezza stepped into the lineup to record a goal and an assist as the Senators prolonged the Eastern Conference finals with a 3-1 victory over the Devils on Monday at the Corel Centre.

The Devils still hold a 3-2 series lead and can advance to the Stanley Cup finals against the Mighty Ducks by winning Wednesday at the New Jersey Swamplands. Remember, too, that the Senators were 0-6 in previous elimination games and were flat in losing Game 4; they perked up Monday after an inspirational pre-game speech by cancer-stricken assistant coach Roger Neilson, but they can't go to that extreme again. If they can't motivate themselves now, when will they?

"We have no leeway," Coach Jacques Martin said. "We've got to bring forward our best effort and play even better than we did tonight."

Monday's solid effort aside, the Senators have yet to prove their grit matches their skill, making it likely the Devils will pull this out.

And that could be bad news for the Ducks.

The Ducks could beat the Senators because Jean-Sebastien Giguere is clearly superior to Lalime, the Duck defense has better balance and their scoring has been more evenly distributed. But they would meet their match in the Devils, who are a super-sized version of the Ducks with potential edges in key areas.

The Devils have more experience -- more than a dozen have won the Cup in New Jersey or elsewhere -- and can play a more physical style because of their rugged forwards and well-constructed defense.

And although Giguere has been remarkable, Martin Brodeur is capable of matching him.

The two Quebec natives have similar builds, styles and temperaments, but Brodeur has been this far down the road many times before and Giguere hasn't.

So far, Giguere has been immune to pressure. But with Jay Pandolfo, Joe Nieuwendyk, John Madden and Jamie Langenbrunner trying to get in his face, his defense will be tested, and that defense has been instrumental in blocking shots and limiting the dangerous chances Giguere must stop.

Either way, the Ducks will be well-rested and have 10 days off before the finals start Tuesday at the home of the East champion. That's plenty of time to scout and figure out ways to take this success story to yet another level.

Voice from the Past

Three weeks before the playoffs began, when the Duck crowds were still sparse, former Duck coach Ron Wilson chided fans for not filling the Arrowhead Pond.

"They're missing something special," he said.

"You never know how far this team can go in the playoffs. They have scoring, speed, and great goaltending."

Wilson, now coach of the San Jose Sharks, was gracious enough not to gloat about his clairvoyance.

"They have a lot more talent than they've been given credit for. They've been beneath the radar screen most of the season," he said from his home near Hilton Head, S.C.

"Someone asked me if I had a dark horse for the playoffs and I picked Anaheim. One, because of their goaltender, and two, I think they did a great job the second half of the season, picking up Sandis Ozolinsh, Steve Thomas and Rob Niedermayer. They quietly became a good team....

"I don't think it's a fluke with what they've done. They've taken advantage of being somewhat underestimated by Detroit and Dallas. Those teams probably thought, 'The Ducks will give us a tough time, but we'll win.' It obviously didn't work out that way. They should be in the finals. They deserve it. It's crazy to think they've lost only two games."

The East, he said, has been fairly normal. "Ottawa is probably the best team on paper," he said. "It's like things have flip-flopped," he said. "The East is playing exciting hockey and the West isn't.

"Maybe this is the year the surprise team that gets to the finals is in the West. Last year it was Carolina and before that, it was us in Washington [in 1998]. In the West, it's always been the same three or four teams until this year."

Wilson said he has already had a number of conversations with new Shark General Manager Doug Wilson (to whom he's not related) about how to revive the team, which was widely expected to contend for the Cup but instead missed the playoffs. The Duck success has already given Ron Wilson some ideas.

"They've given hope to everybody, especially the way they've done it with total commitment to the team," he said.

"It's a great example for me to hold up in training camp next season.

"We do have some talent. Because of what the Ducks are doing and what Minnesota was able to do in getting to the conference finals, if you can convince your team to play similarly, you're in good shape."

Wilson plans to watch on TV rather than visit the Pond "because I don't want to be a distraction."

His loyalties are divided between his wish for Paul Kariya and Steve Rucchin to do well and his ties to Devil General Manager Lou Lamoriello, a fellow Providence College alum.

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