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This Isn't Meeting of Strangers

Considering their family ties and off-season trade, Ducks and Devils have a clue about each other.

May 24, 2003|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

The Mighty Ducks got their first scouting tip from Petr Sykora, who spent seven seasons playing for New Jersey.

The Ducks will be facing the Devils in the Stanley Cup finals, with Game 1 Tuesday at the Continental Airlines Arena, and Sykora offers this one tip about the series: Be aware of defenseman Scott Stevens.

"You better know where he is," Sykora said. "He is the strongest defenseman out there. He is their team. He's tough and doesn't quit. You better have your head up or else."

Stevens, it seems, would be a perfect symbol for what is waiting for the Ducks in the New Jersey swampland.

The Devils, by their gritty performance against Ottawa in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday, made it clear they are tough and don't quit.

The Ducks, who will have had 10 days off heading into the opener, had better keep their heads up.

So Tuesday night, it will be not-quite-Los Angeles vs. not-quite-New York.

"Having 10 days off is too long," Duck center Adam Oates said. "[New Jersey] went seven games [in the Eastern Conference finals] and now they are going to get four days off. The time off has been hard for us and now they get to rest. I understand. Obviously it's because of TV."

There is more for the Ducks to be concerned about than the number of off days.

Only twice in the last eight seasons has an Eastern Conference team won the Stanley Cup. Both times it was New Jersey. Neither time did the Devils play river hockey to earn it.

"That is one of the most disciplined teams around," Duck captain Paul Kariya said. "They are very good on defense and they have a great goaltender in Martin Brodeur. And every one of their forwards is good defensively."

The Ducks have not fared well in recent years against the Devils, falling into New Jersey's vaunted trap too often. The Devils have won nine of the teams' last 10 meetings.

This season, the Ducks lost, 3-2, in overtime at the Continental Airlines Arena in November and 2-1 at the Arrowhead Pond in January.

The Devils, the second-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, beat Detroit to win the Stanley Cup in 1995 and Dallas to win it in 2000. They lost to Colorado in the 2001 final.

"Experience is overrated unless you have it," said Duck Coach Mike Babcock, who has 14 NHL playoff games under his belt.

Tag that as the first official sound bite. More to follow, many regarding Brodeur, considered one of the top goalies of his generation, with two Stanley Cups to his credit.

For Brodeur, the Ducks have the perfect counterweight in Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who has already carved a reputation in 14 playoff games. Giguere has shown he can match Brodeur save for save.

The other matchups could tear families asunder.

Rob and Scott Niedermayer, brothers who grew up in Oshawa, Canada, are now from a house divided. Rob Niedermayer, who has been to the finals but never won the Stanley Cup, is a winger for the Ducks. Scott Niedermayer, who has had two Cup moments, is a defenseman for the Devils.

Non-blood ties are at greater risk. Friendships between former teammates could be tested.

Last summer, the two teams swapped forwards and a few others.

The Ducks acquired winger Sykora from the Devils for Jeff Friesen and Oleg Tverdovsky. Sykora led the Ducks with 34 goals during the regular season. Friesen, a washout in Anaheim after being acquired in the Teemu Selanne deal, had 23 goals, second on the Devils.

While Friesen has had plenty to say about his former team, Sykora has been mum.

"It's not about me playing New Jersey," Sykora said. "This is about winning the Stanley Cup. It's not about me playing New Jersey."

It's about watching out for Scott Stevens.

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