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Helene Elliott ON THE NHL

Ducks Still Find Friesen, Tverdovsky Bedeviling

May 30, 2003|Helene Elliott

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — As a punishment for pouting in Anaheim, the Mighty Ducks sent Oleg Tverdovsky and Jeff Friesen to the NHL's version of military school, the New Jersey Devils.

Not that the Mighty Ducks are sorry for having traded the duo last July for Petr Sykora and three warm bodies, only one of whom remains in their organization. Sykora has played a key role in the Ducks' march to the Stanley Cup finals.

But for Tverdovsky and Friesen, the supposed punishment of sacrificing their individuality for the good of the team has instead become rewarding -- and it may culminate in getting their names on the Cup.

Both have figured prominently in the Devils' domination of the Ducks, which has left the Western Conference champions scoreless and winless two games into what's beginning to look as if it will be a short series. Tverdovsky set up the Devils' first two goals and Friesen scored the third Thursday in New Jersey's 3-0 thumping of the flailing Ducks, milestones in their rebounds from the lows they experienced in Anaheim.

Friesen had scored twice in the Devils' 3-0 victory in the series opener and has eight playoff goals, just short of half the 17 he scored in the 2001-02 season with the Ducks.

"It's ironic, and I'm happy," said Friesen, who has six goals in his last eight games, including the goal against Ottawa that gave the Devils the Eastern Conference title.

"I was watching them in the early rounds and it was great for them to have the success they were having. But I've never been to the finals myself. You want to win and now, you're living a dream."

His nightmares in Anaheim have been well-chronicled. He came to the Ducks for Teemu Selanne, a tough act for anyone to follow but impossible for Friesen because he never clicked with Paul Kariya or anyone else. How much of an effort he made to fit in, however, is debatable.

"He gets here," Duck General Manager Bryan Murray said, "and all he says is how he doesn't want to play in Anaheim, that our team is no good. He comes to me and says, 'When you start to get good, you'll trade me.' He must have told me that half a dozen times. So I finally did."

His transition to New Jersey wasn't easy, either, and he worsened it by overanalyzing every step.

"When you think, as a player, it's the worst thing you can do," Friesen said. "When you go to a new team, a lot of new things are thrown at you. You're in a new environment. I'd been in San Jose and you knew [Owen] Nolan and [Vincent] Damphousse were there, and then you go to another team and it's a new situation. Last year at times I was overthinking until I came here and had a chance to play with Joe Nieuwendyk and Jamie Langenbrunner."

When that line was dispersed -- Langenbrunner was moved alongside John Madden during the Devils' first-round series against Boston and Nieuwendyk hasn't returned from the injury he sustained during the Eastern Conference finals -- Friesen adjusted smoothly to new linemates Brian Gionta and Sergei Brylin.

"There are a lot of good hockey players here," Friesen said. "You don't see guys trying to get their cookies. Everything is for the team here."

Tverdovsky, after sitting out eight of nine games leading up to the finals, has returned to provide the kind of power-play production he was never able to muster in Anaheim. That was a source of contention between him and Murray last season; Tverdovsky didn't believe he was getting enough help, and Murray believed he wasn't effective enough as the quarterback of the power-play unit.

Tverdovsky said Thursday he nursed no grudges and he declined to gloat after defeating his old team.

"I don't think it can get more exciting than playing in the Stanley Cup finals against any team," he said, "but playing against the Ducks has maybe a little extra edge for me....

"I think it's strictly business in the league these days. I don't think anybody is mad at me and I'm not mad at anybody. [The Ducks'] organization treated me great. I'm thankful to them. Things happen. The team went in a different direction, and look where they are now. I went on with my life and the New Jersey Devils are my team now."

And they're the team that holds a commanding 2-0 lead, in part because of Tverdovsky and Friesen.

"It's great for Oleg," Friesen said. "It's nice to see this after the way he's been working. He deserves that."

Tverdovsky returned the compliment.

"You can see from his eyes he's almost relentless," Tverdovsky said. "I'm glad to see things going his way."

Things are going Friesen's way because he is making them happen, such as the backhander he never thought would elude Jean-Sebastien Giguere but got past the Duck goalie for the final goal Thursday. And Tverdovsky, after being benched for the last six games against Ottawa, is making the most of the chance to re-establish himself in the Devils' lineup.

"I'm in a situation where we have a lot of depth," he said. "Any team would like to have these kinds of players. We're here for one reason: to win. Whoever gets in the lineup is going to have to do the job."

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