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Helene Elliott / ON THE NHL

Some Old Ghosts Haunt Ducks

November 19, 2003|Helene Elliott

DENVER — If a chance to move atop the Northwest Division wasn't motivation enough for the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, Paul Kariya offered his new teammates a financial incentive to defeat his former Mighty Duck teammates while he watched from the sidelines with his sprained right wrist encased in a white plastic splint.

"There were thousands on the board," Teemu Selanne said of the bulletin board in the locker room. "Paul put some big money in and I put in even more."

Nice to know Kariya isn't going hungry after taking a pay cut from the $10 million he earned as a Duck last season to the $1.2 million he'll earn this season after packaging himself and Selanne in a stunning free-agent deal last July.

As far as the two wingers were concerned, for Selanne to have scored the decisive goal in the Avalanche's 2-1 overtime victory at the Pepsi Center was as good as if Kariya had done it himself.

Selanne's quick shot from the left side, set up on a clever pass from Rob Blake, was a vintage performance by the personable right wing, who only recently has regained the jump he lost after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in August.

"That's why he's right there. That's the reason we have him," said Blake, who scoffed at the first people who told him Selanne and Kariya had signed with Colorado. "He's the type of guy that finds an opening.... You could see he's hungry for it."

It's a look and a shot that was all too familiar to the deflated Ducks.

"That's what makes goal scorers good goal scorers -- being in the right spot," said Steve Rucchin, who played between Kariya and Selanne for most of their common tenure with the Ducks. "It was a nice play."

Rucchin, who said he chatted with Kariya only briefly after the Ducks arrived in Denver, acknowledged he thought Selanne and Kariya would be playing alongside him this season, not against him.

"We all did," Rucchin said. "But we got a couple of pretty decent hockey players in Sergei [Fedorov] and Vinny [Prospal]. It all evened out.

"It definitely was a surprise to everyone involved, but we've moved on."

Selanne has moved on, too, although he hasn't moved out of Orange County, where he owns a home and plans to retire someday.

Although the injury prevented Kariya from facing his former teammates for the first time, such encounters have become old hat to Selanne, whom the Ducks traded to San Jose in March 2001.

And although he said it was merely a coincidence, Selanne also scored the winner for the Avalanche against the Sharks last Tuesday. A few more trades and he's almost guaranteed a 50-goal season.

"It's not so much [of a big thing] any more," he said of playing against the Ducks.

"Of course, in the back of my mind I remember I had such great years and many of my friends are there. But when you go out there you just try to win the game.

"I was just trying to survive. It was a tough night. I don't think our energy was there. These type of nights you have to keep it close."

The Avalanche did that well enough to prevail, suggesting that, although it has been touted as an offensive powerhouse, it can play capable defense when it must. The Ducks took merely 25 shots, none in flurries.

Goalie David Aebischer, who's considered the weakest link on a stellar roster and may yet be pushed aside if General Manager Pierre Lacroix pulls off another of his trademark blockbuster deals, came within 4:13 of recording his second successive shutout.

All this without Kariya, who's out indefinitely, and without Peter Forsberg, who's probably the best two-way forward in the NHL but is also out indefinitely because of a groin injury that has affected muscles in his abdomen.

"It was a good effort," Selanne said after scoring his third goal in four games and fifth of the season. "We battled hard and we played pretty smart."

Whether Selanne and Kariya were smart to sign with the Avalanche won't be evident until next spring. But Blake believes there has already been a bigger payoff for the Avalanche than the bounty offered by Kariya.

"Them taking a little less [money] to come here puts more of a focus on winning the Cup," Blake said.

"It's not so much about personal points. That's the feeling I got when I was traded here [by the Kings], with Ray Bourque here and Patty [Roy]. We got away from it for a while, but I think they're getting us back there."

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