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STANLEY CUP FINALS | DUCKS 3, OTTAWA 2

Penner can't get too carried away

Ducks forward scores what proves to be game-winning goal in Game 4, but coach, teammates don't let him forget he's still a rookie.

June 05, 2007|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

OTTAWA — With his cap tugged around backward and a big grin on his face, Dustin Penner looked like a kid.

The young Ducks forward was walking toward the locker room minutes after scoring the biggest goal of his life, when he ran into Coach Randy Carlyle.

Carlyle told him to put his cap on straight.

That's the way it goes for a 24-year-old rookie who shined this season but also endured some tough times and heard a few harsh words from the boss.

"It's one of his guilty pleasures," Penner said. "But I think it's good for me."

Penner could be magnanimous in the afterglow of a third-period goal that gave the Ducks a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals on Monday night.

The winning sequence had started inauspiciously enough, he and Teemu Selanne skating across the blue line and nearly colliding.

"It was a set play," Penner joked.

Selanne ended up with the puck, driving down the right side against a lone defender and waiting until the last moment to slide a pass across the goalmouth.

"He put it right on my [stick]," Penner said.

"And I had an open net to put it in."

The moment qualifies as a career highlight for a player who came up the hard way out of Winkler, Canada. He recalls delivering the Winnipeg Free Press back when Carlyle was making headlines as a hard-nosed defenseman in the NHL.

Going undrafted out of tiny Minot State University Bottineau in North Dakota, Penner signed as a free agent in 2004.

After playing a season in the minors, then bouncing back and forth to the big leagues in 2005-06, he stuck on the roster this winter and finished tied for second among NHL rookies with 29 goals. That included franchise records for points and goals scored by a rookie.

But at 6 feet 4 and 245 pounds, he was occasionally chastised for not playing up to his size. Carlyle rode him at times.

"It's not any different from any young player," the coach said. "You have to figure out what makes them tick."

When the going got tough, Penner said, teammates helped him stay confident. Count Selanne among his fans.

"You know, Penner is one of those guys who doesn't know how good he can be in this league," Selanne said. "He has the whole package."

On Monday, Penner used his size to control the puck along the boards, helping the Ducks regain a physical edge over an Ottawa team that had out-worked them in Game 3.

Then, after a night of solid shifts, he got his chance to shine.

"It was nice," he said. "It had been a while since I'd scored a goal."

After the victory, Carlyle wasn't about to give the youngster too much praise, saying: "The amazing thing, he almost hit the crossbar with it."

Selanne was asked what he would have done if Penner had missed.

"I would have shaved his head," the veteran said.

When told of these comments, Penner merely laughed. The kid is used to hearing a few harsh words.

david.wharton@latimes.com

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