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KELLEY: Huge step forward for Ducks

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Jim Kelley

 
   
 

Ducks are now dangerous

Had it gone on any longer, Kirk Muller might have been the first National Hockey League player forced to file his retirement papers ... while still playing. Had it gone on any longer we might have seen Steve Rucchin actually tripping over his playoff beard. Had it gone on any longer Disney would have made it into Mighty Ducks 4 and the Stars would have had to hook their players into a series of IV¿s — the kind you need when you¿re all out of smelling salts. Frankly, I haven¿t seen an NHL epic of this length since the National Hockey League powers that be tried to fashion an explanation for the infamous ¿No-Goal¿ game way back in the 1999 Stanley Cup finals. One more period and it would have outlasted the career of the Fabulous Sports Babe. Another minute and it would have beat the time Alan Eagleson spent in jail. Seriously folks, the opening game of the Dallas-Mighty Ducks of Anaheim playoff series lasted longer than a made-for-cable movie. Quintuple overtime, eight periods, the fourth longest game in NHL history. Final score Anaheim 4, Dallas 3. Petr Sykora scored the game winner. The Ducks¿ leading scorer in the regular season, Sykora whipped a 20-footer past Dallas goalie Marty Turco less than a minute into the fifth overtime period, giving the Ducks an opening-game win and keeping them as the only undefeated team in the playoffs. Go figure. Look, we never said we didn¿t think the Mighty Ducks weren¿t to be taken seriously. We believed that before they dropped the first puck in the series with the Detroit Red Wings. It¿s just that the Dallas Stars this spring have shown themselves to be a whole lot tougher mentally and physically than the Red Wings and it showed in the third period when the Stars just kept driving to the net. They used their physical tools to get the game tied in the third. After that, the two teams traded chances until they had spent more energy then Enron. Even after that the game went on for another hour. This could have, and maybe should have, ended hours earlier when Rucchin appeared to have scored the game winner back sometime Thursday evening in the East. The on-ice officials ruled it a goal, but they were overruled from the video replay booth, where it was determined that the net had been raised from its moorings (ever so slightly) and that the goal had to be disallowed. There¿s no underestimating the importance of that. Dallas has to take this loss hard. It came from behind to tie, got the beneficial end of a controversial ruling (again) and still lost the all-important first game at home. That has to give the Ducks a certain feeling, something along the lines of invincibility. For one thing, they haven¿t lost a game this playoff season. For another, they can do no worse than a split over the first two games on the road, something every team hopes for at the start of a playoff series. For a third, well, they beat a team that went 3-1-1-0 against them in the regular season. If you believe in omens, consider this: In any second-round series in which the Stars won the first game, they¿ve gone on to a 7-1 series record, but when they lost the first game they have an 0-5 mark. That¿s a huge morale booster for the Ducks, who came to this series secure in their abilities, but not completely certain they had enough talent, especially on offense, to beat the team that finished first overall in the Western Conference. Now they know they can. They know they can skate with them, hit with them, score with them and stop shots with them. And should it come down to a ¿who-blinks-first¿ showdown between goalie J. S. Giguere and Dallas goaltender Marty Turco, well, Turco blinked first. Recovering from all of that will be a tall order for the Stars. They came into this game supremely confident that they would learn from what happened to Detroit, Colorado and St. Louis and not repeat the mistakes that drove those favored teams to an early summer. Now they can¿t possibly be so sure. The Ducks didn¿t just grab a win in Dallas Thursday night into Friday morning. They also grabbed momentum, a healthy dose of confidence and a sense that destiny rides with them. It will be up to the Stars to dissuade them of that. After this loss, that¿s no easy task. Props to Sykora: Longtime fans might remember that it was Sykora who was KO¿d on Dallas ice the night he was playing for the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup final-clinching game of 2000. He was knocked silly by Stars defenseman Darien Hatcher and didn¿t see the Cup until teammates brought it to him in a Dallas hospital. Getting the game-winner in this one doesn¿t rank with winning the Cup, but to be able to walk out of the building having scored the game-winning goal — rather than ride out on a stretcher — has to count for something.

Round one to Brodeur

Well, doesn¿t this follow form? The Tampa Bay open a playoff round and lose. Shades of the series with the Washington . Still, there were some lessons to be learned from New Jersey¿s 3-0 win over the Thursday in the Continental Airlines Arena. No. 1, the play a whole lot tougher defense than the . No. 2, the aren¿t nearly as offensively challenged as they would have you believe given that and continue to score almost at will in these playoffs. No. 3, isn¿t going to beat himself. If you want to get one past the New Jersey netiminder, you¿re going to have to make some sort of play that borders on sensational. Brodeur was perfect again, shutting out the with relative ease given the rock-solid defensive play in front of him (he faced just 16 shots). It¿s just another way Brodeur has of serving notice that he, not , is now the goalie with the money reputation in the playoffs these days. This was Brodeur¿s third shutout in six playoff games this spring, his 16th playoff shutout overall. At this pace, he could bring himself to within hailing distance of Roy¿s record of 23 this playoff season alone. According to STATS Inc., Brodeur is one of the best playoff netminders of the last half-century. He came into this game with a 1.87 playoff goals-against average, a number second only to the legendary Turk Broda (1.84). Rounding out the top five are Gerry McNeill 1.89 (35 games), the recently retired Dominik Hasek, 2.03 (202 games) and Jacques Plante, 2.14 (237 games). Pretty select company. Not that we don¿t expect the to regroup. For one thing, goalie generally doesn¿t lose to the . Prior to this game, he was 4-0-3 against them while a netminder for Tampa Bay. He also had a GAA of 1.58, the best of any goalie against the . His .954 save percentage is second best. That¿s got to be of some concern to the . Khabibulin looked off his game in this one, especially on New Jersey¿s first goal. But he also lost the first two games against the and was in some trouble in Game 3 when he was tagged for three goals in an eventual overtime win by the . However, after that he ran off a stretch where he stopped 66 of 67 shots and the closed out the series in six despite losing the first two. In the end, or perhaps somewhere around mid-series, we expect this to become little more than a goaltending series. Brodeur got it started in this one, but the track record tells us that Khabibulin is still to be heard from. Props in this game go to Langenbrunner, who is on something of a major roll in these playoffs. Prior to this spring, he had scored just three playoff goals in 34 games. He now has six in the last six games. Quite a turnaround from the last two series where he scored no goals with the and . During that time those two teams went 1-8. The same can be said of Madden, whose point production is on a par with Langenbrunner. had the third goal. Jim Kelley can be reached at his email address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Stars, Devils, Avalanche, Lightning, Capitals, Dominik Hasek, Jamie Langenbrunner, Martin Brodeur, John Madden, Nikolai Khabibulin

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