A 'Mighty' season for Ducks
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Krog, the 1999 Hobey Baker Award who went undrafted and struggled in three seasons with the New York Islanders, wound up centering big Marc Chouinard, who suffered a career-threatening Achilles tendon injury five years ago in Cincinnati, and muscular Dan Bylsma.
Bylsma, Rucchin, Krog, Kariya and Chistov were the key forwards that helped the Mighty Ducks to the second-best penalty-killing record during the regular season and Niedemayer and Thomas strengthened the corps. Oates, Rucchin, Krog and Pahlsson dominated their faceoffs throughout the Playoffs.
That attention to detail, along with rapid attack formations off transitions, the great goaltending of Jean-Sebastien Giguere and unwavering belief in themselves that were the hallmarks of the Stanley Cup Finalists.
"Mike and I worked together at training camp the previous year," Murray said. "I knew his philosophy by the end of camp. The types of things we agreed upon, he installed in the system, the hockey skills, the way to play and the positioning. Mike's idea is you have to drive the net and that creates space for the puckhandlers, more often than not.
"The one thing I knew about Mike was his work ethic," Murray continued. "His time on the job is outstanding and that allowed him and his staff the opportunity to break down tape to see what works and what doesn't in this League. Everything was rehearsed over and over again at practice. He made demands on the players to spend extra time on special areas. It was a daily thing. There were meetings about the power play and meetings about penalty killing. There was a system in place from Day One and every practice involved some form of system work. When you do that on a regular basis, it becomes second nature. Our players executed very well. Mike's work ethic and the effort of the entire staff was very noticeable."
Veteran Keith Carney's acquisition two years ago gave the Mighty Ducks the big defensive stalwart that all good teams must have. Niclas Havelid continued his impressive development in his fourth NHL season and had his best year yet offensively with 11 goals and 22 assists in 82 games. Ruslan Salei is a banger, a hard hitter that intimidates opposing forwards. The seven-year veteran, a 28-year-old native of Belarus, became the first defenseman in Mighty Ducks' history to play 400 games.
For all the contributions of the previously mentioned Mighty Ducks, they would not have progressed to the Stanley Cup Finals without the play of Giguere.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Giguere slowly, but surely began to make a name for himself in 2001-02, his first full year as the Mighty Ducks' No. 1 goalie. He was among the League leaders with a 2.13 goals-against average despite his 20-25-6 record that spoke more to team weaknesses than goaltending problems. After a much improved 2002-03 regular season (34-22-6, 2.30 goals-against average, .920 save percentage) Giguere put on one of the greatest goaltender performances in Stanley Cup Playoff history, earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as Most Valuable Player.
He entered the Finals with a 12-2 record, a 1.36 goals-against average and four shutouts. He added one more whitewash in the Finals, the Mighty Ducks' 1-0 overtime thriller in Game 4.
"Goalie coach Francois Allaire spent time every day he was here with Giguere and Gerber, giving them all kinds of drills and the defense was included in many of those drills," Murray said. "That allowed the goalie to not only stop the puck but also to know what had to happen with the puck. We have a good group of players on defense, very smart although not the biggest or meanest. They had confidence in each other and good communication that led to very few mixups, for the most part."
Giguere made 63 saves and Kariya scored in triple overtime as the Mighty Ducks opened the Playoffs with a 3-2 victory over the Red Wings in Detroit. They completed their sweep with a 3-2 overtime win in Anaheim as Rucchin was the hero. The Mighty Ducks won four one-goal games against Detroit as Giguere stopped 165 of 171 shots in the series.
Sykora scored 48 seconds into the fifth overtime of Game 1 against the Dallas Stars and Giguere made 60 saves. They took Game 2 when Niedermayer's pass in front of the Dallas' net with 69 seconds remaining in regulation was deflected for a goal and Leclerc scored in overtime. Dallas won two of the next three, but Ozolinsh closed them out with a goal with 66 seconds remaining in Game 6 at Anaheim.
"As much as we're upset that we lost, you have to tip your hat to them," said Dallas right wing Bill Guerin. "They could carry this thing right to the end."
The Minnesota Wild eliminated the Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks, setting up an improbable Western Conference Finals between the sixth and seventh seeds. The Mighty Ducks opened with a victory in St. Paul behind Giguere's 39-save shutout and Sykora's goal in double-overtime. Niedermayer and Sauer scored in Game 2 as Giguere posted a 24-save shutout. He had 35 saves and Kariya scored twice in 3-0 victory in Game 3. Oates had a pair of power-play goals and Giguere made 24 saves in a 2-1 Game 4 victory as the Mighty Ducks swept into the Stanley Cup Finals before the home fans.
"In my nine years here in Anaheim, never has the rink been louder or had more excitement,'' Kariya said at a postseason rally. "You (fans) were definitely the best seventh man in the league.''
Now, the Mighty Ducks will incorporate their frustration and perhaps keep in mind the words of the Aerosmith song that served as their anthem, "Dream On."
"Everybody's got their dues in life to pay ... you got to lose to know how to win."
"Same time next year, different result," promised Kariya.