Though shielded by his goalie mask, the smile on J.S. Giguere's face has been evident after the final horn during several of the Ducks'victories he has helped clinch this season.
That smile was not as prevalent last year, when Giguere was hampered by injuries much of the season and missed most of the postseason. While backup Ilya Bryzgalov shined during those playoffs, Giguere himself also earned praise for the poise and team support he displayed in public.
He came into this season expected to share time with Bryzgalov, but Giguere's outstanding play in net - combined with injuries of his own for Bryzgalov - has turned "Jiggy" into a workhorse for the Ducks. While only sitting out a handful of games over the first half of the season, Giguere was among the NHL leaders in wins, save percentage and goals against average. He did, however, miss 11 games with a groin injury suffered Dec. 26 against San Jose. That likely kept him from being selected to the All-Star Game, as he was leading the league in wins at the time of the injury.
As much success as Giguere has had this regular season, his ultimate goal is to
get back to the Stanley Cup Finals, where in 2003 he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, even though the Ducks lost to New Jersey in seven games. In last year's playoffs, he did get into six games, including an overtime victory over Calgary in Game 4 of the first round. In that game, Giguere extended his NHL record overtime shutout streak to 170 minutes, three seconds.
Giguere spoke recently to Ducks Digest about the successes of this season, and how it has helped wipe out the frustrations of last year.
What do you think has been the key to your success this season?
There are a few things, but I think the main thing is my teammates. They have been awesome in front of me and make my job much easier every night. We have much the same group as last year, but having [Chris] Pronger back there too has been awesome. He and Scotty [Niedermayer] are obviously two of the best defensemen in the league, and it seems like at least one of them is on the ice all the time - and usually both on the power play. For a goalie they're great. It's awesome having those guys on my team. They make you a better player. They're great leaders. They show us the way it's supposed to be every night. All we have to do is follow their lead.
With the injuries to Bryzgalov, you've had to play a lot more games than you expected. Has that fatigued you at all?
A bit, but I'm pretty happy the way my body has been keeping up. I've been playing a lot of games, more than I've probably ever played in the past. I've been feeling great.
How much easier has it been not having to deal with the injuries that plagued you last year over the first half of the season?
It always helps when you don't have to worry about injuries and stuff like that. Last year was frustrating. You're just kind of chasing your tail. You're trying to get your body into form and it's not the way you want it. Mentally, it takes a toll on you. Last year I had just had hip surgery in the offseason, and then that felt the whole year I kind of was battling to recover from that. It was kind of a tough battle, but this past summer I was able to work out like everyone else and try to get stronger and faster. I
How frustrating was it to have to sit out most of the playoff run last year?
It was tough, because leading into the playoffs I was playing well. Getting injured right before the playoffs just killed all the momentum. It was frustrating. You're trying to come back, but you don't want to be selfish. You want to make sure you are making the right decisions for the team and for yourself.
Was it important to you to put on a good face during all of that?
I try to be a good teammate. I don't want to be a distraction. It was already enough of a distraction as it was. I was just trying to be supportive of the other guys. They worked hard all year and they deserved to have success.
Have you felt like you've had to prove yourself again this season?
This is a big year for me. Obviously, it's the last year on my contract and I'm probably going to be a free agent at the end of the year. I'm just trying to do my job and focus on making saves. I'm not sure what the future holds for me. But I love playing here and I love living here. This team is going to be good for the next 5 to 10 years. I think we have so many young guys that are tremendous, very talented. And then we have Niedermayer and Pronger for the next 4 or 5 years. So for a goalie you'd be crazy not to want to play here. My wife and I just love it here.
How important is it for you to get back to the Finals after coming so close in '03?
Like any other player, it's a dream. We came so close to winning it in 2003 and made a nice run last year. At this point, I'll do anything to win a Cup.
Would you trade your Conn Smythe Trophy for one?
This story appears in the current issue of Ducks Digest. Pick up a complimentary copy at your next Ducks game.