- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Mighty Ducks and Devils have played for two weeks on two coasts in what have often seemed two simultaneous but wildly contrasting Stanley Cup Finals.

Now, finally, there is only one: one game, tonight’s Game7. And after it, one champion, even if neither has proved worthy of such a distinction so far.

“I’ve been dreaming of this since I was 5 years old,” Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said.

The Devils dominate the finals in New Jersey, winning three games by a combined score of 12-3 in which the Ducks barely compete. The Ducks dominate the finals in Anaheim, winning three games by a combined score of 9-4.

At the start were shutouts, now shootouts. The goalies set records for scoreless streaks; now they’re as erratic and as exasperating as a couple of rookies. The Ducks’ big scorers don’t get a goal for four games; now the Devils’ defensemen seem powerless to stop them.

The Devils probably figured this would be over long before now, but they’ve shown a perplexing inability to close out series. This is the second time in three years they couldn’t win Game6 with a 3-2 lead and, in 2001, they became the first team since 1971 to lose a finals they led 3-2.

The Devils would seem to have all the key advantages: home ice, supportive crowd, familiarity with playing pressure games as they complete their third finals in four years.

Also, no visiting team since Montreal won in Chicago in 1971 has taken Game7 on the road; three teams since have tried and failed, including the 2001 Devils at Colorado. Home teams have won all but two of 11 Game 7s overall.

“It’s been a homer series so far,” Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said. “You never know what’s going to happen in Game7.”

That’s the Devils’ biggest worry in a series they’ve always seemed ready to win and never really seemed in danger of losing, at least until now. But they’ve given themselves no margin for error now in a sport in which fluky plays, bad luck or an untimely bounce can undo 91/2 months of work in an instant.

The Devils may have every advantage at home, where they are 11-1 and have allowed 13 goals. But the Ducks own the momentum — they’ve won three of the last four — following their 5-2 victory Saturday night that was every bit as decisive as the Devils’ three easy wins at home.

“I think the great thing about it is you go in there and get spanked three times, so we can’t play worse than we’ve played there,” Ducks coach Mike Babcock said. “We’ve got to be due for a good one.”

New Jersey also must be worrying the Ducks will carry over the emotional edge created when team captain Paul Kariya scored only minutes after being laid out by a jolting hit by Scott Stevens.

The Ducks’ Ruslan Salei said the hit angered Kariya’s teammates, while the goal gave them an incalculable boost of confidence and determination.

All that could fade away, of course, if the Devils seize an early lead. But, then, what happens if Kariya scores to put Anaheim in front?

Brodeur didn’t mention Stevens by name, but he said the Devils seemed intent on establishing themselves as the tougher team physically in Game 6, perhaps at the expense of the rest of their game.

“I think we were out of control,” he said. “Defensively we ran after guys and tried to make some hits. Every time we get on the road we seem to be like that. At home we don’t seem to have that problem.”

Brodeur, who can become one of five Devils players to win a third Stanley Cup with the team, has talked to some of his less-experienced teammates, advising them what it takes to win a Game7.

“This is huge for your career and life,” he said. “It’s going to change everything for everybody if we come through. You don’t want to miss the boat. We have a great opportunity here, but it stays at that if …”

If the Devils do a repeat of the 2001 finals, when they led the Avalanche 3-2, only to be outscored 7-1 in the last two games. That Game7 was on the road.

But they’ve already proven this season they can win a Game7 under difficult circumstances, doing so in Ottawa in the Eastern Conference finals after also failing to win Game6 in a series they led 3-2.

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