- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2003

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — They don’t mind being called lucky Ducks. Even Adam Oates, their most experienced player, called them exactly that.

If it took a fortuitous bounce or a freaky play to get them back into the Stanley Cup Finals against the New Jersey Devils, so what? As Oates said yesterday, “Winning was huge for us. If it’s 3-0, it’s a lot different series.”

But it’s not a lot different if it’s 3-1 heading back to New Jersey, which is exactly what it will be if the Devils win Game 4 tonight.

That’s why the Mighty Ducks challenged themselves yesterday not to believe the finals are destined to go their way, just as their previous three series did, just because they pulled off an improbable 3-2 overtime victory Saturday in Game 3.

Ruslan Salei’s game-winning goal made them 6-0 in overtime during the playoffs and halted what was threatening to become a Devils rout.

“This series isn’t over,” Devils defenseman Scott Stevens said.

But, as several Ducks players said, that same this-series-is-done talk will resurface again if they don’t win tonight at the Pond, where they are 7-1 in the playoffs.

“This game is going to be at a whole other level,” Mighty Ducks coach Mike Babcock said. “We have to be better. We have to continue to be better … and in an environment that’s going to be very emotional.”

Just as it was in Game 3, when the Ducks regained the intensity they visibly lacked during near-identical 3-0 Devils victories in New Jersey.

Maybe the Mighty Ducks finally got themselves out of a vacation mode, Babcock suggested, following their unprecedented 10-day layoff before the finals. Or maybe they realized the Devils weren’t the super team they perhaps led themselves to believe after being so dominated in New Jersey.

“It happens all the time in the finals, where you get there and suddenly a team plays well and you don’t play well and you build them into something they’re not,” Babcock said. “Let’s worry about us and do what we do. We think we’re going to be a lot better [in Game 4] because we were a long way from being as capable as we can be.”

Oates was part of a sweep in 1998, when his Washington Capitals were swept by the Detroit Red Wings, and he knows how quickly a series can slip away.

“It happens so fast,” he said. “You play such a long year and you get in the playoffs and, before you know it, they’re over. I think in the finals it accelerates even more. … [Winning] gives us a little confidence. We’re holding serve, and now we’ve got to do it again.”

Despite the Ducks’ decided improvement in all areas in Game 3, the Devils shrugged off a blown play by Martin Brodeur that resulted in a goal and 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to send the game into overtime.

Brodeur lost his stick and couldn’t retrieve it in time to prevent Sandis Ozolinsh’s dump-in from going into the net, giving the Ducks a 2-1 lead in the second period.

“Their emotion was a little bit different, playing at home,” Devils forward Scott Gomez said. “Their keys guys were going all night … and now it’s 2-1. But now that they’ve won on their home ice, we’ve got to get one.”

There’s also this line of thinking: Just as Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere successfully challenged his teammates to play with more passion in Game 3, Brodeur will take it on himself to make up for the gaffe by winning tonight with an exceptional game.

Despite scoring three goals Saturday, that’s the Ducks’ total for the series. No team has won the Stanley Cup Finals with so few goals after three games since the New York Rangers scored only two goals — both in Game 2 — to start their best-of-5 finals against the Montreal Maroons in 1928. The Rangers scored only five goals in the series but won by scores of 2-1, 1-0 and 2-1.

The Ducks’ hope is that finally winning — and finally scoring — will relax them and get them back into the we’re-in-control mode that helped them upset the Red Wings and Stars earlier in the playoffs.

“Our guys could take some feedback technically today because our minds are working again,” Babcock said. “When you’re rattled, it’s pretty tough to give them a whole lot of feedback. I think the best team is going to win the Stanley Cup, so now it’s out there and let’s do our part.”

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