Duck! Here Comes Anaheim
A hard-charging band of throwbacks pushed and shoved its way past the Senators and to the brink of the franchise's first Stanley Cup
Posted: Tuesday June 5, 2007 10:55AM; Updated: Tuesday June 5, 2007 11:07AM
Andy Carlyle, the Anaheim Ducks' suffer-no-fools coach, is not a morning person. "His demeanor is, well, grumpy," says center Todd Marchant. "You say, 'Good morning.' And he says, 'Is it?'" But with late Monday blending into early Tuesday and his team about to exit Scotiabank Place outside Ottawa, he certainly did not look like a man whose toast is perpetually burnt. Following a 3-2 victory in Game 4 he seemed content with a split of two road games against the Senators, which moved the Ducks to a three-games-to-one lead in the Stanley Cup final with two of a possible three games to be played in Anaheim. Maybe it was Hockey Mourning in Canada for the Senators, but the Ducks were headed home with a chance to make Anaheim the 19th franchise to win hockey's iconic hardware since the NHL began awarding the Cup in 1927.
If the current style of Stanley Cup-caliber teams points to the direction of the evolving NHL, the Ducks look straight back over their shoulders. This might be 2007, but there is something so 1982 about Anaheim that places this team stylistically in the middle of the New York Islanders' run of four straight Cups. The Islanders had more high-end scoring and depth, but like New York the Ducks have the chameleonlike ability to change themselves to fit their environment, to play the game that is presented on a given night. "Those Islanders teams could skate with you, play offense or defense, beat you in an alley, beat you 1-0 or 5-4," Anaheim defenseman Sean O'Donnell says. "I'd never compare us to a dynasty, but I think the styles of play are similar."
While there is more emphasis on skating in the postlockout era, the Ducks have not kicked the traditional hockey verities to the curb. Skill married with size, plus intimidation, have returned as their winning formula. Assembling and retaining all those components in a salary-cap league is the challenge now -- actually, Ottawa coach Bryan Murray was Anaheim's general manager from 2002-03 through '03-04 and helped lay the groundwork with the astute drafting of forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry four years ago -- but the Ducks, who have won eight playoff rounds since '03, have the front-office brains and the wherewithal to be a perennial contender. They are rugged, relatively adept at compensating for their lapses in discipline (Anaheim killed off a five-on-three power play in each of the first three games against Ottawa) and old school. Says 13-year veteran Chris Pronger, the 6'6'' skyscraper on the blue line, "This is the toughest team I've ever played on, up and down the lineup."
Among the Ducks' other old-time components:
The short bench. In an era when many teams roll four lines and coaches spread ice time about as evenly as they would in a house league, Carlyle essentially has played 13 of his 18 skaters. He spotted his fourth line and hardly taxed his defensemen beyond his modern-day Big Three of Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and François Beauchemin (think Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe of the Canadiens circa 1978). The trio eats up almost 90 of the regulation 120 minutes for defensemen, leaving O'Donnell, Pronger's usual partner, with about 20. (Kent Huskins is the fifth defenseman.) The pressure on Pronger and Niedermayer is considerable because of the Ducks' system.
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