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Anaheim 2, Columbus 0
Posted: Thursday February 20, 2003 02:45 AM
Columbus Blue Jackets
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Anaheim Mighty Ducks
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ANAHEIM, California (Ticker) -- In the offseason, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim upgraded their roster. It shows in their ability to finish close games.

Paul Kariya scored the only goal Jean-Sebastien Giguere needed en route to his club-record seventh shutout of the season as Anaheim ran its home unbeaten streak to six games with a 2-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"I think it is sweet," said Giguere, who is 19-8-0 since December 1. "I think it reflects on how we play as a team. Obviously, I couldn't do that all by myself. I need all of the guys in front of me to help me. Whenever a goalie gets a shutout, about 95 percent of the time, he can thank all of his teammates."

Last season, the Ducks missed the playoffs for the third straight year, finishing with 69 points as Kariya had just 32 goals - his lowest total in any of his full seasons. Anaheim had major problems in games decided by one goal, going 13-21-0.

This season, Kariya has new linemates in Adam Oates and Petr Sykora, who have been on a tear since January 9, combining with Anaheim's captain for 21 goals and 38 assists. Oates and Sykora assisted on Kariya's 22nd goal 3:47 into the second period.

Along with Giguere, the group has helped the Ducks win those close games. Of their last 22 contests, 21 have been either tied or within one goal with one minute remaining, including an NHL-record 10 straight one-goal wins.

"It's fun," Giguere said. "I play for those kind of situations. It makes the game a challenge. It makes you stay in the game, be focused and all of that. It's kind of weird sometimes, when you get like a four-goal lead or something, you don't know how to react because all the games are so tight."

"You've got to find a way to win every night," Ducks coach Mike Babcock said. "Obviously, we're looking after business pretty good at home. That's a positive thing. In saying that, we want to keep improving as a hockey team."

Anaheim was just four seconds away from another one-goal victory, but Steve Rucchin hit an empty net for his 18th goal as the Ducks improved to 19-13-8-4 in games decided by two goals or fewer.

Giguere remained red hot as he broke Guy Hebert's single-season shutout record, set in 1998-99, making 21 of his 26 saves in the opening two periods. He also posted his 26th victory, five away from Hebert's mark, also established in 1998-99.

Anaheim moved to 13-3-2-1 in its last 19 home games, 13-4-1-1 in its last 19 overall and also overtook Minnesota for sixth place in the Western Conference.

Last week the Ducks were in eighth place, but due to their hot play and slumps by other contenders, they trail fifth-place Colorado by just three points. They also believe they can play with anybody in the league.

"I think we can play with any team in this league," said Giguere, who played 15 games with Calgary when Anaheim last qualified for postseason play in 1999. "We can beat any team in this league. So it's up to us to set the pace every night and see what we're able to accomplish.

"It doesn't matter where we finish. We want to be in the playoffs, and I think if we're able to be in the playoffs, we'll be a hard team to beat."

After coming up empty in four power-play chances during the opening 20 minutes, Kariya scored his third goal in six games and his seventh since January 9.

Before Kariya's 297th career goal, he failed to convert Sykora's centering pass midway through the first, and moments later, rookie Stanislav Chistov fanned on a rebound from the left side with an open net.

But Kariya, who is Anaheim's all-time scoring leader, atoned for his missed chance early in the second.

Sykora carried the puck down to the right side and spotted Kariya behind the net. With a defender loosely checking him, he came around the right side, switched to his backhand and tucked it inside the left goalpost.

But the Blue Jackets, whose 56 first-period goals rank second in the league, also missed a chance for the lead when Ray Whitney shot the puck over the net on a partial breakaway with just over five minutes left.

Columbus, which came in with the ninth-ranked power-play unit, went 0-for-4, mostly due to Giguere.

"We had all kinds of chances. But Giguere was the difference," said Columbus coach Doug MacLean, whose team has been outscored 14-3 during its three-game losing streak. "It was a good performance by us."