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Duck! Here Comes Anaheim
Michael Farber
June 11, 2007
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
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June 11, 2007

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

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1987 - 88 Edmonton Oilers 6.2
2006 - 07 Anaheim Ducks 5.9
1988 - 89 Calgary Flames 5.7
2005 - 06 Carolina Hurricanes 5.5
1997 - 98 Detriot Red Wings 5.4

Randy 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; chart, above) 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 Fran�ois 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.

Although dukes-up Anaheim G.M. Brian Burke insists his team doesn't trap, the Ducks, when unable to get in on defensemen with a hard forecheck, use a 1-3-1 scheme. The left defenseman steps up to join two forwards in clogging the neutral zone while the right defenseman stays back as a sweeper to deal with pucks that are turned over in front of goalie Jean-S�bastien Gigu�re. Not that grasping the Anaheim system made it any easier for the Senators to attack; when it was five-on-five, they spent about as much time in the Ducks' zone in the first three games as Keith Richards does in front of a mirror. "That last guy's been retrieving the puck just for fun," Senators goaltending coach Ron Low said following a pair of one-goal losses in the first two games that just didn't seem that close.

? A dearth of Europeans. Today's NHL rosters are littered with foreign-born players, but Burke, an American, has put together an old-fashioned Canadian team, mixing speed and grinding physicality. Of the 26 skaters the Ducks used during their first 20 playoff games, 18 were from Canada, only two from Europe--and one of those doesn't count. There is no disputing the provenance of Teemu Selanne, the 540-goal scorer who imported 16 pals from Finland for the first two games in Anaheim, setting them up with hotel rooms and lining up tickets on eBay. (The friends were conspicuous because of their orange T-shirts emblazoned with TEEMU THE FLASH�and the beer shortages at the concession stands outside their sections.) Swedish center Samuel Pahlsson's toughness, however, makes him an honorary Canadian.

" Selanne's got offensive instincts, but Sami has defensive instincts," Ducks assistant coach Newell Brown says. "He thinks one play ahead defensively. He knows where the puck's going, so he's good at angling and good at putting his stick in the right position. And when he's in a one-on-one confrontation, he's strong as an ox. On draws he's really strong on his stick, and that tripod strength--stick and legs--makes him tough." Pahlsson centered the Ducks' old-fashioned checking line, which became the de facto No. 1 line by holding Ottawa's three leading playoff scorers ( Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley) without an even-strength point until Game 4, when Heatley scored his first goal of the series.

Carlyle had no trouble getting the matchup at home but worked feverishly at it in Ottawa, a task made somewhat easier by Anaheim's winning 54.7% of the faceoffs. Through four games Pahlsson himself was a solid 54.7% on draws. And like Travis Moen, who scored the winner in the third period of the 3--2 Game 1 victory, Pahlsson also got the winning goal late in Game 2. With 5:44 left, he turned Ottawa defenseman Joseph Corvo into a gyroscope with a nifty move and shot the puck through Corvo's legs, scoring the game's only goal. "Of course I want to score goals and play on the power play, but that's not the role I have now," Pahlsson says. "I'll probably never be a Number 1 or Number 2 center, but I don't mind the spot they've got me in, and I'm doing my best with it."

? The guileless coach. There is no pretense, nothing warm and fuzzy about Carlyle. "Let's put it this way: He's not going to come up and give you a big, greasy hug," says Pronger. "Randy's cut and dried. He says this is the way you're going to play, so that's the way you play." (Before joining Anaheim this season, Pronger asked his brother, Sean, who played for Carlyle in the minors, for a scouting report on the coach. Sean's response: "He's a beauty.") Carlyle grew up in northern Ontario on the outskirts of Sudbury, near the nickel mines, which means he is not impressed with mere hard work. "Randy says you work hard, but it's then a matter of what you do that sets you apart," winger Brad May says. Carlyle always makes himself crystal clear, though in the playoffs he has said the Ducks wouldn't accept "mediocracy," that the team did have offensive "prowness" and that various issues had been well "documentated," stretching the English language as thin as his bench. "Ah, nobody's going to point that stuff out," O'Donnell says. "You're looking at a bunch of athletes." The Ducks flew by charter plane between Southern California and Canada's capital, not a mala-prop.

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