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Fresh Final
June 04, 2007
The Stanley Cup showdown matches two young franchises, stocked with players hungry for their first title. There are discoveries to be made
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June 04, 2007

Fresh Final

The Stanley Cup showdown matches two young franchises, stocked with players hungry for their first title. There are discoveries to be made

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The Ottawa Senators began life with an apology--general manager Mel Bridgman offered his regrets after selecting three ineligible players in a row at the 1992 expansion draft--while the Anaheim Ducks probably should have offered a mea culpa for all the years that they had Mighty in their name.

Of course, playing in the 2007 Stanley Cup finals means never having to say you're sorry again.

Even with the Senators' history of postseason calamity and the Wild Wing statue outside the rink in Anaheim, a tribute to the Ducks' cartoonish past, this is not a week of atonement. There is an air of freshness surrounding the series, which opened in Anaheim on Monday with a 3--2 Ducks win. This is the first finals between two 1990s expansion teams ( Anaheim, which joined the NHL in '93, is a member of the league's Original 26) and one in which only two players have hoisted the Cup: Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer, who won it three times with New Jersey, and Senators backup goalie Martin Gerber, who won with Carolina in 2006. Those, however, are hardly the only story lines.

?The One-Line Wonder

Jason Spezza and wingers Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson had scored 23 of Ottawa's 50 playoff goals through the Cup opener. Before the playoffs, coach Bryan Murray was reluctant to load up his scorers on the same line. Indeed, if the Senators had opened against a more checking-oriented team instead of Pittsburgh, Alfredsson, a right winger, would have flanked Mike Fisher on the second line. But the chemistry on Spezza's line has been so Brad-and-Angelina that Murray has kept it intact. In a modest role reversal Heatley, the only NHL player with 50 goals in each of the past two seasons, had a playoff-leading 15 assists through Monday while Alfredsson, the team's regular-season assist leader, had emerged as the top goal scorer, with 10. The most remarkable statistic belonged to Spezza, who, like Heatley, now works in all three zones. He had a league-record streak of six straight multipoint road games earlier in the playoffs.

?Shutdown Sami

Ducks checking center Samuel Pahlsson has the face of a cherub and the sour on-ice attitude of a teen facing six weeks of summer school. "Sami's so tough he could have been from Red Deer," says G.M. Brian Burke, as if Pahlsson were a bare-knuckled Albertan. Pahlsson is, in fact, a Swede. Relatively offensive-minded with the national team, he has metamorphosed into one of the NHL's most dogged defenders. "Sami's one of those guys coaches love," says Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle, who played Pahlsson's line more than any other in Game 1. "No maintenance." Can Pahlsson, who neutralized Minnesota Wild star Marian Gaborik earlier this postseason, be the key to finally shutting down Spezza & Friends?

?The Old Man and the Cup

In the category of sentimental favorite to win a career-climaxing Stanley Cup--think Colorado's Raymond Bourque in 2001, Tampa Bay's Dave Andreychuk in 2004-- Ottawa's Murray edges Ducks right wing Teemu Selanne. Murray reached the finals as a G.M. with Florida in 1996 and with Anaheim in 2003, then improbably went back behind the bench to coach while in his 60s. Murray, whose 1,221 regular-season games puts him second only to Pat Quinn among coaches who haven't won a Cup, returned to Ottawa to be near his extended family, which lives an hour across the Quebec border. Murray's blunt instruments of clever tongue and steely determination have helped provide the Senators with backbone.

?The West's Young Gun

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