The OttawaSenators began life with an apology--general manager Mel Bridgman offered hisregrets after selecting three ineligible players in a row at the 1992 expansiondraft--while the Anaheim Ducks probably should have offered a mea culpa for allthe years that they had Mighty in their name.
Of course, playingin the 2007 Stanley Cup finals means never having to say you're sorryagain.
Even with theSenators' history of postseason calamity and the Wild Wing statue outside therink in Anaheim, a tribute to the Ducks' cartoonish past, this is not a week ofatonement. There is an air of freshness surrounding the series, which opened inAnaheim on Monday with a 3--2 Ducks win. This is the first finals between two1990s expansion teams (Anaheim, which joined the NHL in '93, is a member of theleague'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, andSenators backup goalie Martin Gerber, who won with Carolina in 2006. Those,however, are hardly the only story lines.
Jason Spezza andwingers Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson had scored 23 of Ottawa's 50 playoffgoals through the Cup opener. Before the playoffs, coach Bryan Murray wasreluctant to load up his scorers on the same line. Indeed, if the Senators hadopened against a more checking-oriented team instead of Pittsburgh, Alfredsson,a right winger, would have flanked Mike Fisher on the second line. But thechemistry on Spezza's line has been so Brad-and-Angelina that Murray has keptit intact. In a modest role reversal Heatley, the only NHL player with 50 goalsin each of the past two seasons, had a playoff-leading 15 assists throughMonday while Alfredsson, the team's regular-season assist leader, had emergedas the top goal scorer, with 10. The most remarkable statistic belonged toSpezza, who, like Heatley, now works in all three zones. He had a league-recordstreak of six straight multipoint road games earlier in the playoffs.
Ducks checkingcenter Samuel Pahlsson has the face of a cherub and the sour on-ice attitude ofa teen facing six weeks of summer school. "Sami's so tough he could havebeen from Red Deer," says G.M. Brian Burke, as if Pahlsson were abare-knuckled Albertan. Pahlsson is, in fact, a Swede. Relativelyoffensive-minded with the national team, he has metamorphosed into one of theNHL's most dogged defenders. "Sami's one of those guys coaches love,"says Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle, who played Pahlsson's line more than anyother in Game 1. "No maintenance." Can Pahlsson, who neutralizedMinnesota Wild star Marian Gaborik earlier this postseason, be the key tofinally shutting down Spezza & Friends?
•The Old Man andthe Cup
In the category ofsentimental favorite to win a career-climaxing Stanley Cup--think Colorado'sRaymond Bourque in 2001, Tampa Bay's Dave Andreychuk in 2004--Ottawa's Murrayedges Ducks right wing Teemu Selanne. Murray reached the finals as a G.M. withFlorida in 1996 and with Anaheim in 2003, then improbably went back behind thebench to coach while in his 60s. Murray, whose 1,221 regular-season games putshim second only to Pat Quinn among coaches who haven't won a Cup, returned toOttawa to be near his extended family, which lives an hour across the Quebecborder. Murray's blunt instruments of clever tongue and steely determinationhave helped provide the Senators with backbone.
•The West's YoungGun
"[The finals]will be his coming out party," Burke says of sophomore center Ryan Getzlaf,whose sweet backhand netted Anaheim's second goal in the opener. "He'sgoing to be a stud." The 22-year-old Getzlaf, who averaged 15 minutes ofice time during the regular season, has seen it spike to more than 22 minutesin the playoffs, a reward for his 13 points through three rounds. He was ratedthe eighth-best prospect in the 2003 draft by the organization but wasn'tselected until 19th because "a lot of people questioned his consistency andwork ethic," says former director of hockey operations Chuck Fletcher.Getzlaf, with his Hammer of Thor shot, was considered a slacker then. Now, in aleague heavy with young stars in the East (Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin,Eric Staal), the 6'3", 211-pound Getzlaf is playing like the best of theWest.
•Can Ducks BeDisciplined?
Rough-and-tumbleAnaheim racked up a league-high 307 penalty minutes en route to the finals,miraculously surviving 40 power plays and nine extra-strength goals by the RedWings over the six games of the Western Conference finals. Ottawa scored twiceon power plays after egregious (and plain dumb) Anaheim penalties in Game 1,and if the forechecking Ducks can't temper their own truculence--Burke'sword--the Senators will continue to punish them. "Discipline has been apoint of emphasis of our coaches," Burke says, "but we forecheck hard,and we have to hit to be effective. We make no apologies for that."
Ah, a Stanley Cupfinal without regrets.