Randy Carlyle, theAnaheim Ducks' suffer-no-fools coach, is not a morning person. "Hisdemeanor is, well, grumpy," says center Todd Marchant. "You say, 'Goodmorning.' And he says, 'Is it?'" But with late Monday blending into earlyTuesday and his team about to exit Scotiabank Place outside Ottawa, hecertainly did not look like a man whose toast is perpetually burnt. Following a3--2 victory in Game 4 he seemed content with a split of two road games againstthe Senators, which moved the Ducks to a three-games-to-one lead in the StanleyCup final with two of a possible three games to be played in Anaheim. Maybe itwas Hockey Mourning in Canada for the Senators, but the Ducks were headed homewith a chance to make Anaheim the 19th franchise to win hockey's iconichardware since the NHL began awarding the Cup in 1927.
If the currentstyle of Stanley Cup--caliber teams points to the direction of the evolvingNHL, the Ducks look straight back over their shoulders. This might be 2007, butthere is something so 1982 about Anaheim that places this team stylistically inthe middle of the New York Islanders' run of four straight Cups. The Islandershad more high-end scoring and depth, but like New York the Ducks have thechameleonlike ability to change themselves to fit their environment, to playthe game that is presented on a given night. "Those Islanders teams couldskate with you, play offense or defense, beat you in an alley, beat you 1--0 or5--4," Anaheim defenseman Sean O'Donnell says. "I'd never compare us toa dynasty, but I think the styles of play are similar."
While there is moreemphasis on skating in the postlockout era, the Ducks have not kicked thetraditional hockey verities to the curb. Skill married with size, plusintimidation, have returned as their winning formula. Assembling and retainingall 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 RyanGetzlaf and Corey Perry four years ago--but the Ducks, who have won eightplayoff rounds since '03, have the front-office brains and the wherewithal tobe a perennial contender. They are rugged, relatively adept at compensating fortheir lapses in discipline (Anaheim killed off a five-on-three power play ineach 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 thelineup."
Among the Ducks'other old-time components:
June 10, 2007
• The short bench.In an era when many teams roll four lines and coaches spread ice time about asevenly as they would in a house league, Carlyle essentially has played 13 ofhis 18 skaters. He spotted his fourth line and hardly taxed his defensemenbeyond his modern-day Big Three of Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and Fran√ßoisBeauchemin (think Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe of theCanadiens circa 1978). The trio eats up almost 90 of the regulation 120 minutesfor defensemen, leaving O'Donnell, Pronger's usual partner, with about 20.(Kent Huskins is the fifth defenseman.) The pressure on Pronger and Niedermayeris considerable because of the Ducks' system.
Although dukes-upAnaheim G.M. Brian Burke insists his team doesn't trap, the Ducks, when unableto get in on defensemen with a hard forecheck, use a 1-3-1 scheme. The leftdefenseman steps up to join two forwards in clogging the neutral zone while theright defenseman stays back as a sweeper to deal with pucks that are turnedover in front of goalie Jean-Sébastien Gigu√®re. Not that grasping the Anaheimsystem 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 asKeith Richards does in front of a mirror. "That last guy's been retrievingthe puck just for fun," Senators goaltending coach Ron Low said following apair of one-goal losses in the first two games that just didn't seem thatclose.
• A dearth ofEuropeans. Today's NHL rosters are littered with foreign-born players, butBurke, an American, has put together an old-fashioned Canadian team, mixingspeed and grinding physicality. Of the 26 skaters the Ducks used during theirfirst 20 playoff games, 18 were from Canada, only two from Europe--and one ofthose doesn't count. There is no disputing the provenance of Teemu Selanne, the540-goal scorer who imported 16 pals from Finland for the first two games inAnaheim, setting them up with hotel rooms and lining up tickets on eBay. (Thefriends were conspicuous because of their orange T-shirts emblazoned with TEEMUTHE FLASH¬†and the beer shortages at the concession stands outside theirsections.) Swedish center Samuel Pahlsson's toughness, however, makes him anhonorary Canadian.
"Selanne's gotoffensive instincts, but Sami has defensive instincts," Ducks assistantcoach Newell Brown says. "He thinks one play ahead defensively. He knowswhere the puck's going, so he's good at angling and good at putting his stickin the right position. And when he's in a one-on-one confrontation, he's strongas an ox. On draws he's really strong on his stick, and that tripodstrength--stick and legs--makes him tough." Pahlsson centered the Ducks'old-fashioned checking line, which became the de facto No. 1 line by holdingOttawa's three leading playoff scorers (Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza andDany Heatley) without an even-strength point until Game 4, when Heatley scoredhis first goal of the series.
Carlyle had notrouble getting the matchup at home but worked feverishly at it in Ottawa, atask made somewhat easier by Anaheim's winning 54.7% of the faceoffs. Throughfour 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, Pahlssonalso got the winning goal late in Game 2. With 5:44 left, he turned Ottawadefenseman Joseph Corvo into a gyroscope with a nifty move and shot the puckthrough Corvo's legs, scoring the game's only goal. "Of course I want toscore goals and play on the power play, but that's not the role I havenow," Pahlsson says. "I'll probably never be a Number 1 or Number 2center, but I don't mind the spot they've got me in, and I'm doing my best withit."
• The guilelesscoach. There is no pretense, nothing warm and fuzzy about Carlyle. "Let'sput 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 goingto 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 ascouting report on the coach. Sean's response: "He's a beauty.")Carlyle grew up in northern Ontario on the outskirts of Sudbury, near thenickel mines, which means he is not impressed with mere hard work. "Randysays you work hard, but it's then a matter of what you do that sets youapart," 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" andthat various issues had been well "documentated," stretching theEnglish language as thin as his bench. "Ah, nobody's going to point thatstuff out," O'Donnell says. "You're looking at a bunch ofathletes." The Ducks flew by charter plane between Southern California andCanada's capital, not a mala-prop.
The Senators alsotraveled in style last Thursday, arriving in Ottawa to a warm greeting at theairport by an estimated crowd of 500, or roughly the size of the audiencewatching a Stanley Cup game on Versus. (O.K., a cheap shot, but Game 2attracted a mere 576,000 U.S. viewers to the NHL's cable partner, about 25,000more than the audience that watched on RDS, the French-language sports cablenetwork in Quebec.) Any resemblance to the weak-willed Senators of the firsttwo games, and of playoff series past, didn't extend beyond the centurions ontheir uniform once they got back home for Game 3 last Saturday. When the Duckspushed, Ottawa shoved back harder, initiating many of the battles and finallygenerating a forecheck in a take-no-guff 5--3 win.
"Even if you'renot a physical guy, you had to finish your checks," Spezza says. "Wemade it hard for them to play, especially with their short bench. If the seriesgoes long, we'll have the advantage of rolling four lines." If there wasserendipity on Alfredsson's tying power-play goal--a shot by Wade Redden thatdeflected off Alfredsson's left skate was ruled legal after officials reviewedthe play--there was also a sense of purpose to Ottawa's performance as opposedto, say, Pronger's senseless frustration.
After Dean McAmmondbroke into the Ducks' zone and took a shot on Gigu√®re two minutes into thethird period, Pronger threw a left elbow to McAmmond's head as the speedycenter skated past him. Now the last time Pronger took such liberties, drivingDetroit Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom's head into the glass in Game 3 ofthe Western Conference finals, he said the blow to the 6'0" Holmstrom was"a law of physics" related to the six-inch difference in their heights.After this game Sir Issac Pronger said he merely was finishing his check onMcAmmond. But the following day he looked like a big kid who had just come outof the principal's office, oozing contrition. The NHL suspended Pronger for onegame, the same punishment he got for the Holmstrom hit. "He definitelyplays with an edge," Spezza says of Pronger. "He's got a bit of areputation for being a little dirty. I guess that's what makes himsuccessful."
As it did againstDetroit, Anaheim survived without Pronger; 6'4" winger Dustin Penner scoredon a two-on-one with 15:53 left; Niedermayer, Beauchemin and O'Donnell played acombined 84:57; and Pahlsson won five of nine draws in the third period, asAnaheim survived Ottawa's late onslaught. The dawn was going to be anauspicious one for Carlyle and the Ducks, who were on the brink of pulling downthe shade on the NHL season.
The Ducks have beena playoff winner despite a penchant to commit many, often senseless, penalties.(Center Ryan Getzlaf's roughing penalty against Senators winger Chris Neilstarted a brawl in Game 3, above.) Such shenanigans are not typical of a teamthat goes on to win the Stanley Cup. In fact, over the last 20 postseasons onlyone NHL champion allowed more power plays per playoff game than the Ducks hadyielded through Game 4 of the finals this spring.
|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|
Source: ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU
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The Ducks are rugged and old school. Says the veterandefenseman Pronger, "This is the TOUGHEST TEAM I've ever playedon."