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Penguins Stanley Cup Report: 5/14/03

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Wild at Ducks, 9 p.m. today, Game 3, Western Conference final, Arrowhead Pond, Anaheim, Calif. TV: ESPN. Ducks enjoy 2-0 lead while Wild ponders how to slow down Anaheim's penalty-killers, who scored both goals in 2-0 win in Game 2 Monday night.

NEWS & NOTES

Stan Smyl, who played 13 seasons in Vancouver, has been mentioned as a dark horse candidate to fill the head coaching vacancies with the Penguins or Columbus, but told the Winnipeg Sun that he anticipates returning as coach of the American Hockey League's Manitoba Moose next season. "You're always looking and hearing about things," said Smyl, who has one year left on his contract with the Canucks' top minor-league team. "But right now, I just have to let it be and re-evaluate our team here and our organization."

Vancouver's Todd Bertuzzi might be the top power forward in the league today, but he doesn't necessarily merit a place among the game's deep thinkers. During the Canucks-Minnesota series in Round 2, Bertuzzi taunted fans at the Xcel Energy Center box office in St. Paul the morning of Game 4, telling them that Game 6, for which they were buying tickets, wouldn't be played because Vancouver would win the series in five. And when the Canucks built a 2-0 lead in Game 7 -- that would be the one after the never-to-be-played Game 6 -- Bertuzzi reportedly skated past the Wild bench and said, "Get your golf clubs out, boys, it's over." Minnesota responded by scoring four unanswered goals to claim a spot in the Western Conference final. As for Bertuzzi, well, he was correct. It was over. At least for his team.

Although Marshall Johnston doesn't turn up on anyone's list of pivotal figures in the Eastern Conference final, he has had a major impact on the series. Might even be the main reason the matchup happened, because Johnston is a former director of player personnel for New Jersey and was Ottawa's general manager until last spring. Two of his primary moves in those jobs were drafting Devils G Martin Brodeur in 1990 and acquiring G Patrick Lalime for Ottawa in a trade nine years later. "[Johnston] is a big reason why these two organizations are taken seriously," Brodeur told the Newark Star-Ledger. "He was a big part of it for us." Johnston, now working for Chicago, understandably declined to express a rooting interest, saying that "in some respects, you don't know who to cheer for."

Monday, Anaheim's Kurt Sauer became the first rookie defenseman to score a short-handed goal in the playoffs since Trent Yawney of Chicago did it in 1989 against. St. Louis. Which is roughly around the time Sauer has his previous good scoring chance. OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but Sauer scored just one goal in 80 regular-season games with the Mighty Ducks and did not manage one shot on goal in his first 11 playoff games. Credit Sauer with picking his spots, though. Not only did he get the winner in Anaheim's 2-0 victory against Minnesota, but he also did it in his home state, with 30 or so friends and family members looking on. "I screamed," Sauer's mother, Peggy, told the Los Angeles Times. "I saw it because I usually only watch Kurt when he's on the ice. He popped it in, and it was so exciting. I was crying. This is so much fun. I'm kind of numb. You never know what's going to happen next."

Ottawa endured a run of playoff implosions before reaching a conference final for the first time this spring. Difficult as those failures were to accept, they probably enhanced the fun and excitement the Senators are experiencing now. "It's really exciting, the way the city is looking at us and the way the fans are looking during the games," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson told the Ottawa Sun. "You don't have to work yourself up before the game like you do in the regular season sometimes. It's just real exciting."

Ottawa, Dallas and St. Louis were the only NHL teams to have six or more players with 20 goals this season, and coping with the Senators' offensive depth and balance is one of New Jersey's main challenges in the Eastern final. Devils D Scott Stevens said, "This is the most depth we have seen so far in the playoffs." Game-breaking RW Marian Hossa of Ottawa appreciates the problems that having four solid lines reates for opposing clubs. "That's what's great about our team," he told reporters. "There aren't just two or three guys we have to look to. It's tough to play against a team that has so many guys that can score, and we have a team like that. So I'm glad I'm on it."

Anaheim's power play has been pretty lackluster in the playoffs, scoring on just four of 45 chances. The Mighty Ducks' penalty-killers, conversely, have produced three goals in 41 short-handed situations, including both goals in Anaheim's Game 2 victory. "That's pretty good balance, don't you think?" C Rob Niedermayer told the Orange County Register. Not a bad one-liner, but Niedermayer recognizes that his team will have to be more effective with the extra man. "We can't rely on any more short-handed goals," he said. "We have to get better on the power play." The Wild knows that feeling, having gone 0 for 8 in Games 1 and 2 despite entering the series with the most productive power play in the league.

Minnesota, already the only team in NHL history to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win two series in the same year, enters Game 3 at Anaheim tonight facing another huge statistical hurdle: Only 34 teams in playoff history have overcome a 2-0 deficit to win a series, and just 15 of those lost the first two games on home ice, as the Wild has. Precedent clearly favors the Mighty Ducks, although none of them seem to be taking a spot in the Stanley Cup final for granted. "Just look at what these guys have done," Niedermayer said. "They've been down, 3-1, in both their last series and they found a way to come back. We don't want to give them any life at all. They're a very dangerous team."

Minnesota C Sergei Zholtok might have come up with the best description yet of what a player experiences when working for Wild Coach Jacques Lemaire. "Playing for him is like going to a university," Zholtok told the Star Tribune. "You get a free education while we're making money playing hockey. He always brings the best out of the player. He puts you in the best position to succeed."

Doug Wilson was hired as general manager of the San Jose Sharks, who missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. Wilson, the first captain in franchise history and the team's director of pro development the past five years, will replace Dean Lombardi, who was fired in March.

Avalanche G Patrick Roy will wait until the end of the NHL playoffs before announcing whether he will retire. It was the first public comment by Roy, 37, on his future since Colorado was eliminated from the playoffs April 22.

NUMBERS

Anaheim G Jean-Sebastien Giguere has shut out the Wild four times this season, including Games 1 and 2 of the Western final. He has stopped all 63 shots thrown at him during the series and is the first goalie to post back-to-back shutouts at the start of a Cup semifinal series since Detroit's Terry Sawchuk did it against Toronto in 1952. What's more, he is only the fourth goalie to ring up consecutive shutouts in a conference final, joining Kirk McLean (Vancouver, 1994), Martin Brodeur (New Jersey, 2001) and Dominik Hasek (Detroit, 2002) and has not given up a goal in his past 153 minutes, 17 seconds of work.

HE SAID IT

Mike Babcock, Mighty Ducks coach, on Minnesota's unsuccessful attempt to challenge the size and legality of Anaheim G Jean-Sebastien Giguere's equipment (tongue in cheek, of course): "The better he plays, the bigger they get. It's an amazing thing."

PENALTY SHOT

Some observers suspected before the West final that every game would finish 1-0, give or take an empty-net goal.

Turns out those fears were unfounded; sure, Anaheim needed double overtime to get the only goal in Game 1, but the Mighty Ducks really cranked up their offense in Game 2, winning, 2-0. Clearly, neither teams mind being in tight, low-scoring games, so the chances of any game in that series deteriorating into a shootout are pretty slim.

"A 0-0 game, that's the way it's best for our team," Anaheim C Adam Oates said. "That's the way it's best for their team. People have been talking every year, for the longest time, about how to score goals, but defense wins. I don't think anybody should complain. [The series opener] was a good hockey game.

"Is there enough scoring? I really don't care."

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