Ducks are mightier than ever

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's ironic that the Anaheim Ducks dropped the word "Mighty" from their name prior to this season and yet this campaign is perhaps the mightiest in franchise history.

The Ducks have made it to the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in team history, making them the first California team to reach the final stage twice. This year, the Ducks will face Eastern Conference champion Ottawa in the finals and Anaheim will not merely be a loveable underdog when that series gets underway on Monday.

Back in 2003, Anaheim was the seventh seed in the Western Conference and rode goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, that year's Conn Smythe winner, to within one game of winning the Stanley Cup. The New Jersey Devils were crowned NHL champions that year, but Giguere and the 2003 Ducks became instant legends and garnered a large portion of the headlines during that amazing postseason run.

However, this present season is different because the Ducks came into the year as clear-cut challengers for the Stanley Cup. Anaheim didn't collapse under that pressure and, in fact, it put together the best regular season in franchise history, winning its first-ever division title by taking the Pacific with 110 points. The second seed in the West was also the club's highest-ever ranking in the playoffs.

Chris Pronger
Chris Pronger has posted a team-high 14 points on three goals and 11 assists this postseason.
Even if the Ducks hadn't made it to the Cup finals this year, they would still have reaffirmed their standing as one of the newest members of the NHL's elite class. After all, this year marked the second straight trip to the West finals for Anaheim and the club's third berth in the conference championship round in the last four postseasons. The only time the Ducks failed to make the West finals in that stretch was in 2004, when they failed to qualify for the playoffs.

One of the biggest changes for the Ducks this year came to the club in the offseason, as they traded for superstar defenseman Chris Pronger. Ducks general manager Brian Burke made the deal just weeks after he watched the Pronger-led Edmonton Oilers defeat his Ducks in five games during last year's conference finals.

"The exclamation point for us and our whole organization was when we acquired Chris Pronger," said Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle. "And that set everybody's mind that we were going to be very, very serious about what we're going to do."

It's the aggressive attitude of Burke, one of the league's best and most outspoken executives, that has helped Anaheim make the jump from playoff hopeful to legitimate Cup contender. Of course, some of the credit also should go to Senators head coach Bryan Murray, who did an excellent job as Anaheim GM from 2002-04.

Speaking of Pronger, he has not disappointed in his first postseason for Anaheim, as he has posted a team-high 14 points on three goals and 11 assists. The 2000 Hart and Norris Trophy winner as league MVP and best defenseman, respectively, was also involved in some controversy in the conference finals when he delivered a blow to the head of Detroit forward Tomas Holmstrom. Pronger was suspended one game for the incident.

The reason that the deal for Pronger was so huge was because the Ducks already possessed one of the game's best defenseman in captain Scott Niedermayer. In fact, Pronger and Niedermayer were named as two of three finalists for the Norris Trophy this season.

Niedermayer, a Norris Trophy winner with New Jersey in 2004, was also a Burke acquisition as the general manager signed the smooth blueliner just over a month after assuming his current role with Anaheim in the 2005 offseason. However, it's not fair to give all the credit to Burke for signing Niedermayer. After all, Scott's brother Rob was already on the Ducks and probably did the bulk of the recruiting for his GM.

Scott Niedermayer
Scott Niedermayer has three goals and six helpers this postseason.
Scott Niedermayer has three goals and six helpers in this postseason and has been a big factor on both ends of the ice. All three of his goals came at huge points of the game, as one tally tied the pivotal Game 5 against Detroit in the closing seconds of regulation and the other two goals were overtime game- winners.

The skill and leadership that Pronger and Niedermayer bring to Anaheim's defensive corps combined with Giguere between the pipes has been a scary combination for the Ducks.

The rest of the league is also lucky that the lottery for the 2005 NHL Entry draft went the way that it did because Pittsburgh and Anaheim were the last two teams in the running for the No. 1 pick, which everybody knew would be used to select phenom Sidney Crosby.

Imagine this already stellar Ducks club with Crosby, a player who has notched a pair of 100-point campaigns in the NHL before his 20th birthday. For the record, Anaheim selected winger Bobby Ryan in the 2005 draft and the club expects the Cherry Hill, New Jersey native, who has yet to play in the NHL, to be a big part of the Ducks success in the near future.

Whatever the result is in this year's Stanley Cup finals against the Senators, it is clear that these "mighty" Ducks are here to stay.

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Dan Di Sciullo