Ducks one step away from glory

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Anaheim Ducks had to shrug off more than a few jokes in their early expansion years, but now, one more win is all that stands between them and the most recognizable championship trophy in North American sports.

After winning the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals at home, the Ducks earned a split in Ottawa to take a 3-1 edge in the series. Now Anaheim has a chance to close out the set and hoist Lord Stanley's Cup in front of its home fans on Wednesday night.

The biggest victory of the series came Monday night in Ottawa, as the Ducks overcame the absence of superstar defenseman Chris Pronger in Game 4 to post the all-important 3-2 triumph. The win was Anaheim's first-ever Cup finals victory on the road and kept the Senators from tying the series at two games apiece.

Now Ottawa has to become the second team in NHL history to take the Stanley Cup finals after falling behind 3-1 in the series. Since the best-of-seven format was introduced to the Stanley Cup finals in 1939, 27 of the 28 teams that have led the series three games to one have gone on to win the Cup. The only team to come back and win after being down 3-1 was the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, who were actually down three games to none before charging back to down the Detroit Red Wings.

However, that fact is not going to change the Ducks approach in Game 5. The team has shown dedication to the relentless forechecking style that has helped the club grind out close games in this series. In fact all three Anaheim wins in the final round have been decided by one goal. However, if Ottawa does win Game 5 in Anaheim then this will be a series again because the set will shift back to Ottawa for the sixth game.

Randy Carlyle
"But the reality of it is the next one is going to be the toughest one to win," Randy Carlyle said.
"We know we've got a 3-1 lead," said Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle. "But the reality of it is the next one is going to be the toughest one to win."

The game could be a tough one to win, but only if the Senators display the energetic and physical style they did in their 5-3 victory in Game 3. Outside of that contest, the Ducks have been the team dishing out the hits and creating havoc for any Ottawa player with the puck.

The Ducks were supposed to be affected greatly by the void left by Pronger, who was serving a one-game suspension for delivering an elbow to the head of Ottawa's Dean McAmmond in Game 3. But, after a shaky start Anaheim was able to once again implement its strategy.

Anaheim fell behind 1-0 in the final second of the first period, but took control in the remaining 40 minutes of the contest.

"I don't think we want to get used to playing without Chris. He's a great player and helps our team a lot," Ducks forward Andy McDonald said of Pronger. "But, obviously, we, realized when he's not there, we have to be at our absolute best. Everybody has to do their jobs. And we got to doing that in the second and third period."

McDonald was one of the players who was able to step up the energy for Anaheim in the second period, as he scored twice over a minute span midway through the middle stanza to give the Ducks a 2-1 edge. McDonald, who has nine goals in this postseason, also posted the secondary assist on the game-winner in the third period, but that play was primarily the result of the speed of linemate Teemu Selanne.

The game was tied to start the third period, but Anaheim grabbed the 3-2 edge thanks to the wheels of Selanne, who at 36 years old can still live up to his "Finnish Flash" moniker.

Selanne grabbed the puck near the blueline and skated into the zone with Dustin Penner on a 2-on-2. Selanne then blew by the defender and fed the puck to the slot where a wide-open Penner redirected the disc into an open net at the 4:07 mark.

The scoring touch of McDonald, the speed of Selanne and the Ducks forechecking were all big parts of the Game 4 victory, but the team also benefited from another strong performance from Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

The 2003 Conn Smythe Trophy winner for Anaheim made 21 saves in the win, as he rebounded nicely after giving up five goals in Game 3. Giguere is 12-4 with a 1.97 goals against average and .925 save percentage in 2007 playoffs and is a leading candidate to win his second Conn Smythe as the MVP of the postseason.

The Ducks have seemed to struggle at times during this postseason because they are always playing close games, but that is just the type of contest that suits Carlyle's club. Giguere is certainly a huge factor in that equation because his technical wizardry between the pipes means he rarely gives up cheap goals.

In the end, Anaheim may not seem to dominate individual games when one gazes at the scoreboard, but it's hard not to call the club dominating when you see them play over the course of a postseason.

The Ducks and their fans hope Wednesday evening will be the night they get to reap the rewards of that special brand of mastery.

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Dan Di Sciullo