When the smoke finally cleared after the Mighty Ducks' last game of the season--and their last pyrotechnics display--the Ducks finished with one of the best first-year records an NHL expansion team has ever had.
The Florida Panthers will set the record for most points by an expansion team. But the Ducks (33-46-5) set the record for victories and the Panthers can do no better than tie it tonight, when they play the New York Islanders.
The Ducks lost their finale to Vancouver, 2-1, Wednesday at The Pond of Anaheim in front of a crowd of 17,174 that saw fireworks before the game and in the parking lot afterward.
Before this season, the 1967-68 Kings and Flyers set the record of 31 in a 74-game season.
"If you work hard, you can reap benefits and dividends. That's what we did," Coach Ron Wilson said. "We convinced our players at the beginning of training camp that if we worked hard and played as a team, we'd have success."
As the last game of the season ended, many of the Canucks skated over to shake the hand of Wilson, a Vancouver assistant last season.
Before this season, Wilson thought winning 17 or 18 games sounded reasonable. General Manager Jack Ferreira and President Tony Tavares dared to dream of 25.
They didn't dare to think of finishing ahead of the Kings. But the players were bold enough to wear playoff-inspired "Skate for Eight" T-shirts--and they ended up staying in the race until San Jose eliminated them April 1.
"There were a lot of great moments, a lot of firsts," goalie Guy Hebert said. "I think we were pretty successful. We achieved a lot, but we didn't achieve our main goal of the playoffs. . . . (But) I think everybody has a sense of pride, from Mr. Ferreira on down."
Among the team's other achievements, they:
--Set an NHL record for road victories by an expansion team with 19.
--Finished with 71 points.
--Swept their season series with the New York Rangers, Winnipeg, Philadelphia and Hartford.
--Shut out Toronto, the New York Islanders and Vancouver.
--Saw 15 players reach career scoring highs.
--Never went more than six games without a victory.
That's not to say there weren't disappointments. Such as:
--An 0-6 record against San Jose that all but killed the Ducks' playoff chances.
--A 2-10 record against the other four recent expansion teams.
--And 20 one-goal losses.
The game against Vancouver was scoreless until 11:05 of the second, when Pavel Bure, who leads the NHL in goals, jumped on a loose puck and turned on the speed. He skated in on Guy Hebert, then went to his backhand and lifted the puck high for his 60th goal of the season.
A little more than a minute later, Tim Hunter made it 2-0.
The Ducks made the third period close when defenseman David Williams scored off a pass from Terry Yake at 5:16. With the assist, Yake became the team's leading scorer with 52 points, one more than the injured Bob Corkum. One of their best chances to tie came with about five minutes left, when Garry Valk angled a shot from the left side that was wide to the right. But the season ran out, and the Ducks take their spot on the expansion list.
The one thing they have in common with teams from different eras is that nobody expected much of any of them.
"I think my concerns were just that we wouldn't be competitive," Stu Grimson said. "You hear you'll be blown out night after night. . . . But my fears and apprehensions were quashed the first week when I saw how hard-working this bunch was."
General Manager Jack Ferreira said he will offer to renegotiate the contracts of standouts Bob Corkum and Bobby Dollas, who have two years remaining. Corkum, who made $260,000, led the team with 23 goals and was leading the team with 51 points before a severed foot tendon ended his season after 76 games. Dollas, a defenseman, made $250,000 and led the team in plus-minus at plus-19. . . . Center Stephan Lebeau left the game with a sprained right ankle and did not return.
The Mighty Ducks established a record for victories by an expansion team in its first season. The all-time leaders:
Team Year Pts Mighty Ducks 1993-94 33 Florida* 1993-94 32 Kings 1967-68 31 Philadelphia 1967-68 31 Edmonton 1979-80 28 St. Louis 1967-68 27 Minnesota 1967-68 27 Hartford 1979-80 27 Pittsburgh 1967-68 27
*--Florida has one game remaining.