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Ducks Take Lead Easily and the Loss Hard : Hockey: Florida Panthers need only 3:07 late in the game to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 victory.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The game between the Mighty Ducks and the Florida Panthers at The Pond of Anaheim Sunday was billed as the Expansion Bowl, but it turned out to be the Expletive Bowl for the Ducks. Turns out that it is the Ducks, not the Panthers, who still have something to learn.

Leading by two goals less than seven minutes into the game and still ahead by two entering the third period, they lost, 4-3, after giving up three goals in a stretch of 3:07.

When Florida took the lead at 11:14 of the third after Brian Skrudland eluded defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky in front of the Ducks’ net, Anaheim Coach Ron Wilson called a timeout, took his chewing gum out of his mouth and chewed out his team, instead.

“We had a lot of guys yelling at one another on the bench and they were the same guys who weren’t doing the job on the ice,” Wilson said. “We gave two points away when we should have won the game, because guys didn’t play smart. A bunch of guys went to sleep because they thought it was going to be an easy game.

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“I hope we learned a lesson. We’re thinking at this point we’re a great hockey team, but our success is built on hard work.”

The Ducks were hardly working on any of the three goals Florida scored to surge from behind, two of them by Skrudland, an expansion draft pick who has given the team gritty veteran leadership for three seasons.

When Wilson called time out, the Ducks had two shots in the period and Florida had three goals .

“He basically told us to get our butts in gear,” right wing Garry Valk said. “By that time, it was too late.”

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The Ducks and Panthers entered the NHL together in 1993, but the game was far from a matchup between faltering teams. The loss was only the Ducks’ third in the last 11 games, and Florida has the best record in the league at 15-5-1 despite a 3-2 loss to the Kings at the Forum on Saturday.

“Give a lot of credit to our guys tonight,” Florida Coach Doug MacLean said. “It was a tough battle against a really tough team. I thought we came back ready to play after the loss. A lot of it has to do with the veteran leadership of this team. They basically took the loss and came in here ready to play hockey.”

It didn’t look that way in the first, when Steve Rucchin chased down a puck as it caromed off the boards and slung it from a tough angle past Florida goalie Mark Fitzpatrick 3:22 into the game. The goal was Rucchin’s eighth.

The lead was 2-0 after the Panthers failed to clear a rebound and Joe Sacco got a second chance from low in the slot, putting the puck over Fitzpatrick’s left shoulder at 6:36.

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The Ducks gave the crowd of 17,174 an inkling they might not run away with the game by allowing Scott Mellanby to score his 12th goal of the season on a power play only 1:05 later when his shot from the left circle hit goalie Guy Hebert in the body, then ended up in the net anyway.

Nevertheless, Peter Douris gave the Ducks a 3-1 lead at 11:23 of the first with his sixth goal, and the score stayed that way through a dull second period.

Then, the Ducks disintegrated in quick sequence.

Skrudland, alone in front, put the puck upstairs on Hebert at 8:07. Jody Hull tied the score at 10:03 when he swept through the wide-open slot and tucked the puck between Hebert’s pads after Stu Barnes threw it toward the net.

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Then came Skrudland’s goal, after he set up in front of the net and spun around Tverdovsky to redirect Mike Hough’s pass.

“If you’ll watch the goals, you’ll see we simply went to sleep,” Wilson said.

The Ducks abandoned the hard forechecking game that had earned them the lead, and they left Hebert to fend off Florida with little help.

“When you take a 3-1 lead into the third period in your building, you should win,” Hebert said.

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