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Ducks’ Collapse Spoils Day for Rucchin

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Steve Rucchin left The Pond ice angry.

It didn’t matter that he scored two goals against the Chicago Blackhawks. And Rucchin, a Mighty Duck center, didn’t feel like one of the steadiest guys in an often still-shaky group, although his play gives him away.

But blowing big leads will put you in a funk, something Rucchin and the Ducks know more about than they care to. The Blackhawks inspired the latest collapse, 5-4 in overtime, Friday.

“This is extremely tough,” he said. “I can’t explain it, this just shouldn’t be happening. There’s no question about it, we can’t keep doing this.”

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That sums up Rucchin’s day. And it started so promising.

His first goal against Blackhawk goaltender Ed Belfour came on a power play at 11:17 of the second period, giving the Ducks a 3-1 lead. He also gave the Ducks their biggest advantage, 4-1, on a goal 14 seconds into the third.

From there, the fun was all Chicago’s. The pain belonged to Rucchin, the Ducks and their fans.

“When we got the lead [3-1], I think everybody just sat back on the bench and thought, ‘Well, that’s it,’ ” Rucchin said. “But you can’t do that against a team like Chicago, you have to play a full 60 minutes.

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“That’s what’s so tough. We’ve played well, but we let up in the third.”

Rucchin felt helpless when his line wasn’t on the ice.

“You don’t even think about [what you did before] when your team is slowly losing a lead,” he said. “Your job is to go out there and help the team battle through it. I didn’t do that.”

Recalling his feelings from last Sunday completed the miserable experience. The Ducks lost, 4-3, to the Florida Panthers at The Pond. They were ahead, 3-1, in the third.

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“You should be able to take care of a big lead and we didn’t,” Rucchin said. “It’s especially bad because we did this a few games ago.”

Yes, it was rough. But Rucchin wasn’t the reason, linemate Mike Sillinger said.

“Yeah, he played pretty well,” Sillinger said. “Rucch is a good guy to play with. He’s big and strong and he goes to the net.”

Rucchin has scored at least two goals three times this season. He has points in five of the last six games (five goals, three assists).

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His 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) are second on the Ducks behind Paul Kariya, who has 29. As well as he’s playing, Rucchin is entitled to some chest-thumping. But he won’t even thump a little.

“I really don’t think it’s me at all,” he said. “All the points and goals I’ve been getting are a credit to the other players. I’m just in the right place at the right time.”

Come on, all the time?

“Well, obviously, I’m pleased with the way I’ve been playing,” he said. “I think I’m doing a good job. Hopefully things are going to keep up for me, but this is hardly an individual thing.”

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True. If it were, Rucchin would have left pleased.


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