He had been challenged to make something happen, to make an impact, so Steve Rucchin won a key faceoff and slipped the puck to teammate Teemu Selanne for the game-winning goal Sunday at the Pond.
There were 2 minutes 41 seconds left in regulation play when Rucchin won a draw from Vancouver’s Mike Sillinger and helped make the Mighty Ducks winners.
“It was a great play,” said Duck Coach Ron Wilson, who issued his challenge to Rucchin early in the game.
“I asked him [later] if he saw me there,” said Selanne, whose team-leading 36th goal gave the Ducks a 3-2 lead that grew to 5-2 by game’s end.
Rucchin had surveyed the scene before he stepped into the right faceoff circle with the score tied and the Ducks on the power play.
He knew Sillinger was a right-handed shot and had to go to his backhand on the faceoff. He knew that would leave an open lane to the Vancouver net.
And he figured Selanne was seeing the same thing.
Rucchin pushed the puck forward, gained control, watched Canuck defenseman Bret Hedican move to cut him off, then spied Selanne heading to the front of the net and fed him the puck.
“I was going to tell him what I was going to do, but I didn’t want to let them key on Teemu,” said Rucchin, who also assisted on Paul Kariya’s second-period goal. “If I skated over to tell Teemu, Bret Hedican might have played if differently.”
That Selanne tripped over Hedican’s skate and was falling as he scored only added a dramatic touch to the goal. Rucchin says he has no such flair--at least not yet.
But Rucchin has become an accomplished, confident playmaker while playing between the two all-star wingers, Kariya and Selanne.
“I think his game has gone up two levels since the start of the season,” Selanne said. “Before, he just wanted to stay out of our way and let us do our jobs. Now, he wants to contribute. I remember the first time he played with us [last season], he was so nervous he couldn’t pass the puck. Now, he really feels a part of our line.
“When you have three guys who can play well together, you can do a lot of damage in this league.”
How’s this for damage?
Selanne has 36 goals and 82 points. Kariya has 30 goals and 70 points. Rucchin has 14 goals and 47 points.
The Ducks’ top line is perhaps the lone rival to Pittsburgh’s prolific trio of Mario Lemieux (43 goals and a league-leading 97 points), Jaromir Jagr (45 goals, 87 points) and Ron Francis (21 goals, 68 points).
“My job is to get them the puck, so they can do what they do best,” Rucchin said. “It’s not really my line. It’s their line.”