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Unlikely Victory Is a Salve for Ducks

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Mighty Depleted Ducks, playing without injured wingers Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya, defeated the full-strength Edmonton Oilers, 4-0, Friday before 17,099 at the Edmonton Coliseum.

No, really.

It’s not a misprint.

“I don’t even try to figure things out,” Coach Pierre Page said. “You just never know. If the best team is supposed to win all the time why even play the games?”

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Count the Ducks’ 20th victory this season among the most unlikely they’ve recorded in their five-season history.

No Selanne, no Kariya figured to result in another blowout like Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Without Selanne, sidelined because of strained stomach muscles, and Kariya, suffering from post-concussion syndrome, the Ducks simply couldn’t match up.

Somehow, some way, a lineup with only 59 goals this season managed to win a game in which it gave up 13 power plays, was outshot, 26-18, and didn’t seem capable of getting out of its own end of the rink at times.

“It was a perfect road game, a textbook road game,” center Steve Rucchin said.

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Yeah, right.

“I think this is going to be a big boost for us,” defenseman David Karpa said. “I think the guys realize with Paul and Teemu out it’s bear-down time.”

A loss would have put the Ducks five points behind Edmonton for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Instead, the Ducks are two points behind eighth-place San Jose and one point behind the ninth-place Oilers.

Of course, it helped that Friday’s opponent was Edmonton. When all else goes haywire, the Ducks can always count on the Oilers. Friday’s victory improved the Ducks’ remarkable run against them to 8-1-1.

It also didn’t hurt that the Ducks made the most from the least.

Rucchin scored two first-period goals, his first two-goal game this season. And the Ducks held what amounted to a huge lead only 9:20 into the game. Scott Young assisted on both goals.

Goaltender Mikhail Shtalenkov continued his standout play from the Olympics, stopping 26 shots to record his first shutout since defeating the Detroit Red Wings, 1-0, last March 30 at Joe Louis Arena.

And, amazingly, the Ducks blanked the Oilers while giving up a team-record 13 power plays. The Ducks simply haven’t mastered the new interference rules, which went into effect this week.

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They had 10 penalties against Vancouver and paid the price by giving up three power-play goals. This time . . .

“Thirteen penalties? Holy smokes,” Page said. “I’ve been screaming for four years about calling the obstruction penalties. [The players’ inability to adjust] shows we’ve learned so many bad habits over the years.”

Said exasperated defenseman Jason Marshall: “Sometimes, you get in the way of a guy and he falls down and it’s a penalty.”

The Oilers didn’t exactly escape the watchful eye of referee Don Koharski either, and it cost them in the first period.

An interference penalty to Valeri Zelepukin set up Rucchin’s first goal and his 10th this season. It was just the sort of jump-start the Ducks needed, and not simply because Rucchin became the first player in the lineup to reach double figures in goals.

Less than two minutes later, he scored again and the Ducks had the breathing room they needed.

Rucchin, so often a perimeter player, scored both goals by positioning himself in front of goalie Bob Essensa and converting on passes from the left wing from Young.

“Rucchin probably played his best game of the season,” Page said.

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Rucchin did not disagree.

“Overall, it probably was my best game,” he said. “It was the best time to have my best performance of the year with our two best guys out.”

Instead of lining up between Selanne, who has an NHL-leading 41 goals, and Kariya, Rucchin played with Young and Tomas Sandstrom.

“We came into this game knowing it was the biggest of the season for us,” Rucchin said. “Mikhail was a big factor. The defense played well. Obviously, we had a good penalty-kill.”


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