Ducks’ Deal Is a Blue-Line Special

Times Staff Writer

There was nothing cryptic in the message the Mighty Ducks were sending Thursday ... on and of the ice.

In the afternoon they filled a need and, they hope, improved their playoff chances with a four-player deal that brought them Florida defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh.

The Ducks topped that off with an exhausting 4-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks in front of 17,127 at HP Pavilion. It gave the Ducks victories on back-to-back nights, an effort so tiring that goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere barely made it to the finish because of dehydration, lying on his back with 26 seconds left.


The Sharks outshot them, 35-22, including a 17-4 advantage in the second period, but the Ducks survived.

Petr Sykora had a goal and two assists. Adam Oates had a goal and one assist. Steve Rucchin and Jason Krog also scored goals.

Ozolinsh, 30, will be expected to provide offensive production from the blue line, a prime need according to Duck General Manager Bryan Murray, and was acquired without creating a huge hole in the lineup. The Ducks sent center Matt Cullen, defenseman Pavel Trnka and a fourth-round draft pick in 2003 to the Panthers. The Ducks also received forward Lance Ward, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound grinder, in the deal.

“Obviously he’s a great skill player on the back end, a guy who can help the power play considerably,” Murray said. “The way the game is and the way our coach likes to coach is to include the defense on the rush. This guy is as good as there is out there at that.”

Ozolinsh, an 11-year veteran and seven-time All-Star, has seven goals and 26 points this season. He has five power-play goals. He averages 28 minutes 22 seconds per game, third-highest in the NHL.

Murray was able to take advantage of the fact the Panthers are in salary-dumping mode. Ozolinsh is in the third year of a five-year, $25-million contract.


“It came as a bit of a shock to me,” Ozolinsh said about the trade. “I have had a couple hours to let it set in and I feel pretty excited. Anaheim is a good team and we have a big task ahead of us to make the playoffs.”

He joins a team that is 7-2-0-1 in its last 10 games and one point behind eighth-place Chicago and Colorado in the Western Conference.

Owen Nolan’s second goal of the game -- a back-hander in front of the net -- cut the Ducks’ lead to 4-3 three minutes into the third period. The Ducks, and Giguere, hung on ... barely. Twice in the final minutes, Giguere needed a few moments to compose himself on the ice.

The first period was wild. Oates flipped a wrist shot past goalie Evgeni Nabokov one minute into the game, touching off a flurry of goals in a period that ended with the Ducks leading, 3-2.

Giguere struggled in the first period, giving up soft goals to Patrick Marleau and Nolan. By the second period, though, Giguere was back to denying anything and everything, turning away all 17 Shark shots.

Sykora’s no-look pass from behind the net went off the skate of defenseman Kyle McLaren and straight to Rucchin, whose power-play goal gave the Ducks a 4-2 lead 2:27 into the second period.


Niclas Havelid, who had one assist Thursday, has eight goals and 24 points this season, but has been the only Duck defenseman to contribute consistently to the offense. That’s why Ozolinsh is a key acquisition.

“To get a defenseman with those kind of skills, you can’t go wrong,” Giguere said. “He is going to help our power play make us a stronger team.”

Ozolinsh’s downside is as a defender. He’s a minus-16 this season.

“I think I have changed my playing style,” Ozolinsh said. “I’m a little more defensive, not as reckless as I used to be. I learned a lot playing all these years. I think I’ll be more reliable defensively.”

Murray had been trying to move Cullen and Trnka since before the season. Cullen had skated in and out of the doghouse when Murray was the team’s coach last season. Things had improved little under first-year Coach Mike Babcock. Trnka was the odd man out on defense.

“Trades are part of the game,” said Cullen, who has seven goals and 21 points this season. “It’s been fun to see us come from not being a playoff team to where we are now. But this will be an exciting part of my career, hopefully.”



Staying Power

While Sandis Ozolinsh averaged almost 30 minutes of ice time with the defensively challenged Panthers, he should get more time to rest given the Mighty Ducks’ depth along the blue line. Ozolinsh has posted three of the top 10 single-game highs in time on ice in the NHL this season and ranks third overall with 28:22.


*--* RK DATE DEFENSEMAN GAME ICE TIME 1 Oct. 12 Adrian Aucoin N.Y. Islanders vs. 40:51 Washington 2 Oct. 17 Adrian Aucoin N.Y. Islanders vs. 38:21* Philadelphia 3 Dec. 13 Sandis Ozolinsh Florida vs. N.Y. 37:02* Islanders 4 Dec. 19 Nicklas Lidstrom Detroit vs. Dallas 36:09* 5 Dec. 17 Adrian Aucoin N.Y. Islanders vs. 35:09* Detroit 6 Nov. 11 Sandis Ozolinsh Florida vs. Chicago 34:40 * 7 Nov. 16 Adrian Aucoin N.Y. Islanders vs. 34:38 Pittsburgh 8 Oct. 23 Sandis Ozolinsh Florida vs. Toronto 34:30 9 Oct. 24 Sergei Zubov Dallas vs. Calgary 34:14* 9 Dec. 6 Nicklas Lidstrom Detroit vs. Dallas 34:14* * denotes overtime game