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Just Another Game ... That Ducks Can Win

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The Mighty Ducks can win the Stanley Cup tonight.

The Mighty Ducks will win the Stanley Cup tonight.

Having proved their resourcefulness by defeating the defending champion Detroit Red Wings without a power-play goal, having stood up to the Dallas Stars’ attempts to rough them up and having matched the speedy Minnesota Wild stride for stride, the Ducks should be primed for anything when they face the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 of the finals at Continental Airlines Arena.

They reached an emotional peak after staving off elimination with a 5-2 victory Saturday at Anaheim, and they’re on what qualifies as an offensive roll after scoring eight goals in the last two games. Even Paul Kariya, absent from the score sheet except for an assist in the first five games, contributed two assists and a splendid goal in Game 6, scored after he had been knocked on his back at center ice by a punishing shoulder-to-jaw hit by Scott Stevens.

“Now we’ve got our superstars going and that gives us more confidence,” defenseman Ruslan Salei said. “We’ve got a great chance here and we’ve been working hard for this opportunity.”

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It’s one they can’t let slip through their fingers.

“I think the team that’s going to work the hardest is going to end up with the Cup,” said goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the top contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs, win or lose tonight.

“I know for a fact that we’re a hard-working team, so I’m confident we can do the job.”

No, they haven’t won on the road in the finals, opening at New Jersey with a pair of 3-0 losses and losing Game 5, 6-3. And yes, 23 New Jersey players and Coach Pat Burns have played in a seventh game in the playoffs, an experience only nine Ducks have on their resumes and Coach Mike Babcock lacks altogether. No matter, Giguere said.

And he’s right.

“It’s all about the present,” he said Sunday after the Ducks’ delayed cross-country flight landed in New Jersey. “Game 7 or not, this is just another hockey game, like every other hockey game we played this year. We’ve just got to do our job.

“I really believe that. We’re not going to change anything. It’s just a 60-minute game. Well, it might be more. But the referee is going to drop the puck right off the bat and whoever is going to compete the hardest is going to win.”

They will win if they play as well as they did for the first period and a half of Game 5, when they scored first and weren’t daunted after the Devils rallied to regain the lead. The Ducks pulled even twice before they became lax on defense -- a rare occurrence in these playoffs -- and lost control of the game.

They were in command for nearly all of Game 6. They wavered in the second period after pesky Jay Pandolfo scored from the slot to cut their lead to 3-1, but they never let go.

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“Emotionally, I think, we’ve been a disaster,” Babcock said. “Not that we don’t have emotion. We’ve had lots. But keeping it under control has been a challenge for us. It’s been interesting, with the veteran team they have, a team that has been here, and they’ve fluctuated in their play as well.

“Whoever holds course [tonight] is going to win, and we’d like that to be us.”

It can be them if they continue to win faceoffs, a strength in every series, and if they remain a cohesive unit. They withstood the loss of Kariya to an injury that initially appeared ominous and rode the emotions of a rapt and roaring crowd when he returned to score the fourth goal on a wicked shot from the left wing.

The Ducks didn’t get mad -- they got a bigger lead. Salei wanted to “go to Stevens and let him know we’re not going to accept that,” but he wasn’t reckless. “You’ve got to be smart,” he said. “We got the momentum and you don’t want that to change.”

They’ve also gotten the Devils’ attention with a word here or a whack on the leg there, goading the supposedly more poised Devils into retaliation penalties in Game 6 that Burns called uncharacteristic. The teams have built what Burns called “a little hate,” although he rejected a suggestion the Ducks took cheap shots.

“Maybe that was emotions. They were wound up too much and trying to get it done early,” he said of his players. “Instead of waiting for the chance, we took the chance.”

The Ducks turned many of those gambles into counterattacks. Having realized goalie Martin Brodeur is vulnerable to the glove side, they exploited that well enough to get Burns to concede the game and pull Brodeur with 11:23 to play.

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Brodeur said Sunday he’s fine and is looking forward to the eighth Game 7 of his career. He’s 4-3, including a victory over Ottawa in this spring’s East finals.

“It’s going to be a battle,” he said, “and we’ll see who the best team is.... We believe we’re the best team. If we didn’t believe that, we’d be cheating ourselves a little.”

The Ducks too believe they’re the better team. They have since their playoff debut at Detroit, where Giguere started this remarkable ride with a 63-save performance in a triple-overtime victory.

“You have to have that belief, that you have a chance at making it to the finals and winning the Stanley Cup,” winger Rob Niedermayer said. “You wouldn’t be playing if you didn’t, and I think what has made us so dangerous in the playoffs is we had every guy in that dressing room believing in themselves throughout every series we played. If we would have listened to you [reporters] we wouldn’t have made it past that round. We still have that belief.”

And tonight, they can have the Cup too.

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