A new playoff experience for the soaring Mighty Ducks.
The same things were being said. Words were echoes of past playoff series. The promises were the same ones not kept in the last couple months. The reminders of this being “just one game.” Only the Ducks were the ones doing the talking after a 3-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals Tuesday.
Jeff Friesen, an old friend, or at least a former teammate, had two goals, one an empty-netter. Martin Brodeur, who has tortured plenty of teams in the playoffs, had his first shutout in a Cup final. A sellout crowd of 19,040 at the Continental Airlines Arena, which included Disney chairman Michael Eisner, saw the Devils do what they do best, smother an opponent.
“This is adversity,” Duck goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. “We’re going to see how we’re going to answer back.”
The Ducks’ first answer was to utter those “get ‘em again next time” sound bites they heard players from Detroit, Dallas and Minnesota mutter in recent weeks. The Ducks had opened their previous three series on the road and won the first two games in each. Now they trail in a series for the first time this postseason.
“These are seven-game series for a reason,” winger Mike Leclerc said. “All we have to do is be more focused next game. This was one game. We still have an opportunity to win one on the road.”
History is now against the Ducks. Teams winning Game 1 have gone on to win the Cup in 50 of the 64 seasons since the NHL went to a seven-game series format. Losing Game 2 Thursday would put the Ducks in the same position they left three previous opponents, an impossible one.
“We have a lot of character in this room,” Leclerc said. “We have veterans who have been through this. It’s a matter of letting this one go and moving on.”
Looking back wasn’t a good idea. The Ducks, coming off a 10-day layoff, had a Devil of a time doing anything.
Scott Stevens, Colin White, Brian Rafalski and Co. hit anything that wasn’t wearing a New Jersey jersey. Put on their heels, the Ducks had only 10 shots on goal with 10 minutes left in the game.
“They really clogged up the neutral zone,” Duck winger Steve Thomas said. “We couldn’t build up any speed. We couldn’t get any room to work. We have to manage the puck better.
“We have to get as many pucks on net as we can and we have to create some chaos in front of the net.”
These were the same words the Red Wings, Stars and Wild put out for public consumption the three previous series, all about playing the Ducks. All that was missing was the Ducks complaining about Brodeur’s pads.
“We’ve got to get some traffic in front of the net,” Duck winger Rob Niedermayer said. “Then we can capitalize on some opportunities.”
Friesen, traded by the Ducks to New Jersey last summer, did.
He finished his big night by sliding on his backside, guiding the puck into an empty net for the exclamation point with 21 seconds left. His first goal had put the Devils on that path.
Brian Gionta, falling to the ice, pushed the puck into the corner. Sergei Brylin centered to Friesen, who threw a wrist shot on net. Giguere, who had stopped 122 of 123 shots the previous four playoff games, missed this one and the Devils had a 1-0 lead 1:45 into the second period.
“That’s a goal that Giguere doesn’t normally give up,” New Jersey’s John Madden said.
Friesen, though, has been scoring these goals regularly. Of the Devils’ last five playoff victories, Friesen has the game-winning goal in four of them.
“I’ve played with Giguere, I know some of his tendencies,” Friesen said.
The Ducks know Friesen’s as well, which were usually disgruntled ones last season, which was why he was shipped to New Jersey in a deal that brought Petr Sykora to Anaheim.
“It’s not that I was unhappy, it was just things weren’t working out,” Friesen said.
They are in New Jersey. Friesen has seven goals in the playoffs. No Duck player has more than five.
“I don’t think he pushed a switch to turn this on,” New Jersey Coach Pat Burns said. “He has been doing this the whole second half of the season.”
Giguere, whose coming-out party has been the story of the playoffs, made more quality saves, including stoning Jay Pandolfo on a breakaway in the third period. He was also left hung out like the laundry on a couple occasions.
That was the case late in the third period when Patrik Elias got his own rebound to the left of the net, then made a slick pass to Grant Marshall, who had an open net and didn’t miss it, scoring his fifth goal in the last 12 playoff games.
It made an easy night for Brodeur, who matter-of-factly took a sip of water after the final foghorn. It had been a light workout.
He saw only 16 shots on goal in getting his 18th career playoff shutout, but saw little activity until the final 10 minutes. Brodeur even did something no Duck player could accomplish. He had an assist, setting up Friesen’s last goal.
The Ducks’ best chance came in the first period, when Sykora rifled a shot from the blue line that hit the left post. By the second period, the Devils were in their comfort zone. The Ducks got four shots, two by Marc Chouinard and one by Dan Bylmsa, both fourth-line members.
“We’ll take this and try to improve,” Brodeur said. “I know we played well, but I’m sure there is some room for improvement.”
There is room for that.
Mostly from the Ducks.