EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Rob Niedermayer has faced this demon before.
Game 1, loss one.
Game 2, loss two.
The Colorado Avalanche gave Niedermayer and the Florida Panthers the bum’s rush in 1996. The Panthers only found their comfort zone when they hit the golf course a week after the first Stanley Cup finals game.
Now Niedermayer is with the Mighty Ducks, Game 1 losers to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. The importance of tonight’s Game 2 is not lost on him.
“We can’t have an effort like [Tuesday] again,” Niedermayer said. “A series can get away from you quick. We have to come out ready to play. When they drop the puck, we have to bring our game.”
A fine plan. Now for the details.
The Ducks have been the aggressive team through their playoff run. They handled the skill of the defending champion Detroit Red Wings. They endured the physical play of the Dallas Stars. They matched the speed of the Minnesota Wild.
Facing a combination of those skills in the Devils, the Ducks balked.
“Obviously, we have to find a way to be better,” said center Adam Oates, who was on a Washington Capital team that was swept by Detroit in 1998.
“I don’t remember anything about that series,” Oates said.
A little reminder.
Game 1, loss one.
Game 2, loss two.
Only three of 40 teams have come back to win the Stanley Cup finals after losing the first two games of the series. The last team to lose the first two games and win the Cup was Montreal in 1971, when the Canadiens rallied to defeat Chicago in seven games.
In 1966, the Canadiens came back from a nine-day layoff, lost the first two games to Detroit, then won the Cup.
Those are scenarios that the Ducks, who were coming off a 10-day layoff Tuesday, would like to avoid.
“It’s about being relentless,” Duck goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. “We’re not going to win being cute. We don’t have enough time to be cute.”
Step one is the mental approach.
Coach Mike Babcock, asked how he was feeling before he stepped onto the ice for practice Wednesday, said, “The sun came up today. I had to check it twice. But it is all relative to where you are.”
To Babcock, what happened Tuesday night was too simple to analyze.
“We didn’t lose in triple overtime in a heartbreaker, where we played like crazy and did everything we could,” Babcock said. “It was pretty easy when we went through our [video] clips with our guys to see what we weren’t doing right.”
Outside of Giguere, pretty much everything.
The Ducks hardly disturbed Devil goalie Martin Brodeur, with only eight shots through the first two periods and 16 in the game. Their play in the neutral zone was tentative, at best, which produced several odd-man rushes for the Devils.
All of which put New Jersey on what in the past has been a successful path. The last seven times the Devils won the first game they went on to win the playoff series -- twice in the Stanley Cup finals.
“Most teams we did play in the playoffs have found we were faster than what we looked like when we got on ice level,” Devil Coach Pat Burns said.
The Ducks learned that the hard way.
“We were too passive and too hesitant last night for whatever reason,” Duck center Steve Rucchin said.
“It was a pretty easy game for their D last night. They’re not an easy team to play against. They play a great system. That makes it tough. We’ll find a way to get to Brodeur.”
The Ducks could have used a map Tuesday.
Of their 16 shots, five were by Dan Bylsma and Marc Chouinard, fourth-liners. The Ducks loosened up in the last 10 minutes. By then, it was too late.
“They executed and played their game,” Duck defenseman Keith Carney said. “You have to give them credit.”
The Ducks, though, were left with the challenge other teams have had against them during the playoffs. Get a goal first, then try to win a game.
“Their job is to only win one game in this building,” Brodeur said.
And at this point, the Ducks had better win one.
“You start a series on the road, you want to win both those games,” Duck winger Steve Thomas said. “That’s your goal. Now we want to get the split. That makes this the most important game of the season.”
Without a doubt.
Game 1, Duck lose.
Game 2, tonight.
Series still to be decided.