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Prospal Continues His Upward Trend

Times Staff Writer

Vaclav Prospal spent a significant part of Wednesday evening with his arms raised in celebration. This has been a more common sight in the last month.

Prospal, in danger of being considered among the dud free agents that signed last summer, continued to prosper, allowing the Mighty Ducks a reason to dream what may be an impossible dream, a run at the playoffs.

A four-point game by Prospal got the Ducks a 5-3 victory over Phoenix in front of an announced 12,386 at the Arrowhead Pond. That inched the Ducks to within nine points of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

“We got ourselves into a lot of trouble playoff-wise the first half,” Prospal said. “Nine points is still a lot of points to make up. We’ve got to get on a roll. It’s basically our only chance.”

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Prospal has done more than his share to improve those chances.

He tied his career game-high for points with a goal and three assists. Steve Rucchin had three assists. Joffrey Lupul and Petr Sykora each had a goal and an assist.

The offensive glut was a perk in the first game of the Jean-Sebastien Giguere recovery program. The Duck goaltender won for the fourth time in his last 20 starts.

But it was Prospal in the spotlight.

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“When you come to a new team you want to show them they bought the right guy,” Prospal said.

Prospal, who signed a five-year, $16.5-million contract last summer, has been more like a postdated check. He was the invisible Duck the first half of the season, going 17 games without a goal at one point. In his last 11 games, he has 10 goals and 18 points.

“It feels great,” Prospal said. “The last 11-12 games have been incredible. When the whole team is scoring it’s easier for the individual to get points.”

Prospal finally put away a pesky Coyote team, which twice tied the score in the second period. Lupul had a backhander blocked at the crease, but the puck found Prospal, who waited, then flipped a shot into a gaping net 13 minutes into the second period.

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This was just what Giguere needed in the first step of what Duck hierarchy hopes is a salvage job. They intend to give their playoff MVP goalie the chance to improve his psyche over the final stretch of the season.

“We told Jiggy before the break to get refocused, get ready to go,” Coach Mike Babcock said.

Others seem to retain some faith in Giguere as well. He was named as one of 54 candidates to play for Team Canada in next summer’s World Cup. With six other goalies nominated for the team, the underachieving Giguere is a longshot.

Still, he remains the key to the Ducks’ short-term hopes and long-term plans.

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“We don’t need him to be special, we just need him to be himself,” Babcock said.

It’s doubtful Giguere will send Wednesday’s game tape to Team Canada Coach Pat Quinn. He was a wobbly at times, leaving a handful of juicy rebounds lying around the net. Yet, he could point to one key stat: he got the victory.

“I know they want me to be successful,” said Giguere, who made only his fifth start in the last 14 games. “If I play well, the team has a much better chance of winning.”

From midway through the first period to midway through the second, the Ducks were outshot, 19-4. But three of their shots went in.

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Power-play goals by Niclas Havelid and Sergei Fedorov gave the Ducks a 2-1 lead after the first period. Prospal assisted on both goals. He then centered a pass that went off the skate of Lupul and into the net for a 3-2 lead 3:32 into the second period.


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