Pattern Isn’t Big Surprise to Kariya
Paul Kariya’s first game at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim since he left the Mighty Ducks as a free agent last summer was the perfect occasion for fans to vent 51 games’ worth of frustration.
Fans booed the Colorado Avalanche’s team bus when it pulled into the parking lot Friday. They booed Kariya when he skated toward the bench during warmups. They booed Kariya and Teemu Selanne each time either winger touched the puck during the game. They booed Rob Blake, a former King who never played for the Ducks, no doubt just to keep their vocal cords toned.
Kariya claimed he didn’t hear the jeers “once the game got started,” and maybe that’s true. Sergei Fedorov, razzed mercilessly Dec. 3 when he played in Detroit for the first time since signing with the Ducks as a free agent, could believe it. His return to Joe Louis Arena was tougher, he insisted.
“My fans were booing me much louder,” he said, smiling.
It was a rare night of joviality in the Ducks’ locker room in a largely bleak and disappointing season. The Ducks pressed to pull even in the third period and rallied for a 4-3 victory on Niclas Havelid’s power-play goal 3:39 into overtime, an impressive display of resilience against a formidable foe.
But the reality is that they’re still 11 points out of the last West playoff spot. Or, as Fedorov characterized it, “A few miles ... A shot sort of in the sky.” Meantime, the point for the overtime loss padded Colorado’s already league-high total to 70.
Which leads to the question of whether Kariya knew something no one else did when he left Anaheim last summer. Did he suspect the Ducks would struggle to defend their West title and perhaps even miss the playoffs?
He doesn’t pretend to have any psychic powers. And when he engineered a reunion in Colorado with former Duck teammate Selanne that involved considerable pay cuts for both, he was more likely soothing his wounded pride after not getting a qualifying offer from the Ducks than acting on a premonition.
He certainly couldn’t have foreseen he’d have a sprained wrist that would keep him out of 31 games, including Colorado’s first visit to the Pond on Dec. 19. Nor could he have foreseen that his team would be overtaken Friday. The Ducks themselves couldn’t have dreamt it.
“It was a total team effort,” defenseman Keith Carney said, “and we were rewarded for that effort and for sticking with our game plan.”
Their rewards have been few, their struggles many. They haven’t been able to score, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, most valuable player of the 2003 playoffs, has been eclipsed by supposed backup goalie Martin Gerber. Kariya might have blocked out the fans’ booing, but he’s aware why they’re so unhappy.
“I haven’t seen a lot of the games. but it’s always difficult, when you go to the finals, to come back and get it going again,” said Kariya, who has a home in Orange County but spent Thursday night at the Avalanche’s hotel.
“I think you see that almost every year, especially the team that loses in the finals. It’s hard to rev up your engine again. But they’re always in the games, and if you’re on the wrong side of it, you get a power-play goal against or don’t bury your opportunities, you’re losing two points, and in this league and in this conference, that’s where the games are.”
He’s right. No team since the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers has returned to the Stanley Cup final after losing the final the previous season, and the Ducks are likely to add their team to that sorry list.
Yet, Kariya insisted before the game that his departure wasn’t coldly calculated and that fans shouldn’t feel he betrayed them.
“I loved it in Anaheim. People there were fantastic to me and the organization. Obviously, the guys were a fantastic group of guys,” he said. “But I looked at this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and Teemu and I decided this is going to be a great place for us to play, and we’re really happy with the decision.
“They have a very talented team and Bryan [Murray] has done a great job of putting a very good team together, but in Colorado, when you’re playing in this conference and this division, it’s so tight. We went through it two years ago. We were always on the wrong side of the one-goal games. Last year, we were on the right side. This year, they’re on the wrong side of it.”
Except for Friday. Fedorov wasn’t foolish enough to say the Ducks’ rally signaled the start of a playoff drive, but he knew it bridged a bit of the chasm between them and the playoffs.
“If we keep playing with this work ethic, we should be able,” he said of making a playoff run. “It doesn’t make sense to promise anything because we put ourselves in this position ....We should remember what we did good and build on this success.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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