PLAYOFF SERIES: Stanley Cup final; Devils lead 1-0.
During their improbable run to the Stanley Cup finals, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks haven’t faced much adversity. That changed with a lackluster performance against the New Jersey Devils in the series opener.
Faced with their first series deficit of the playoffs, the Mighty Ducks will need improvement in every area when they face the Devils in Game 2 at Continental Airlines Arena.
With 10 days off between the end of the Western Conference finals and Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, the Mighty Ducks could have either benefited from the extended layoff or suffered the negative effects of such a long break. Judging by their performance in Tuesday’s opener, it’s clearly the latter.
New Jersey outskated, outhit and outplayed Anaheim en route to a 3-0 victory Tuesday, improving the Devils to 9-1 at home this postseason.
Jeff Friesen, who spent last season with the Mighty Ducks, gave goalie Martin Brodeur all the support he needed with his first goal of the game 1:45 into the second period. Grant Marshall scored at 5:34 of the third period, and Friesen closed the scoring with an empty-net goal.
Anaheim managed just four shots on goal in each of the first two periods and 16 overall. The Devils bottled up the speedy Ducks, and Brodeur faced little work in recording his fifth shutout of the postseason and 18th of his playoff career.
“In fairness to them, you could tell they had a little rust on their blades,” Devils coach Pat Burns said. “But they’ll get better as the series goes along.”
History is certainly on New Jersey’s side. The team winning Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals has gone on to win 50 of 64 times since the best-of-seven format started in 1939.
“It’s always important to start off good—especially against this team; they won the first two games all three rounds,” said Devils forward Patrik Elias, who set up Marshall’s goal. “It was important to play our game and show them we mean business.”
It took just one game for New Jersey to prove that Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere is, in fact, mortal. The Devils beat Giguere twice on 29 shots after he limited the Minnesota Wild to one goal on 123 shots in a four-game sweep in the conference finals.
“Did we get to him?” Burns asked. “I’ll be able to tell you if we got to him or not when the series is over. Hey, he made some big saves too.”
In the first three rounds against Detroit, Dallas and Minnesota, Anaheim won the first two games of each series on the road. The Ducks won of 12 of 14 playoff games before Tuesday but now find themselves behind in a series for the first time.
“I knew it would be tough to generate offense against them,” Anaheim coach Mike Babcock said. “What I expected was it also would be tough for them to generate offense against us. We had a big opportunity tonight, but we’re not going to make excuses. They were hungrier than us.”
Giguere’s remarkable play has overshadowed Anaheim’s lack of offense in the playoffs, but that could be exposed against the battle-tested Devils, who allowed the fewest goals in the league during the regular season.
The Ducks gave up only 21 goals in their first 14 playoff games but also scored only 33, and don’t have a single scorer among the top 15 in the playoffs.
Devils center Joe Nieuwendyk sat out Game 1 with a lower-body injury he suffered in Game 6 of the conference finals against Ottawa. New Jersey, however, is 2-0 without Nieuwendyk in the lineup.
Brylin hasn’t played much center this season but looked very comfortable, setting up Friesen for the game’s first goal and finishing plus-two.
“To step in like that in the finals is just awesome,” Devils center Scott Gomez said. “I have played with the guy the most since I have been here and the guy is so underrated. He is so dangerous out there. He can do it all.”
New Jersey is 9-0 in the playoffs when scoring first, while Anaheim is 8-0 when it gets the opening goal.
The series shifts to Anaheim for Game 3 on Saturday.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Mighty Ducks - 7th seed; beat Detroit Red Wings 4-0, conference quarterfinals; beat Dallas Stars 4-2, conference semifinals; beat Minnesota Wild 4-0, conference finals. Devils - 2nd seed; beat Boston Bruins 4-1, conference quarterfinals; beat Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1, conference semifinals; beat Ottawa Senators 4-3, conference finals.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Mighty Ducks - Kariya, 5 goals; Mike Leclerc, 8 assists; Leclerc and Oates, 10 points; Ruslan Salei, 18 PIM. Devils - Jamie Langenbrunner, 9 goals; Scott Niedermayer, 11 assists; Langenbrunner and John Madden, 15 points; Colin White, 27 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Mighty Ducks - Power play: 11.1 percent (6 for 54). Penalty killing: 88.0 percent (44 for 50). Devils - Power play: 15.6 percent (10 for 64). Penalty killing: 89.7 percent (52 for 58).
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Devils, 2-0. In the first meeting, Langenbrunner and Gomez had goals 29 seconds apart to force overtime, and Langenbrunner scored with 1:56 left in the extra period to give the Devils a 3-2 home victory Nov. 12. In the second matchup, Jay Pandolfo’s short-handed goal broke a tie midway through the final period to lift New Jersey to a 3-1 win Jan. 24 at Arrowhead Pond.