PLAYOFF SERIES: Stanley Cup final; tied 3-3.
The Anaheim Mighty Ducks have the Devils on the verge of doing it again.
Reeling after a Game 6 meltdown at the Arrowhead Pond, the Devils are counting on a return to home ice to secure the Cup when they take on the Mighty Ducks in Game 7 on Monday night.
The Ducks treated NHL fans to more of their magic Saturday night by extending the league’s season as far as it can go, routing Martin Brodeur and the Devils 5-2 to force the 11th Game 7 in Stanley Cup finals history.
Captain Paul Kariya recovered from a thunderous hit from Scott Stevens and finished with a goal and two assists, and the Ducks chased Brodeur in the third period to send the series back to New Jersey for a decisive contest.
Looking to consummate one of the more amazing Stanley Cup runs in history, the seventh-seeded Ducks have won three of four games since looking badly overmatched in consecutive 3-0 defeats to the Devils in the first two contests.
“One game to win Stanley Cup? You can’t ask much more than that,” Anaheim said center Steve Rucchin, who scored the first two goals Saturday night.
The Ducks have that opportunity thanks to Kariya, their captain, who took the best hit Stevens had to offer in the second period and bounced back to score a goal shortly after.
“I wasn’t out cold,” said Kariya of the blindside hit that left him motionless on his back. “I was right there.”
Invisible for much of the finals, Kariya set up two of the Ducks’ three first-period goals with the breakthrough game coach Mike Babcock said his team badly needed, then gave Anaheim an emotional lift with his remarkable return.
“It definitely showed a lot of grit for him to come back from a hit like that,” Brodeur said. “There’s not too many guys who can do that.”
Now it’s the Devils who need to pick themselves up and avoid another disaster in the Cup finals, and their record at home seems to give them a good chance to do so. New Jersey is 11-1 at Continental Airlines Arena in this postseason, tying the 1988 Edmonton Oilers for the most home victories.
The Devils have outscored the Ducks 12-3 in their three wins at the Meadowlands in this series.
Among the 11 Game 7s in Stanley Cup finals history, the visitor has only won twice.
New Jersey, though, failed in its last chance to win the Cup at home, when it wasn’t able to close out Colorado in Game 6 two years ago. The Devils went on to lose in Game 7 at Denver, meaning Brodeur will be trying to avoid a fourth straight loss in a potential Cup-clinching game.
“You don’t have too many opportunities to go in and have a chance to win a Stanley Cup,” Brodeur said. “We had two cracks at it last time and we didn’t come through. We had two cracks this time, and the first one we failed. Hopefully we’ll be better in Game 7.”
The Devils have been unable to regain the momentum since Brodeur misplayed a dump-in into a Ducks goal in Game 3. New Jersey can’t afford another confidence-killing score in the finale.
Brodeur will need to outplay Anaheim’s Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who will probably need to put forth the best performance of his brilliant postseason to bring the Stanley Cup to Anaheim.
Giguere had a relatively stress-free night Saturday, making 26 saves and stopping Scott Niedermayer on a 2-on-1 break in the first period with the Ducks leading 1-0.
Brodeur stopped only 17 of 22 shots before getting pulled. The Devils goalie, though, sounded like he expects the breaks to turn in his team’s favor.
“You never know what’s going to happen in Game 7,” Brodeur said. “You rely on a bounce here and there, not just to win the series or advance, to win it all.”
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Mighty Ducks - 7th seed; beat Detroit Red Wings 4-0, Western Conference quarterfinals; beat Dallas Stars 4-2, Western Conference semifinals; beat Minnesota Wild 4-0, Western Conference finals. Devils - 2nd seed; beat Boston Bruins 4-1, Eastern Conference quarterfinals; beat Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1, Eastern Conference semifinals; beat Ottawa Senators 4-3, Eastern Conference finals.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Mighty Ducks - Rucchin, 7 goals; Adam Oates, Petr Sykora and Mike Leclerc, 9 assists; Oates and Sykora, 13 points; Ruslan Salei, 26 PIM. Devils - Jamie Langenbrunner, 11 goals and 18 points; Niedermayer, 14 assists; Colin White, 29 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Mighty Ducks - Power play: 11.6 percent (8 for 69). Penalty killing: 86.8 percent (59 for 68). Devils - Power play: 15.9 percent (13 for 82). Penalty killing: 89 percent (65 for 73).
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Devils, 2-0. In the first meeting, Langenbrunner and Scott 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.