Thursday, May 1, 2003

NHL: Ducks push Stars to brink

The Associated Press

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Same old Mighty Ducks' tale - excellent goaltending and timely scoring. Mike Leclerc scored on a power play with 1:47 remaining, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 28 saves for his first postseason shutout as Anaheim beat the Dallas Stars 1-0 on Wednesday night.

The Ducks, who swept defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit in the first round, took a 3-1 lead over the Stars in their Western Conference semifinals. Game 5 is Saturday in Dallas.

"They can frustrate you, and they are opportunistic. They're a determined group, well-coached, and they play a good style for the playoffs," Dallas' Rob DiMaio said. "They're patient and they don't crack. They get the opportunity at the right time, and, boom. That's how they've won."

Leclerc provided the "boom" in Game 4.

With Dallas' Jason Arnott off for cross-checking Rob Niedermayer, defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh made a cross-ice pass to Leclerc, who wristed a shot from 20 feet that beat Marty Turco high on the glove side.

The goal came on Anaheim's 22nd and final shot of the game.

"I missed a chance two or three shifts before that, so it was an amazing feeling," said Leclerc, who has two goals this postseason. "I was in the right place at the right time."

In the other game Wednesday night, New Jersey took a 3-1 series lead over Tampa Bay with a 3-1 victory. Ottawa, leading 2-1, is at Philadelphia on Thursday night. On Friday, Vancouver, leading 2-1, is at Minnesota.

Dallas coach Dave Tippett obviously wasn't pleased with the penalty by Arnott, his second in less than seven minutes.

"You just can't put yourself in that position," Tippett said.

Arnott said, "I didn't think I hit him that hard. That's a tough call that late in the game, but I'm not going to whine about it."

Then, of course, there was the net magic provided by Giguere, who has been sensational in his first postseason.

"They're riding on his shoulders. He's probably playing the best hockey of his life," said the Stars' Mike Modano, who seemed to have Giguere beat on a shot in the third period - only to see the Anaheim goalie slide across the crease and stop the puck with his skate.

"He made a couple of phenomenal saves. He's in a zone that's hard to understand right now," Modano said.

Giguere was preparing to go overtime again for the Ducks, who have played four already - all wins - in the postseason.

"But we got a big power-play goal at the end. It was awesome," Giguere said. "I didn't want to get my emotions too high because there was still time left on the board and I'd have to battle through the last minute and a half."

The 25-year-old Giguere set a club record with eight shutouts during the regular season, then was outstanding as the Ducks stunned the Red Wings in the opening round.

"The good thing about goaltenders is that they are special people," Anaheim coach Mike Babcock said. "When the score is all zeros, you know that one goal will win the game - and that is a lot of pressure."

With the Ducks' seven postseason wins - and one loss - all by one goal, Giguere is getting used to the pressure. He made 10 saves in the third period.

Evoking the memories - and the similarities - of the underdog Anaheim Angels' run to the World Series championship last fall, the Mighty Ducks are just one win away from making the NHL's final four.

They're certainly not looking ahead, however.

"Right now we've got a few minutes to enjoy this win and then we've got to focus on the next game. The next game is the most important game of the year," said Giguere, who says that after every game.

Anaheim won the first game of the series 4-3 in the fifth overtime, the fourth-longest game in league history. The Ducks took the second game 3-2 early in the first overtime. Dallas then won its first of the series, 2-1 on Monday night in Anaheim.

The Stars beat Edmonton in six games in the opening round, winning three straight after falling behind 2-1.

Devils 3, Lightning 1

At Tampa, Fla., Scott Stevens scored a goal and anchored another strong performance by the NHL's top defense.

Stevens missed all but 77 seconds of Game 3 Monday night after Pavel Kubina's slap shot hit him in the side of the face, opening a cut that required 15 stitches.

Scott Gomez and Patrik Elias also scored for New Jersey, and Martin Brodeur had nine of his 25 saves in the third period. Game 5 is Friday night.

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