Sunday, June 8, 2003
Mighty Ducks 5, Devils 2
Stevens deals hit, yet Devils fall
By Alan Robinson
The Associated Press
ANAHEIM, Calif. - Paul Kariya took New Jersey's best shot and still came back. Just like the rest of the Mighty Ducks.
Kariya, leveled by a thunderous Scott Stevens hit, made a storybook-like comeback to score a goal, and the won't-go-away Mighty Ducks evened the Stanley Cup finals by beating the Devils 5-2 in Game 6 Saturday night.
Kariya was invisible much of the finals, unable to escape the Devils' trapping defense while being held to one assist in five games. But he 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," Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said. "There's not too many guys who can do that."
Kariya's comeback mimicked that of his own team. The Ducks were wobbly themselves after being dominated in the first two games of the series, in danger of being swept, yet have forced a Game 7 on Monday it seemed unlikely they would ever see.
"One game to win Stanley Cup? You can't ask much more than that," Steve Rucchin said.
Rucchin, one of Kariya's closest friends, scored the Ducks' first two goals about 41/2 minutes apart in a fast-paced, all-offense first period that imitated the Devils' 6-3 victory in Game 5, when each team scored twice.
It was a familiar story for the Devils, who looked flat and uninspired at the start for a team in position to win the Stanley Cup. This is the second time in three years they couldn't close out the finals in Game 6; they lost 4-0 in Game 6 to Colorado in 2001, then lost Game 7, too.
"We had a great opportunity to finish a series and let it slip away," Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer said. "We just didn't play our game again. We weren't playing as a team, and that's how we have to be play in order to be successful."
Added Devils coach Pat Burns: "I was surprised we did that."
If Anaheim can somehow find a way to win Monday, the Ducks will be the first team in 32 years to rally from a 2-0 deficit to win the Stanley Cup. That Colorado comeback in 2001 marked the only time since Montreal rallied past Chicago in 1971 that a team leading the finals hasn't held a 3-2 lead.
And if the Mighty Ducks go from last place a year ago to being one of the most unlikely Stanley Cup champions ever, it will be Kariya's comeback night that will be remembered.
"Obviously, I was raring to get back out there," Kariya said.
The Ducks, playing with the desperation expected of a team possibly playing in its last game, led 3-1 in the second period when Stevens leveled Kariya with a violent hit only a moment after the Anaheim captain had passed the puck at center ice.
Kariya was in open ice and was vulnerable, but clearly never saw Stevens coming, much like the Flyers' Eric Lindros didn't when he suffered a concussion on a similar hit by Stevens in a 2000 playoff game. Lindros missed the following season.
Kariya lay motionless for about a minute, the crowd at the Pond barely making a sound, before being helped up and taken to the locker room on legs so unsteady he needed help.
"I wasn't out cold," Kariya said. "I was right there."
Kariya began wearing a stronger helmet and a mouthpiece after a getting a concussion on a Gary Suter hit on Feb. 1, 1998. The hit forced him to miss the Olympics and the rest of the season.
NHL officials issued a statement saying Stevens' hit was legal and not subject to a penalty, but Kariya clearly didn't agree.
"I didn't like the hit, obviously," Kariya said. "That's Scott Stevens' game. He's done that throughout his career. ... There's a fine line there."
Stevens said, "You can't let your guard down. Hey,it's a physical game out there."
After passing a quick series of tests and being cleared to return, Kariya was back in the game in less than five minutes. Only a few minutes after that, he was on the scoreboard for the first time in the series, only a day after repeatedly being asked if his lost scoring touch might doom the Ducks.
"When he got back on the ice, you could see in his eyes that he wanted the puck," Dan Bylsma said.
Kariya took Petr Sykora's pass and, seeing open ice for one of the few times in the finals, powered a hard slap shot from above the left circle that streaked by Brodeur and inside the far post at 17:15 of the second.
"That's where I like to put it that situation and I took a good shot," Kariya said.
The crowd of 17,174 couldn't have reacted with much more noise if the Ducks had just won the Stanley Cup - which, indeed, they now have a chance to do.
"That's what great players do. When it's time to answer the call, they're there and they do it," goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said.
"It was very emotional for us all when we saw Paul come back," Sykora said.
But it was the Devils who looked like they didn't know what hit them. They were unable to match the Ducks' desperation pace or intensity, and were down 3-0 not even 16 minutes into the game.
If the Ducks can pull it off, it would be the second near-miraculous championship won by an Anaheim team in seven months. The Angels also staged a Game 6 comeback against the Giants in October, then won Game 7 to win their first World Series since joining the AL in 1961.
Could it have been the Rally Monkey? The scoreboard mascot that became such a symbol of the Angels' magical postseason run was displayed in a Mighty Ducks jersey, drawing a cheer that almost matched that after the Kariya goal.
Rucchin, who got the memorable series-clinching overtime goal in Game 4 that sealed Anaheim's first-round upset of the defending champion Red Wings, got the first two goals - the first on a Kariya assist.
Anaheim made it 3-0 when Steve Thomas put Kariya's deflection past Brodeur at 15:59, its first power play goal of the finals. The Ducks got a second power play goal, by Sykora, early in the third period.
Brodeur was lifted after stopping only 17 of 22 shots. By contrast, Giguere had a relatively stress-free night, making 26 saves. His best came on a 2-on-1 break when he stopped Scott Niedermayer in the first, with the Ducks ahead 1-0. The Devils also couldn't convert two odd-man rushes about a minute apart in the second period, after Jay Pandolfo scored to make it 3-1.
In what is threatening to become the first finals since 1965 in which the home team wins every game, the Ducks outscored the Devils 9-4 in the three games in Anaheim. The Devils have outscored Anaheim 12-3 in their three home wins.
Brodeur allowed three goals in the first period for only the second time in 138 playoff games. ... New Jersey is 4-7 on the road. ... Anaheim allowed only 13 goals in its 10 home playoff games. ... Home teams trailing 3-2 in the finals had won only seven of 20 previous times in Game 6. ... Monday will be Burns' eighth playoff Game 7, one short of the record nine by Scotty Bowman and Mike Keenan. ... The home team has won the last three Game 7s and eight of the last nine.
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