Anaheim needs to win again

Monday, June 2, 2003

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- They don't mind being called lucky Ducks. Even Adam Oates, their most experienced player, called them exactly that.

If it took a fortuitous bounce or a freaky play to get them back into the Stanley Cup finals against the New Jersey Devils, so what? As Oates said Sunday, "Winning was huge for us. If it's 3-0, it's a lot different series."

But it's not a lot different if it's 3-1 heading back to New Jersey, which is exactly what it will be if the Devils win Game 4 tonight.

That's why the Mighty Ducks challenged themselves Sunday to not believe the finals are destined to go their way, just as their previous three series did, just because they pulled off an improbable 3-2 overtime victory Saturday in Game 3.

Ruslan Salei's game-winning goal made them 6-0 in overtime during the playoffs and halted what was threatening to become a Devils rout.

"This series isn't over," Devils defenseman Scott Stevens said.

But, as several Ducks players said, that same this-series-is-done talk will resurface again if they don't win tonight at the Pond, where they are 7-1 in the playoffs.

Ducks must be better

"This game is going to be at a whole other level," Mighty Ducks coach Mike Babcock said Sunday. "We have to be better. We have to continue to be better ... and in an environment that's going to be very emotional."

Just as it was in Game 3, when the Ducks regained the intensity they visibly lacked during near-identical 3-0 Devils victories in New Jersey.

Maybe the Mighty Ducks finally got themselves out of a vacation mode, Babcock suggested, following their unprecedented 10-day layoff before the finals. Or maybe they realized the Devils weren't the super team they perhaps led themselves to believe after being so dominated in New Jersey.

"It happens all the time in the finals, where you get there and suddenly a team plays well and you don't play well and you build them into something they're not," Babcock said. "Let's worry about us and do what we do. We think we're going to be a lot better (in Game 4) because we were a long way from being as capable as we can be."

Oates was part of a sweep in 1998, when his Capitals were beaten four straight by the Detroit Red Wings, and he knows how quickly a series can slip away.

"It happens so fast," he said. "You play such a long year and you get in the playoffs and, before you know it, they're over. I think in the finals it accelerates even more. ... It (winning) gives us a little confidence. We're holding serve and now we've got to do it again."

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