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Tuesday, May 27, 2003
Ducks can't overcome rust in Game 1

By EJ Hradek
ESPN The Magazine

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Rust or rest? Coming into the Stanley Cup finals, that was the big question facing the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, who hadn't played since eliminating the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference final on May 16 -- 10 days ago.

Well, after Game 1, the answer seems to be rust.

With ex-Duck Jeff Friesen providing a pair of goals, the Devils cruised to a relatively easy 3-0 win on Tuesday night at the Continental Airlines Arena. Goalie Martin Brodeur, never really tested outside of a first-period blast off the stick of ex-Devil Petr Sykora that hit the post on his glove side, stopped 16 shots en route to his first career Cup final shutout.

Afterward -- to their credit -- the Ducks didn't use the layoff as an excuse. But, really, how else can you explain their performance in Game 1?

"It was definitely our worst game of the playoffs," said Ducks forward Steve Thomas. "It was nothing like we've been. That wasn't our team out there tonight."

Coach Mike Babcock didn't disagree.

"We didn't play tonight," Babcock said. "We didn't skate. We didn't manage the puck. And, we didn't engage them physically. We'll hang our heads for about 15 minutes, then we'll get ready for the next game."

In Game 2, the Ducks will have to get more pucks at the net. They managed just eight shots in the first forty minutes -- four in each of the first two periods. And of those eight, three came from fourth liner Marc Chouinard.

"We have to get more shots," Thomas said. "And we have to get more people going to the net. That was our game plan, but we got away from it."

Captain Paul Kariya, another Duck who refused to blame the layoff for the shoddy performance, figures he and his teammates have to execute the basics much better in Game 2.

"We didn't make our passes," said captain Paul Kariya, who managed just one third-period shot on the evening. "And, we didn't support the puck very well. Really, we didn't execute very well for most of the game."

Babcock doesn't think he's going to make any major lineup changes for the next game. Nor, does he feel that he'll seek better matchups. Rather, he thinks better effort is the answer in Game 2.

"We didn't think our team was very good tonight," Babcock said. "If you don't skate and you're not quick and you don't manage the puck, it's pretty hard to evaluate those things.

That said, Babcock didn't like the matchup of his fourth line (Chouinard, Jason Krog and Dan Bylsma) and Scott Gomez's line (with right wing Grant Marshall and left wing Patrik Elias). The coach said that matchup, "ate us alive." Babcock could put rookie Alexei Smirnov back into the lineup to change the mix on that line.

Meanwhile, in the other locker room, Devils coach Pat Burns wasn't afraid to blame the layoff for the Ducks' sluggish performance.

"In all fairness to them, you could say they had a little bit of rust on their blades," Burns said. "But, we better be ready, because they'll get better as things go on."

For the Ducks' sake, that better be the case.

E.J. Hradek writes hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com.