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Monday, May 12

Updated: May 21, 1:36 PM ET

Wild pinpointing Giguere's weakness

By Judd Zulgad
Special to

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- One of the keys to the Minnesota Wild's success in this postseason has been its ability to never panic.

Wild Losing Face(offs)
Faceoffs are often an overlooked area in a hockey game, but it was hard not to notice the Wild's struggles in the circle during its 1-0 double-overtime loss to Anaheim in Game 1 on Saturday.

The Ducks dominated draws, winning 53 of 83, or 64 percent. No Anaheim player who took more than one had a losing record. Steve Rucchin was 18 of 32; Adam Oates 12 of 19; Jason Krog 13 of 16; and Samuel Pahlsson 10 of 13.

Wes Walz took the most faceoffs for the Wild and went 12 for 31. Darby Hendrickson was 7 of 18; Jim Dowd 5 of 17; and Sergei Zholtok 4 of 14.

The struggles did not come as a surprise to Wild coach Jacques Lemaire. Asked during the Wild's previous series against Vancouver how he decides who to send out for faceoffs, Lemaire said, "I take the best of the worst."

Lemaire, who knows plenty about the art of the faceoff from his days playing center for the Montreal Canadiens, went into further detail following the Wild's practice Sunday.

"Losing faceoffs I don't mind when the other team doesn't get a chance to score," he said. "I do mind when I see that (Anaheim's Petr) Sykora or another guy will be behind (the center) and gets it right on his stick and gets a slap shot right on our net. Then I do mind.

"We have been talking about it and practicing it. Everyone has to be a little sharper. Sometimes (the linesman) drops the puck and the winger isn't ready. He moves a second late, then there's a shot. As soon as the puck is dropped everyone has to react. They know their job, they have to move."

-- Judd Zulgad
The coolness of the players -- something that can be traced directly to the demeanor of coach Jacques Lemaire -- enabled the third-year franchise to become the first team to rebound from two 3-1 series deficits in the postseason.

So it wasn't surprising that one day after becoming the latest team to run into the brick wall known as Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the Wild showed no signs of frustration.

Sure, Minnesota had launched 39 shots at the Anaheim goalie only to lose 1-0 in double overtime in the opener of the Western Conference finals, but the Wild remained as cool, calm and collected Sunday as Giguere looked Saturday.

Lemaire, in fact, sounded positively confident heading into tonight's second game at the Xcel Energy Center.

"Giguere, you know, he's on top of his game," Lemaire said after the Wild's optional practice Sunday. "But like any other goaltender, you look at them closely, and you find they have strengths and weaknesses, and you have to work on his weaknesses. We know where they are and we have to get the opportunity and we'll get there."

It's not as if the Wild found many weaknesses in Giguere or his butterfly style during the regular season. He beat them 1-0 twice during 2002-03, stopping 26 shots the first time and 33 the second. The Wild won the two other games between the teams, scoring a total of six goals against Giguere.

But getting the puck past him in the postseason has become that much more difficult -- especially in overtime where the Ducks are 5-0. He is 9-2 with two shutouts, a 1.42 goals-against average and .954 save percentage. The latter two numbers lead all regular goalies in the playoffs. His overtime shutout streak now stands at 160 minutes, 49 seconds -- only 2:07 short of the mark set by Colorado's Patrick Roy during the 1996-97 season.

Giguere's play Saturday was reminiscent of Roy in his prime. The Ducks goalie made several crucial saves, including one that likely will find its way into highlight films for many years to come.

With the Wild on the power play in the second period, winger Andrew Brunette fed Marian Gaborik with a pass right in front of the net. Giguere was down and out of position, giving Gaborik an open net to shoot at -- at least that's how it appeared. The Wild All-Star directed the puck at the open goalmouth only to have Giguere stretch across the crease and get the heel of his stick on it at the last second.

The save left Gaborik -- the NHL's playoff leader in goals (nine) and points (17) -- shaking his head. Wild right winger Sergei Zholtok said no matter how good Giguere plays, he won't get into the players' heads, thereby throwing them off their game.

"It never will (happen)," said Zholtok, who had four shots Saturday and missed the net on a golden opportunity in overtime. "This team is really strong. We don't get bothered by things like that."

Gaborik's opportunity came on one of the five scoreless power-play chances the Wild had Saturday. Minnesota failed to generate a shot on Giguere in its final two chances, including one in overtime.

That might not have been surprising during the regular season when the Wild's power play ranked 23rd in the NHL, but that area has turned into one of Minnesota's greatest strengths in the postseason. The Wild have converted 15 of 57 chances, a league-leading 26.3 percent.

This team is really strong. We don't get bothered by things like that.
Wild winger Sergei Zholtok on his team's frustration level after being shutout by J-S Giguere
Because the Wild had to turn around after winning Game 7 of its second-round series in Vancouver on Thursday and play Saturday afternoon against Anaheim, Lemaire and his staff did not have much time to break down film on the Ducks.

That gave the aggressive Anaheim penalty killers an advantage against a team that had become more used to the system played by the Canucks.

"Vancouver was sitting back more," Zholtok said. "(Anaheim) pressures the puck everywhere in the zone, and sometimes they are going on the breakout and send the guy out to pressure the puck."

Lemaire said this does not mean the Wild won't be able to convert with the man advantage.

"The power play is all puck control, even though the other team is aggressive," he said. "If you move the puck to the right man, you will have control, you will get a chance to score, so it's all puck movement, puck control."

But it's also all about getting the puck past Giguere, an assignment the Wild might find to be as difficult as the Red Wings and Stars.

Judd Zulgad covers the Minnesota Wild for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

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