- E.J. Hradek, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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The Ducks, who shut down the Wild, Stars and Wings in their previous three rounds, are finding out what it's like to run into a brick wall.
In the Ducks' case, the brick wall is the New Jersey Devils and their puck-moving, puck-stopping goalie Martin Brodeur. On Thursday, the Devils took a very commanding 2-0 series lead with their second consecutive 3-0 win over the Ducks at the Continental Airlines Arena.
That's two games and no goals. Maybe, the Ducks can call Minnesota to find out what that feels like. Remember, it was just the last round when the Ducks blanked the Wild in the first three games of their Western Conference final series. This time, the skate seems to be on the other foot.
Once again, as in his previous five shutouts in this playoff spring, Brodeur was more a caretaker than goalkeeper, making 16 saves. That's 32 saves for the first two games. Heck, don't you remember when a goalie had to make 32 saves in one game?
All this is no knock on Brodeur -- a first-ballot Hall of Famer -- but more a commentary on how good his team is playing in front of him.
"Coming into this, we really weren't sure what to expect," said Devils captain Scott Stevens. "So, we wanted to make sure we brought our 'A' game to the rink."
Well, the Devils have definitely had their shot-blocking, neutral-zone clogging, hard on the puck 'A' game in the first two matches with the Ducks.
"All I'm thinking about right now -- 24/7 -- is playing hockey," said Devils two-way buzzsaw John Madden, who admitted that he has been motivated by thoughts of the team's Game 7 loss to the Avs in the 2001 Final. "I think we're competing hard and focused on what we have to do."
In the other locker room, the Ducks continue to search for answers. To a man, they feel that they -- not so much the Devils -- are the reason they're in this 0-2 series hole. In other words, they are in denial.
"We know we haven't played our best game, not even close to our best game," said Ducks captain Paul Kariya, who has been held to just one shot on goal in the first two games. "We're going to come out in the next game and handle the puck better and generate some offense."
After watching the first two games of the series, that sounds more like wishful thinking. The speedy left wing did admit that the Devils have been extremely difficult to play against.
"They play very well defensively," said Kariya, in a major understatement. "Still, we're not doing our job out there. We're not moving the puck and making plays."
There's a reason for that Paul. It's the team in the red, white and black. Those guys aren't letting you make plays.
Teammate Keith Carney, who knows a thing or two about defensive hockey, sees why it's tough to create offensive chances against New Jersey.
"They're kind of like Minnesota," Carney said. "They have one guy on the puck and the other guys stay back. That allows the defensemen to back up as well. So, when we do make a play through the neutral zone and try to dump it in, their defensemen are already back there to make a play before we can get in on them."
If Carney's assessment is correct, the Ducks will have to make strategic adjustments for Game 3. Believe it or not, the Ducks might have to go into a deeper defensive shell and simply look for mistakes.
If they opt for this strategy, we can expect to see some pretty passive hockey. It will be ugly, but it might be the only way the Ducks can beat the Devils.
E.J. Hradek writes hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at
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