- E.J. Hradek, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Fortunate bounces of the puck don't just happen in hockey. As players say, you have to work for them.
The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim returned home for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals and rediscovered their work ethic. And they got a few bounces. Enough bounces to squeak out a 3-2 overtime win over the New Jersey Devils.
Now, the suddenly revived Ducks can tie the series with a win in Game 4 on Monday night.
The Ducks thought they didn't work hard enough in Games 1 and 2 -- both shutouts, both with just 16 shots on goal -- and couldn't help but wonder if their 10-day layoff was part of the reason.
They weren't about to let the same thing happen in Saturday's Game 3.
"We just wanted to get back to the way we were playing in the first three rounds," said Ducks defenseman Keith Carney. "I think we skated much better tonight. Because of that, we were able to get in on their defensemen and be more physical."
Ducks coach Mike Babcock echoed Carney's assessment.
"We had some legs and we started to skate and play a little better," Babcock said. "We did a good job of channeling our emotion. This was our best game of the series by far."
The hockey gods -- if there are such beings -- appreciated the Ducks' renewed vigor and rewarded them accordingly.
In the second period -- nobody scores in the first period during this series -- the Ducks broke a scoreless tie on a seemingly innocent play. Defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh pinched down the left-wing boards to corral a clearing pass by Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. In his rush to get a shot off, Ozolinsh was unable to put much force in his attempt. The puck glanced off a New Jersey defenseman's stick and was sliding wide before fourth-liner Marc Chouinard nudged it past Brodeur, who was still getting back into position.
Chouinard's goal, his first of the playoffs, was the Ducks' first of the series, snapping Brodeur's shutout streak at 143:39 -- the second-longest shutout streak to start the Stanley Cup finals. The goal certainly gave the Ducks a lift; they're now 9-0 in the postseason when scoring the first goal.
Later in the period, after the Devils had tied the game on a perfect high-stickside shot by Patrik Elias, the gods intervened again.
Again, it started with Ozolinsh, who was battling to get through the neutral zone. Fighting off a backcheck, Ozolinsh softly dumped the puck into the Devils' zone, to Brodeur's left. As usual, Brodeur quickly moved to play the dump-in-as he's done about a million times in his career.
But a funny thing happened when he tried to redirect the puck for his teammates.
"I dropped my stick and the puck hit it and went through my legs," Brodeur explained. "What are the odds that you are going to have the stick slip out of your hands?"
Too long to calculate. But whatever they are, they're even longer that the stick would drop at such an angle that it would direct the puck into the net.
"If he dropped his stick a million times, it would never land exactly like that again," mused Devils center John Madden, who was on the ice at the time of the bizarre play. He saw the play as it happened. Some had to wait until the replay.
"I was on the bench and I looked down at my skate for a second," said Carney. "Then, all of the sudden, I hear the crowd reaction. I had no idea what happened."
Brodeur, unfortunately, knew exactly what happened. He also knew there was nothing he could do about it.
"You just have to move on," Brodeur said. "It's just one of those bad bounces."
Those two goals were good enough to get the Ducks to overtime, where they hadn't lost in five previous tries. They made it six when defenseman Ruslan Salei beat Brodeur to his glove side with a blast from just inside the left wing circle.
Afterwards, Madden wouldn't blame the loss on misfortune.
"Hockey is hockey," Madden said. "You work for your bounces. Tonight, they worked for them."
Now, the series is 2-1. And, the Ducks are alive because they remember the winning formula that got them here. In Game 3, they outworked the Devils and earned a few good bounces. From here, though, the task will only be tougher.
"Every series, every game, the level gets higher," Carney said. "We'll have to be ready again on Monday."
If they are -- and they can maintain their work ethic -- they'll have a chance to make it a series. And, they'll have a much better chance of getting a bounce when they need it.
The Mighty Ducks rediscovered their work ethic in Game 3. And the hockey gods smiled in approval.