The Anaheim Ducks captain was emotionally drained by what had just happened but thrilled over what was coming next. He looked like he was ready to shed tears of joy while heaving a sigh of relief.
The Ducks rode a roller coaster of emotions with a heart-stopping 4-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday night to earn a trip to the NHL Stanley Cup final.
The Ducks looked like they had the game sown up with a 4-1, third-period lead but saw the Red Wings battle back with two goals 6:48 apart.
Goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere was forced to make some great saves in the final moments and Anaheim had to kill two late penalties before the screaming, towel-waving crowd of 17,380 could celebrate the win.
“The third period wasn’t pretty,” said Selanne, who is making his first trip to the final after 14 seasons. “It was scary. That was the scariest 20 minutes in my career.”
Selanne struggled for words to explain what it means to him to finally play in a Stanley Cup final.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said slowly. “It’s a great feeling.
“I’m so proud of my guys. They played so well. We earned this.”
Veteran centre Todd Marchant sat in the dressing room, blood dripping off a gash on his nose. A Western Conference champion hat was perched on his head.
“All year this team persevered through adversity,” said Marchant. “We carried it over into the playoffs. Every guy in this locker room has gone to battle.”
Rob Niedermayer scored short-handed and assisted on Samuel Pahlsson’s crucial third-period goal as the Ducks won the best-of-seven series 4-2.
Ryan Getzlaf, on the power play, and Corey Perry also scored.
“I’m happy to be here,” said Getzlaf, who is going to the final after just two years in the league. “We needed to win tonight. That was a big effort from our group.”
The Wings refused to go down without a fight. Pavel Datsyuk had the Ducks teetering on disaster by scoring two third-period power-play goals. Henrik Zetterberg scored once and Mikael Samuelsson had three assists.
Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom said the Red Wings didn’t start playing as a team until the third period and by then it was too late.
“We were almost trying too hard,” said Lidstrom in a hushed Detroit dressing room. “We were trying to do each others jobs.
“When we got our composure in the third period we played a lot better. We were close to getting that fourth goal but we put ourselves behind too much.”
Red Wing coach Mike Babcock said some early mistakes cost his team.
“They got a short-handed goal early and I thought we lost our composure a little bit,” said Babcock. “I think we wanted to win so bad it got in the way of our poise and our execution.”
Anaheim will open the Stanley Cup final Monday at home against the Eastern Conference champion Ottawa Senators. It will be the Ducks second trip to the final after losing in seven games to New Jersey in 2003.
The Senators are making their first appearance in the final.
Anaheim goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere made one of his best stops in the third, a glove save on a Johan Franzen shot through traffic just as Detroit was trying to rally. In the second he blocked a Kyle Quincey deflection and got in front of a Zetterberg shot on a power play.
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said Detroit found another gear and cruised past his team.
“We stood still and kept feeding them the puck,” said Carlyle. “It’s kind of like a paralysis takes place over your team.
“We did enough to get it done against a very good hockey club, a first-class organization.”
Mixed in with Selanne’s joy was anger over what he considered weak calls by the officials late in the game.
“The refereeing, I don’t want to say anything,” he spat. “When you have to beat the referees too it’s tough.”
Getzlaf called the final minutes of the game wild.
“When you come down to the wire and get two penalties called on us, those are tough things to get through,” he said. “I thought our guys did a great job and we stuck through right to the end.”
Anaheim showed early they wanted to end the series avoid a Game 7.
They outhustled Detroit and clipped the Wings with some crunching hits.
“We didn’t want to go back to Detroit,” said Selanne. “You never know what can happen. This was our barn, our fans, our chance.”
Only four players remain from the 2003 Anaheim team. Giguere, Pahlsson and Rob Niedermayer played in the final. Centre Andy McDonald was part of the squad but missed the playoffs with an injury.
Giguere hopes the Ducks can become the first team from California to win the Stanley Cup.
“It’s another opportunity,” said Giguere, who was the playoff MVP when the Ducks lost to New Jersey. “I’ve been there once and we weren’t able to win it all. These occasions don’t come every year.
“You’ve got to try and take advantage of it.”
The Ducks looked like they had the game under control when Perry and Getzlaf scored second period goals.
Perry notched his second goal in three games on a delayed penalty, making it 2-0. He found the puck during a scramble in front of Detroit goaltender Dominik Hasek and lifted it over the sprawled goalie.
Getzlaf put the crowd into a frenzy when he made it 3-0 at 18:33 on the power play. Hasek had flattened himself on the ice but the puck popped lose and Getzlaf put it in the net on a backhand.
The Ducks came out flying in the first period and put Detroit on its heels.
The effort was rewarded at 3:51 when Niedermayer deflected a Chris Pronger shot from the point past Hasek. The puck hit Niedermayer then just dribbled by Hasek.
It was the third short-handed playoff goal of Niedermayer’s career and came with 20 seconds left in a Marchant penalty.
Notes-Rob Niedermayer’s other two short-handed goals came in the 2003 playoffs in a conference semifinal game at Dallas and the conference finals against Minnesota. …Teemu Selanne’s winning goal Sunday was his first overtime goal since 1993 when he was a Winnipeg Jet and his team lost the first round of the playoffs to Vancouver. …Defenceman Francois Beauchemin played 343 games in the minor leagues before he was picked up by Columbus, who later traded him to Anaheim.