Sammy Pahlsson’s goal at 14:16 of the third period gave the Ducks a 1-0 victory Wednesday night and a 2-0 edge in the NHL’s championship series. “I shot it through the legs of the defenceman and somehow it went in,” said Pahlsson. “The most important thing is to win the game but of course it’s great to score the goal.”
The scene shifts to Canada’s capital for games Saturday and Monday, and history is firmly on the side of the Ducks: only once in 30 instances where a team has won the first two games of the final at home has it failed to hoist the Stanley Cup, and that was back in 1971 when Chicago lost to Montreal in seven games.
Anaheim is attempting to become the first West Coast team to win the Stanley Cup since the 1925 Victoria Cougars.
Ottawa’s shot at becoming the first Canadian champion in 14 years has been relegated to longshot status. The Ducks have pushed them around and stymied their attack with strong forechecking and in-your-face aggressiveness all over the ice.
“We’ve won our two home games and, let’s face it, you’re supposed to win your home games,” said Anaheim defenceman Chris Pronger. “Now it’s in their court.”
The Senators lost two straight for the first time since last December.
“Their D and their checking line have been the stories of the series so far,” said Ottawa coach Bryan Murray.
On the winning goal, a Dany Heatley giveaway at the Ottawa blue-line allowed Pahlsson to gain control of the puck. The Swedish centre shot from the circle to the left of goaltender Ray Emery and, as Joe Corvo charged towards him to check, he let go a quick wrist shot through Corvo’s legs and past Emery.
It was a tough break for the Senators’ goalie, whose valiant effort had kept his team in the game.
The hard-hitting, fast-moving contest was played in front of another loud Honda Center sellout crowd of 17,258 including about 500 Senators fans who’d made the trip from various Canadian cities and towns.
Murray needed more from his big guns than he got in the 3-2 Game 1 loss Monday so he started the game by taking Daniel Alfredsson off his first line and using him with Peter Schaefer and Mike Fisher. Chris Neil took Alfredsson’s place alongside Jason Spezza and Heatley.
The Ducks picked up right where they left off in Game 1 by hitting every red, white and black sweater that moved. Halfway through the first period, they had peppered 10 shots on Emery, while the Senators had managed only one on Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
So, Murray reunited Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley. The Senators then got a two-man advantage for more than a minute and did everything but score. They played better the rest of the period, and Neil, Anton Volchenkov and Christoph Schubert finally started knocking some Ducks down.
Murray briefly reverted at the start of the second period to the line combinations he used to begin the game, but he quickly had Alfredsson back with Spezza and Heatley.
The line shuffling had little effect. The Senators couldn’t mount much offence any way they lined up. Anaheim had a 12-7 shots edge in the first period and a 14-4 advantage in the second.
Emery, dropping to his knees to make many of his saves and sprawling in his crease as Ducks crowded him, kept his team in it.
Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle kept his checking line of Pahlsson between Travis Moen and Rob Niedermayer on Spezza and Heatley and whoever they were skating with.
Anaheim’s line of Ryan Getzlaf between Dustin Penner and Corey Perry continued to give the Senators fits, but there still were no goals after 40 minutes.
“We knew that if we just continued to play the same way we were and get pucks in deep, keep playing physical and cycling the puck . . . we were getting a lot of chances and getting traffic in front,” said Pronger. “We were bound to get one by them.”
The Senators tightened their checking in the third and reduced the Ducks’ scoring chances. It was their best period of the series so far but it amounted to a hill of beans when Pahlsson broke the scoreless tie.
“It was a great shot, a good play on his part,” said Murray.
Pahlsson also scored the winning goal that knocked Detroit out of the Western Conference final. Pahlsson, Moen, who netted the Game 1 winner, and Niedermayer have combined for five winning goals in the 2007 playoffs.
“That line, right from the beginning of the year, has been able to give us quality minutes,” said Carlyle. “A lot of the time the spotlight is not directed at the but, right now, they’re in it.”
Pahlsson obliterated Spezza on faceoffs, winning 10 and losing two, while Spezza won only three and lost 13 overall.
The Senators tried to force overtime and Schaeffer missed an open net with three minutes left.
Shots were 5-5 in the third period and Anaheim outshot Ottawa 31-16 on the night in winning its fifth consecutive game. It was the fewest number of shots allowed by the Ducks in their 18 playoff games (14-4). They outshot Ottawa 63-36 in the two wins this week.
“This game was very, very close all night,” said Carlyle. “Anytime you win a 1-0 hockey game in the Stanley Cup final, you’ve got to feel fortunate that bounces went your way.”
The Ducks improved to 9-2 at home during the playoffs, and Giguere appears to have entered the same zone he was in when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2003 when Anaheim lost to New Jersey in a seven-game final. This Ducks lineup is better than the one four years ago, said Giguere.
“We have a lot more offensive power and a lot more size and those things make my job a lot easier,” said Giguere.
CP Player of the Game: Sammy Pahlsson. Scored game’s only goal with 5:44 left. Won 10 of 12 faceoffs he took.
Notes: Anaheim had a 36-28 edge in hits . . . Each team was 0-for-4 on power plays . . . Anaheim D Francois Beauchemin led all skaters in ice time with 30 minutes 55 seconds . . . LW Oleg Saprykin was reinserted by Ottawa in place of Patrick Eaves . . . The referees were Bill McCreary of Guelph, Ont., and Brad Watson of Regina . . . Ottawa’s Antoine Vermette entered the game with the best faceoff win percentage (60.2 – 174 wins and 115 losses) of any player on the ice . . . Anaheim could become the first team since the 1975 Philadelphia Flyers to win the Stanley Cup the same season as leading the NHL in penalty minutes . . . Former Oilers forward Ryan Smyth, soon to become an unrestricted free agent, was in the crowd . . . Celebrities spotted in the crowd included actors James Caan, Ray Liotta, Cuba Gooding Jr., Josh Lucas and Jerry O’Connell, hip hop artist Snoop Dogg, Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer and former baseball player Mark McGwire.