From our recent special issue, we look at No. 18 on our list of the best teams in NHL history.
The genesis of Anaheim’s first Stanley Cup – not to mention the first ever by a West Coast NHL team – actually came the year prior, when a feisty Ducks squad upset Calgary in the first round of the playoffs and went all the way to the conference finals when a fellow underdog, the Edmonton Oilers, turfed them in five games.
One of the principle reasons the Oilers got to that point and beyond was the play of behemoth defenseman Chris Pronger. But with Pronger unhappy in Edmonton that summer, the Ducks followed a popular axiom on the road to further success: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em – or have him join you, as the case was.
And so it came to pass that on July 3, 2006, Pronger was sent to the Ducks in exchange for Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, two first-round draft picks and a second-rounder.
For a Ducks team already featuring Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer and future inductee Teemu Selanne, plus a fast-maturing kid line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Dustin Penner, Pronger instantly made Anaheim a Stanley Cup favorite. In fact, THN predicted a Ducks Cup that summer.
“At the beginning of the season we felt we had the team to go all the way,” said star goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere. “That was our year to do it. We went to the conference final the year before without expectation and we improved our team that summer by adding Chris Pronger. We felt like if we wanted to work and play together as a team, we could go far.”
And they did. Anaheim stormed out of the gates, dropping just two games in regulation in its first 25 contests. Not only did the Ducks have skill, but headlined by the surly, 6-foot-6 Pronger, they were nasty. The team had multiple players not afraid to drop the gloves, including enforcers George Parros and Shawn Thornton and the hard-nosed Travis Moen. That trio racked up 39 fights during the regular season. To add to the fray, GM Brian Burke picked up an old favorite of his in Brad May, who was acquired in late February for an extra dash of leadership and pugilism.
“We were a heavily penalized team,” Getzlaf admitted.
No kidding. In 21 playoff games, the rugged Ducks were shorthanded an incredible 121 times, but thanks to a penalty kill led by defensive wizards Sammy Pahlsson and Rob Niedermayer (who, along with Moen, formed a devastating shutdown line), Anaheim managed to stay alive with an 86.8 percent kill rate and even netted two shorthanded goals along the way.
But for all its big names, Anaheim wasn’t necessarily a team of winners yet and the players didn’t take that for granted.
“We only had one guy (Scott Niedermayer) who had won the Stanley Cup,” Getzlaf said. “Whether you had been in the league for 15 years or two years, we knew winning that Cup may never happen again.”
Though Andy MacDonald was the top center, playing alongside Selanne and Chris Kunitz, what made the Ducks difficult to defend against were the emerging stars on the second line: Getzlaf, Perry and Penner. All three had been linemates at times in the American League with Portland and came up together to Anaheim. Despite having youth, the trio combined for 40 points during the run, with Getzlaf (17) and Perry (15) leading the team. Having veterans such as Pronger, Selanne and Niedermayer around allowed the kids to thrive with some of the pressure deflected.
“It was an honor to play with some of the guys we did,” Getzlaf said. “We wanted to compete for our ice time, we wanted to be on the power play and Mac’s line, we wanted to compete with them.”
With a formidable top-four defense corps (Pronger, Niedermayer, Beauchemin and Sean O’Donnell), scoring against Anaheim was a tall task. The Ducks surrendered just 2.14 goals per game in the post-season and the fact one of Pronger or Niedermayer could be on the ice virtually the whole game certainly didn’t hurt.
“It was great,” Giguere said. “Obviously it made my job easier. Those guys were a treat to play with. They’re amazing players, so for me it makes you better if you want to be better. If you want to follow their lead and follow in their footsteps they’ll give you the direction. All you have to do is follow them and they’ll bring you to the right spot.”
Anaheim did just that, steamrolling the competition and losing only five games en route to the Cup, including a 4-1 series shellacking of the Ottawa Senators in the final.
“We played hard, no matter what situation we were in,” Getzlaf said. “Up in the game, down in the game, it didn’t matter. We were a confident group.”
Dallas Stars D-man Stephane Robidas, whose team faced its Pacific Division rivals eight times that year, recalled an Anaheim squad that meant business in every way.
“They played the right way, they had the grit,” he said. “They didn’t have many holes in their lineup and their ‘D’ was unbelievable.”
Aside from the big names such as Pronger, Selanne and Niedermayer, however, the Stars blueliner also gave credit to the lesser-known members of the team for making any contest a tough, 60-minute affair.
“People forget a guy like Todd Marchant,” Robidas said, “but he’s a guy that brings a lot of speed and kills penalties.”
Anaheim was set with two scoring lines – one with finesse, one filled with big, strong youngsters – a shutdown defensive line led by Pahlsson, plus a tough-as-nails fourth line with Marchant in the middle. It was a formidable formula to be sure.
Of course, it all would have gone south had the Ducks not had a capable backup goaltender in Ilya Bryzgalov.
On April 4, 2007, a family issue arose that threw Giguere’s world into turmoil. His wife gave birth to their first child, a baby boy named Maxime Olivier, but doctors were worried about the infant’s eyesight. Blindness was a possibility. The Ducks gave Giguere a leave of absence so he could be with his family during such a crucial juncture, but it also meant he would be missing the final week of the regular season and a portion of the playoffs. Bryzgalov stepped into the No. 1 role and didn’t miss a beat.
Bryzgalov held the fort in the first round against Minnesota, ripping off three consecutive victories over the Wild before dropping Game 4 by a score of 4-1. With Giguere back in the mix, the Ducks won Game 5 and earned a matchup with Vancouver in the second round. They easily dispatched the Canucks in five games.
The Western Conference final provided a little more drama, as the Ducks took on the top seeded Detroit Red Wings, a series many will remember hinging on a controversial Pavel Datsyuk interference penalty late in Game 5. With less than two minutes remaining in a 1-0 game, the Lady Byng winner was hauled off, paving the way for a Scott Niedermayer power play goal. Selanne scored in overtime to give Anaheim a 2-1 win and 3-2 series lead.
While Ottawa boasted the top three scorers of the playoffs – the line of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley each finished with 22 points – the Senators got bullied all over the place by the bigger, more physical Ducks. In one infamous moment, the usually placid Alfredsson even fired a puck at Scott Niedermayer after a whistle. With nowhere near the depth the Ducks had, the Senators were easy pickings for their Western foe.
In the end, the final was a romp for the Ducks and captain Niedermayer passed the Cup to his brother Rob in a fitting tribute to the team’s defensive capabilities both on the back end and up front.
Selanne, Anaheim’s elder statesman, finally had his Stanley Cup after 14 seasons in the NHL. The ‘Finnish Flash’ even had his own entourage of friends and family who made the trip to North America for the run and they didn’t come away disappointed.
“Obviously we have to wait a long time for something unbelievable,” Selanne said after the Cup. “And it really makes it even more special. I couldn’t have imagined getting the win in our home building. I’m so proud of my teammates. We had one dream together and that’s what makes this so special.”
This is an excerpt from THN’s special issue, Greatest Teams of All-Time.