Lord Stanley’s silver mug will be at the Honda Center as the Ducks attempt to capture California’s first-ever NHL championship with a Game 5 victory over the Ottawa Senators (8 p.m. ET).
“I’m sure the guys will be very excited and enthusiastic tomorrow but we have to make sure we just play our game and not get distracted by everything around us,” Ducks netminder J.S. Giguere said on the eve of what could be the last game of the 2006-07 season.
Three-time Cup champion Scott Niedermayer remembers the feeling of having the Cup in the building for the first time before a clinching game with New Jersey in June 1995. As a player it’s impossible to ignore the presence of North America’s most famous trophy.
“Hey, it’s exciting,” the star blue-liner said Tuesday after practice. “The afternoon nap is probably going to be difficult tomorrow. But we’re going to be focused on just playing our game.”
The distractions are tough to ignore. Family and friends are on alert for a big party and begging for tickets. Champagne will be put on ice midway through the third period if the Ducks are ahead. The media asks players how they think it’ll feel holding the Cup. For some players, such as 15-year veteran Teemu Selanne, a lifelong dream will finally be achieved with a first-ever Cup.
It’s all so close. And yet the Ducks cannot let their thoughts drift in that direction.
“We’ve discussed that last night and discussed it today. And we’ll discuss it again,” said Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle.
“We understand we have a responsibility to the media,” he added. “We understand we have a responsibility to your friends and family, but we have to be selfish. We have to focus on the one task at hand and that’s playing the best hockey game we can possibly play tomorrow.”
The Ducks have shown the killer instinct at home in these playoffs, going a perfect 3-0 in clinching games at the Honda Center. All-time they’re 7-0 in clinching games at this arena.
And this rink has yet to see a loss in the Stanley Cup final – the Ducks are 5-0 at home going back to the 2003 seven-game final with champion New Jersey.
All of which seems to add up to a Ducks win to close out the season. Then again, that’s just the buzz that surrounded Carolina heading into last year’s fifth game at home in the Cup final, the Hurricanes up 3-1 and looking to bounce out Edmonton. But Carolina got a little too excited about winning its first-ever Cup and dropped both Game 5 and Game 6 before recovering in time to take it in seven.
Right now the Senators would snap up the chance at a Game 7.
“Yesterday was very tough after the game,” Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said after his team arrived in California. “But today, I think on the flight here, we were upbeat and we have nothing to lose now. We’re going to go out there tomorrow and try to bring it home to Ottawa again for Game 6. There’s no question that we believe we can do that.”
Alfredsson remained a talking point Tuesday for his ill-advised slapshot directed at Niedermayer at the end of the second period in Game 4.
“I know that it definitely hit a chord with our hockey club,” Carlyle said.
It was a bone-headed play that is completely out of character for Alfredsson, a smart and respected star who has no history of that kind of thing.
“I don’t know him very well, but I’m not going to judge him,” said Niedermayer. “I’ve done some stupid things in my day.”
In other words, it’s water under the bridge. Bigger things are at hand than settling scores with Alfredsson.
For the Senators, it’s a quick turnaround from Game 4 and how the Senators’ morale recovers from that loss will be answered quickly Wednesday night. It’s a crushing blow to Ottawa to have lost a chance to tie the series with Pronger a sitting Duck because of his one-game suspension. It’s a glorious opportunity lost. And now the end could be near.
Ever since the Sens dropped the first two games of the final all they’ve heard about is history. Only three teams have ever come back to win the Stanley Cup after losing the first two games of a best-of-seven final series. Only the 1971 Montreal Canadiens turned the trick after losing the first two on the road. And only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs have come back from 3-1 down to win the Cup.
“We just need to go and play as hard as we can and hopefully things will take care of themselves and we’ll have another game to play,” said Senators defenceman Chris Phillips. “We need to take it step-by-step instead of looking at the big picture here.”