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Wild hoping to hang on as Ducks look for a series sweep

It's only happened twice in NHL history, and most of the Wild players weren't even alive when the New York Islanders last did it in 1975. Before that, Toronto accomplished the feat in 1942.

But Wild coach Jacques Lemaire isn't even thinking about winning their quarter-final playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks at this point. He just wants one game.

"There's nothing we can do about the last three," Lemaire said after practice Monday. "We would just love to get on the board."

That's not going to be easy. The Wild have been outmuscled by the bigger, stronger Ducks, and even the playoff-savvy Lemaire has had difficulty finding a way to create room for his skaters.

Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger have been superb in this series, shutting down Minnesota's high-flying goal scorers and squeezing the life out of a power play that was one of the best in the league during the regular season.

The Ducks' victory in Game 3 on Sunday night may have been the clincher. The Wild entered the evening looking to feed off their electric home crowd and a faster skating surface to get back into the series.

When the ice shavings settled, the Ducks had once again smothered Minnesota defensively in a 2-1 victory that sapped much of the energy from a team that expected to make a deep post-season run.

"I think that the guys were really hit by the last game," Lemaire said. "You can see in the practice today that guys were not sharp. They were down a bit."

That much was evident watching both teams practise Monday. The Ducks went through a crisp workout, with plenty of chatter before retiring to a dressing room where techno music provided a light backdrop for a loose club.

The Wild seemed to practice with their eyes glazed over, and the locker room was sombre while some tried to explain just how they got here.

"We knew how important yesterday's game was," defenceman Nick Schultz said. "You have to win that game to get back in the series at 2-1. That's huge.

"It's frustrating that we didn't get the job done, we didn't get the win yesterday. Now it's 3-0. That's reality. You go out and try to get the next one."

If they don't shake the hangover in a hurry, the Wild won't just be down, they will be out.

Game 4 is Tuesday night at the Xcel Energy Center, and the Ducks will be looking to sweep the Wild out of the playoffs for the second time. They also bounced Minnesota 4-0 in the 2003 Western Conference final.

The last thing the Ducks want is to have to play a Game 5.

"We know how key momentum is in any series," said forward Rob Niedermayer, who also deserves some of the credit for containing Marian Gaborik and Co. "You give a team a little bit of an opening, and they get some confidence going, they're a dangerous team all of a sudden."

The Wild haven't found any openings to this point. Their top line of Gaborik, Pavol Demitra and Wes Walz didn't even register a shot on goal Sunday night and 20-goal scorer Pierre-Marc Bouchard hasn't taken a shot in the entire series.

The Ducks have also killed 14 of Minnesota's 15 power plays, with the lone goal coming with just 38 seconds left in Game 3.

That lack of success has shaken the Wild at their core, frustrating them to no end.

"Our confidence has dropped on the power play," Lemaire said. "That's why we're trying to rebuild it."

Lemaire said the perfect scenario for Game 4 would be for the Wild to win on a power-play goal.

"If they feel good on the power play, that's how a team can come back from a 3-0 deficit," he said. "They get a lot of confidence.

"This is what I'm looking for to build up some confidence. Get one game, build up some confidence."

Thanks to Pronger, the Niedermayers and goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, the Ducks are feeling great about themselves. But coach Randy Carlyle spent much of Monday trying to keep their feet on the ground.

"There's no real pride or no real satisfaction until a team can get the job done," Carlyle said. "We have to win four games in this series and they have to win four.

"It's as simple as that."



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