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Another First For Ducks: Facing Elimination

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Another first for Ducks: Facing elimination

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By Eric Adelson

ESPN The Magazine

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils raged like a river in Game 5 on Thursday night. They fed off the throaty roars of their fans, the slashing strides of Turner Stevenson, the angry shoves of Grant Marshall, and the dripping blood of John Madden. They drowned the Mighty Ducks in a 6-3 monsoon, and everyone who watched from shore could see why.

"No matter what the score was, " said Devils rookie Mike Rupp, "we knew we were going to come back and win."

Now Anaheim stands knee-deep in this rising tide, staring blankly at something they have never seen before in these playoffs.

Elimination.

But, in a way, it's what they've been preparing for all year.

Mike Babcock walked into his team's locker room only minutes before the first game of this season and scanned his players' faces. "Boys," he said, "this is the most important game of the year."

The Ducks sat in their stalls and stole perplexed glances at each other. What did he say? The most important? This is the first game of the season. Won't the most important game come when the team is about to get knocked out of playoff contention? Or maybe the first round?

But what Babcock meant became clear as the season went on. That's because he repeated the phrase before every game. A little corny, sure. But he meant it. For the Ducks, a team relatively low on scoring power, every little battle would be a big battle. To make the playoffs, every game would have to be a big game.

The Ducks bought in. Jean-Sebastien Giguere led the way, talking about every experience -- win or lose -- as a chance for improvement. Leaders like Paul Kariya and Steve Rucchin played in every single game -- 101 over 229 days to be exact, including the playoffs. After Christmas, the Ducks were one of the best teams in the league. By playoff time, the team was repeating the coach's words: "This is the biggest game of our season," they all said. And suddenly it rang true.

The Ducks played every single game like it was Game 7, and as a result they never needed Game 7. Suddenly that intensity has gone away in three embarrassing Stanley Cup finals losses, and now the Ducks need Game 7 more than anything.

Where were those Mighty Ducks on Thursday night? Outshot 13-7 in the second. Outshot 13-4 in the third. "We just sat back and waited for something to happen," Steve Rucchin said afterwards. Those words -- weren't they used to explain all those playoff wins? Just sit back and wait for overtime, for Jiggy to save the team, for a Steve Thomas or Ruslan Salei goal, for a Devils mistake.

But no mistakes came. No, the Devils themselves came -- with shot after shot and hit after hit. Over and over until the Ducks looked up and saw six goals against and three wins against. "They were the harder-working team," Rucchin said. "They outwilled us." The Devils did it with creativity and elbow grease, with rifling blasts and tap-ins, with pretty set-ups and ugly bounces. They did it with everything. The Ducks countered with nothing.

And Rucchin knows the floodgates will not close. He knows Stevenson was just down the hall after the game, saying, "One more." He knows Marshall was nodding furiously and declaring, "We were really hungry. That's what it's all about. And next game we have to be hungrier." He knows there is no relief in the heart of Scott Stevens, who led his team to this exact same spot two years ago against Colorado and watched it all slip away. Rucchin knows the Devils' best game is still to come.

So what will it be for these Ducks? Actually, who will it be? Who will be this team's general? Who will forecheck for an undersized team? Who will shove for a sometimes too-polite team? Who will fire home the winner for a low-scoring team? Who will scream for this quiet team, after a game in which its best player -- its rock -- allowed more goals in sixty minutes than he had in an entire previous series?

Saturday night, Mike Babcock will walk into his team's locker room only minutes before what could be the last game of the season. He will scan his players' faces. And what will he say? Game 6, boys. Last home game of the year. Last chance to stem the tide. The Devils spent a six-hour flight rubbing their palms together -- getting ready to finish it off. Getting ready for a championship. The Cup is in the house, boys. Everything you've always played for, dreamed of. This is it.

The most important game of the year.

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Before I post this I am a Devils fan tried and true so don't think I am duck fan in disguise.

I think the Ducks will respond well and win game 6 although I am hoping the Devils will prove me wrong.

The Ducks are in what residents here in Tampa called "bonus hockey" which means the team was never expected to do this well and get this far. Ducks have nothing to lose as far as they are concerned. This is NJ's cup to win and they will approach Game 6 that way. The Devs will come out charged and they will wait for NJ to make a mistake like in 2001 against the Avs. Game 6 rests on Gigure's shoulders so if he stands tall Ducks win Game 6.

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Did you watch the same game I did last night?

There was no quit in our team & an airplane flight is not gonna change that. Not this time.

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Heres a little more accurate assumption. If the Devils can control faceoff damage (for example mucking it up on the faceoff), win the battle of the boards and get bodies in front of the net like Game 5 they will pull it off.

The reason I believe the Ducks will win Game 6 is Pat burns relies a lot on his matchups which is why we are 11-1 on home ice this playoff. It is going to be interesting to see what he does and if it works, but if the Devils can do what I stated above then get ready to drink from the cup saturday night!

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I think it's midnight, time for Cinderella to leave the ball.

LETS GO DEVILS! ONE MORE WIN!

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The carriage is rapidly turning back into a pumpkin that is true. We will see if Anaheim's fairy godmother is all out of fairy dust.

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I'd say the fairy dust was wearing thin this entire series, all the Devs home games they dominated the Duckies and the Ducks squeaked out wins in games 3 and 4. The Devils have to move in for the kill in game 6. The Devs have to bottle up that so-called Disney magic and bring Lord Stanley's Cup home to JERSEY!

LETS GO DEVILS! ONE MORE WIN!

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I don't think the Ducks themselves feel like they are playing "bonus hockey". Minnesota definitely did when they played Anaheim, but I think Anaheim feels they are the best in the West, and they think they should be able to beat NJ. This means they will be under a ton of pressure for Game 6.

Oddly enough, I think this all works in NJ's favor. Sure, NJ has had issues in closing out series before, but I see Game 5 generating a lot of positive momentum. They didn't win with defense; they won with overwhelming heart and determination. That is the sort of thing you can carry over with you. Games 1 and 2 were very one-sided, so I'm not surprised NJ didn't get any momentum from them heading into Anaheim. I think Game 5 is different ... the effort will linger and create a huge boost in Game 6. Everybody is contributing offensively. Stevenson hopefully has one or two more games in him, and he made a huge difference. Brodeur has something to prove, and he has always been strong following shaky games. If Nieuwendyk comes back, that's the icing on the cake.

EDIT: I can't spell.

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Would a 6-0 shutout be too much to be praying for? :evil:

:clap: Lets Go Devils!!! :clap:

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I think the Devils will win in 6. I just think that they will not let go of what they found in Game 5 (plus play better defensively). They've learned not to go back to Anaheim and play that safe game they played in 3 & 4. The Ottawa series taught them a lot. 2001 is still fresh in their minds. This is where all that experience will keep them focused, and their incredible heart & determination & will to win will put them over the top.

GO DEVILS!!!

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Here's why Anaheim *won't* win Game 6...

1: Outworked completely in the third period of Game 5. When Langenbrunner scored, all the Ducks quit. The Devils kept the puck in the Anaheim end and didn't even have to try to trap, because the Ducks weren't exploiting the fact that there were only 3 guys in the neutral zone. The Ducks quit. Can they turn it back on for Game 6?

2: Burns relies a lot on his matchups, but Paul Kariya didn't do any better on home ice. And all of the non-overtime goals by the Ducks at the Pond were flukes.. the Chouinard and Ozolinsh goals.

3: The Devils do NOT want to make another cross country flight unless it's with the Stanley Cup on the plane. That favors the Ducks who do a lot more travel during the season. While Gigeure has been highly beatable at the Meadowlands, having it come down to one game with Gigeure would be very unhealthy. So, they will come out attacking in the 1st.

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Back to the game 7 jitters of Ottawa tomorrow. I am confident in this team and I don't think they are going to sit back and let it go to 7. Guys win out there and shut Eisner up, their rude fans and flash in the pan team.

Bring it home!!

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This Game 5 is eerily similar to 2001's game 5 against the Avalanche. In that game the Devils got goals from Madden, Brylin, and a few others who hadn't been on the scoresheet in a while. Some of us thought we were witnessing the wake up call where the Devils were finally getting their crap together.

We all know what happened in the next 2 games.

And although the Ducks are not exactly the Avalanche, they are 2 wins away from the Stanley Cup for a reason.

IOW, let's not get too confident. But you still gotta love the position the Devils are in and the effort we're seeing from them.

ONE MORE WIN, BABY!!!!

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I think the Devils have something to prove here. Not just the Avalanche fiasco..not just winning the cup - but I think the pressure is really on to

win in Anaheim!

Sometimes it's the seemingly smaller goal that gets you the brass ring...or big ugly silver cup as the case may be.

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big ugly silver cup as the case may be.

PK what are you saying!? ;) Big ugly silver cup! The Cup is beeyoutiful and it looks really stunning when being lifted by Devils! :evil:

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