ANAHEIM, Calif. -- California dreamin'?
Not anymore, folks. Not for the NHL, not for the long-suffering, if limited fan base here and definitely not for the Anaheim Ducks, who turned what once might have been considered a fantasy into reality by bringing the Stanley Cup to the Golden State for the first time.
|'This has been a dream of mine and everyone in the organization for so long,' 36-year-old Teemu Selanne says. (AP)|
Now, though, everything has changed because the Ducks scripted their own perfect Hollywood ending on home ice in front of a standing-room crowd, blowing out the Ottawa Senators 6-2 to wrap up a one-sided Stanley Cup Finals in five games.
"It's unbelievable," said Anaheim forward Teemu Selanne, a 14-year veteran now in a second tour of duty with the team that seems light years away from the often disillusioning first. "This has been a dream of mine and everyone in the organization for so long, and to accomplish this the way we did is amazing. I'm very proud."
He should be. So should and everyone else on an Anaheim team that ran through the postseason with ruthless efficiency. The Ducks lost only five times in four series and were never in any danger of being sent home despite tying a playoff record by winning 12 one-goal games. The last one wasn't nearly that close, just the perfect climax to what was a brilliant season overall.
A preseason favorite of many to win it all, Anaheim nearly ran away from the Western Conference pack by Christmas before a series of key injuries had the team flying south for a while. Once their health was restored though, the Ducks got back on track and finished second in the West with the league's third-highest point total.
But the Ducks still managed to save their best for last, manhandling the Senators with enough speed and physicality to raise legitimate questions about whether Ottawa was really the best the Eastern Conference had to offer.
"It didn't feel easy out there because they battled so hard in every game," said Anaheim forward Samuel Pahlsson "But we have a really good team and we played really good in the playoffs and in the Finals."
Good enough certainly to thoroughly outclass Ottawa in the league's biggest showcase, when the Senators offered up a stunningly weak overall performance that belied how good the team looked in claiming its conference crown in just 15 games.
Whether that was the result of excessive confidence from easily overcoming previous playoff ghosts to reach the championship round for the first time in their modern history, being overmatched or the effects of an eight-day layoff between series will be the subject of debate for days and weeks to come, at least north of the border where the Stanley Cup drought of a hockey-crazed nation has now reached 14 years.
What was clear though from the outset of the series was that the Senators were never able to get their game in gear.
"We had some guys who didn't play to what they were playing in the playoffs and that's most disappointing and they have to live with through the summer," said Ottawa coach Bryan Murray. "But Anaheim is a hell of a team." Ultimately, that was the difference. Unlike the Senators, who relied largely on their high-scoring first line through the first three rounds, the Ducks won because of a consummate team effort, getting double-digit point totals from nine players and playing the kind of overall defense that champions in this sport are traditionally made of.
Anaheim was led throughout the postseason by superstar defensemen Scott Niedermayer, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP, and Chris Pronger; an incredible shutdown checking line anchored by Pahlsson; and the steady, often brilliant goaltending of Jean-Sebastien Giguere. It was a potent combination that proved too much for anyone in the NHL to handle, and certainly for Ottawa in the finale.
Even so, the Ducks were fair game for an emotional letdown coming home with the expectation of clinching, but instead they demonstrated the steely-eyed focus that has characterized their efforts throughout the playoffs and in this series particularly.
Seemingly oblivious to the nervous energy created in the building by a raucous crowd, Anaheim stuck to its expected game plan, coming at Ottawa with aggressive physical play and an intense forechecking effort that kept the visitors back on their heels from the outset of Game 5. More critically, the Ducks avoided the only potential threat they faced during the postseason -- and a largely self-imposed one at that -- by limiting the number of unnecessary penalties they took. In doing so, they prevented the Senators power play from getting them back in the game and in the series.
"We have a system that we stuck to tonight, but I don't think that's changed all year," said Anaheim center Andy McDonald. "The coaching staff did a good job getting everybody to buy into the system and not letting us stray away from it."
Anaheim took the lead in the first period when it forced Ottawa into a couple of early penalties and scored one second after their 5-on-3 advantage ended. McDonald did the honors with his fifth goal of the Finals, and from there, the Ducks never looked back.
They made it 2-0 near the end of the period when Rob Niedermayer picked up a loose puck at his own blue line and charged down the ice before muscling the puck past goalie Ray Emery, but Ottawa found some life in the second period on a pair of goals from Daniel Alfredsson. Problem was, Anaheim scored two of its own, one credited to Travis Moen when defenseman Chris Phillips put the puck into his own net and the other on a Francois Beauchemin slapshot that went off Anton Volchenkov.
Then any hopes of a Senators comeback were dashed quickly in the third when Moen added his second goal four minutes in. Corey Perry iced it at the 17-minute mark and Anaheim then ran out the clock to reach the pinnacle of hockey success.
As it happened, it came on the 63rd anniversary of the D-Day invasion that marked the beginning of the end of World War II. In Anaheim however, this one starts a new chapter in history because the "D" in the day now stands for the Ducks -- Stanley Cup champions.