Working on a deadline
Wanting his first Cup, the Ducks’ 36-year-old Selanne ends his scoreless stretch
In a perfect hockey world, where respected veteran players still aching to win their first Stanley Cup would be rewarded, Teemu Selanne’s life would be simple.
But after 14 NHL seasons and 79 playoff games, the Ducks’ high-scoring left winger knows it’s not that easy. He knows that before a team can lock up the 16 playoff victories needed to lift that Cup, well, things happen.
So Selanne, a man who has defied age on a surgically repaired knee to become the Ducks’ all-time points leader, did not panic when he found himself without a point in the first three games of the Western Conference finals against the Detroit Red Wings. Not one goal. Not one assist. That all changed 11:46 into the first period of Game 4 Thursday night, with an assist. Less than seven minutes later, he had a goal. But Selanne, 36, and still able to fly down the ice, wasn’t done. About five minutes into the third period he had another assist, as the Ducks chalked up a gritty 5-3 victory, evening the best-of-seven series at 2-2. Things happen. “I guess you can say that I was in a slump because I couldn’t find the net,” said Selanne, who led the Ducks with 48 goals and 94 points while playing in all 82 games of the regular season. “It’s all about confidence and getting that first one to go in.”
So, leaning on his experience, he battled back.
“I haven’t been extremely happy with how I played,” confided Selanne, who now has four goals and five assists in 14 playoff games this year. “My confidence was not where it should have been. Even if I thought I played well, you can always be better.”
On Friday, Selanne and the Ducks were back in Detroit to prepare for Sunday’s Game 5 at Joe Louis Arena.
With the finals down to a bestof-three, Selanne knows that to win the Cup, he is battling time.
“I know that this chance is the best for me to win it,” he said. “We have a good team and good chemistry. You don’t get these days back.”
It wasn’t that long ago when Selanne’s career seemed over after one season with Colorado. Hobbled by an aching knee, Selanne gave thought to retiring after scoring a career-low 16 goals and being a healthy scratch for one Avalanche playoff game. But things happen. The NHL lockout, which erased the 2004-05 season, gave Selanne time to have knee surgery and work his way back. He signed a free-agent deal with the Ducks in August 2005 and helped the Ducks reach the conference finals two years in a row now.
“The thing that you can always say about Teemu is he’s a fun guy at the rink,” Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle said of Selanne, who scored his 500th goal on Nov. 22, 2006, and is the first player over 35 to record consecutive 40-goal seasons.
“He comes to play the game. He comes to practice. He doesn’t like to practice long, mind you, but he does like to come to the rink. That’s a special quality. That’s what you find in those players that play the number of years and achieve the success that he’s had. He’s had some hurdles to get over through injury and inconsistent play, but he has found a home with us.”
Before the conference finals began, the Red Wings made no secret that their goal was to limit Selanne’s scoring opportunities. Limit him they did. In Game 1, Selanne played well — as did linemates Andy McDonald and Chris Kunitz — but failed to register even a point in Detroit’s 2-1 win.
Then, in that game, Kunitz broke a bone in his hand, forcing Selanne and McDonald to adjust to a new linemate.
“Obviously, when you play all year together with the same guys, you know exactly what each guy is going to do,” Selanne said. “It makes it different.”
Although the Ducks won the next game, 4-3, in overtime, the Red Wings put a lid on Selanne throughout the game. He finished with one shot on goal in over 26 minutes of ice time. It got worse. In Game 3, Selanne played less than 15 minutes and his two shots on goal came in the third period after Detroit already had command, winning, 5-0.
“He’s a direct result of when players of that magnitude have had the ability to score and contribute on the offensive side, if they get into a drought, their whole game changes,” Carlyle said before Game 4.
“For whatever reason, if it’s a post or if it’s a bank shot, the weight of the world will be lifted off his shoulders. He’s carrying that because he’s an emotional guy. He feels that he’s not playing to the level he’s capable of.”
With Chris Pronger sitting out Game 4 because of a onegame suspension, Selanne didn’t think about scoring.
“Not trying to do too much, that was key for me,” Selanne said. “I knew I could still damage doing something else. The scoring would come.
“This team is not about me,” he added. “It’s not about Chris Pronger. It’s not about any one player. It’s about us.”
And, well, things happen.
BIG NIGHT: Teemu Selanne, center, celebrating a goal by Ric Jackman, left, broke through with a goal and two assists Thursday.