Jim Souhan: Anaheim was a far superior team

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 20, 2007 - 1:24 AM
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Before Thursday night’s Game 5 even started, the Wild and Ducks scuffled a bit before the game officials got on the ice.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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ANAHEIM, CALIF. -- Walk into a losing lockerroom right after a big loss, and, in this era, what you most often find in baseball, basketball and football are shrugs and dinner plans.

Right after they finished shaking hands with the Anaheim Ducks following their elimination from the NHL playoffs on Thursday, the Wild opened the lockerroom to reporters, and what we found was the kind of raw emotion you would like to believe professional athletes always feel.

Players sat in front of their lockers, some with tears in their eyes, most with hair still matted by sweat, all of them staring across the small room as if it were the Pacific Ocean.

The only sound was that of ripping tape.

The Wild lost in Game 5, 4-1, and in the series, four games to one, not for any lack of effort or emotion, but because Anaheim was a far superior team.

After a season praising the puck movement of their defense, the Wild found out what it's like to play against a defense that moves people as well as pucks. When a Wild player took a whack at a puck near the Anaheim crease, he usually ended up on his face. When a Duck took a whack at Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, he had little to fear.

The Wild power play, a supposed strength, never generated clean looks at the net, and failed in a two-minute 5-on-3 power play in the second period. And the Wild penalty killing unit looked stuck in concrete against the Ducks' smooth power player.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the goalie who stunted the Wild's previous playoff run, returned to the starting lineup for the Ducks on Thursday; neither his aura nor his glove were necessary. Anaheim was so dominant that Snoop Dogg could have played goal with the big orange foam hand he was waving in the stands, and he would have had just as easy a time as Gigi in shutting down the Wild. "I thought the first period was fairly easy,'' Giguere said.

Snoop's team beat the team from Snoopy's hometown, and even the 4-1 final, inflated by an empty-net goal, may have been too kind. The Ducks won on merit, easing up just long enough to give Minnesota one consolation victory.

Still, even in an abridged version, you've got to love playoff hockey. Thursday morning, Brad May turned into Dr. Phil, asserting that "everyone should own their emotions,'' and telling us how much he respects everyone from concussed Kim Johnsson to the percussive Derek Boogaard.

Almost made me weep in appreciation of May's humanitarianism. Johnsson's career may be in jeopardy, and May gets to sit out his three-game suspension while, apparently, recovering from an injured hand that would have sidelined him anyway.

It's May's teammates who should be angry with him. May provided a pathetic distraction to what should have been the true theme of this series: The Ducks' rarely-interrupted dominance.

The Wild won Game 4 and returned to the Honda Center for Game 5, knowing a victory on Thursday night would at least put a little psychic pressure on the Ducks, and then did nothing in the first period to make you think this could become a contest.

"I know that I was as nervous as I have ever been before a hockey game coming into this one,'' Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said.

At the end, here are the conclusions we should draw: The Wild needs to keep Backstrom, find a defenseman who can be skilled and physical (other than the rapidly improving Brent Burns), and add players other than Derek Boogaard who can be physical on the forecheck.

Or during pregame warmups. The teams got into a scrum before the game, with Boogaard knocking down Anaheim enforcer George Parros.

A little later, the PA announcer informed the crowd that copies of Parros' old-school mustache were available for purchase in the arena. Boogaard looked like he wanted to take home the original.

Order somehow restored itself without the presence of officials ... and then Ducks star Teemu Selanne took a puck off his head as warmups resumed, and rushed to the lockerroom. He would take a Nick Schultz stick to the face in the second period, giving him matching gashes.

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