Thursday, May 11, 2006

“I just try to stop the puck”

It could be his personal mantra, but it’s also something he’s pretty good at doing. Ilya Bryzgalov continued his mastery over NHL competition as the Anaheim Mighty Ducks shut down the Colorado Avalanche by making 40 saves on the way to the Ducks 4-1 victory over the Avalanche.

With the win, the Ducks swept aside the Avs 4 games to 0, crushing the Avs in four straight games and setting themselves up nicely for a Western Division show down in the next round. The sweep was the first for the Avs since they arrived from Quebec City back in 1996. It’s not a situation they tend to find themselves in at the Pepsi Centre, watching the opposition shaking hands and claiming the series in such a short period of time.

Even more confusing for the Avalanche fans, will be the examination of the lack of offence generated by the Avs big guns. After they handily defeated the Dallas Stars many felt that the Avs were back, kicking butt and ready to take some names. Instead, now the question may be not how good was Anaheim, but really how bad were the Stars.

If Colorado could have so easily dismissed the Stars from the Stanley Cup Hunt and now have come up so flat in their second round, it’s not hard to think that changes will now be coming to both the Mile High City and Big D.

The Avs came out fast in game four, a sense of mission seemed to dominate their game in the early stages, but again as they seem to have been able to do throughout the playoffs the Ducks, adjusted to the flow and countered effectively. By the end of the game they had shut down the Avs and taken control of not only the game but the series.

Anaheim is full value for their playoff domination thus far, this is a team that hasn’t had an extended break since the playoffs began, they have played every other day since April 21st and logged more than their fair share of frequent flyer miles. They can now rest up in the Southern California sunshine while they await the winner of the San Jose/Edmonton series.

The Ducks have been solid in every performance they taken part in, the work ethic as introduced by Brian Burke and Randy Carlyle has taken root for those in the Duck uniform. They simply went out and took their two playoff series away from both Calgary and Colorado. They out hit, out play, out hustle and most importantly out score the competition.

Whatever it is that Carlyle and Burke have been telling this group, they’re buying it! From an unflappable goaltender who is definitely in his own zone right now, to a group of players who play loose and fearless they Ducks are most deserving for their victories so far.

They make for a most dangerous team heading into the final four combatants for Lord Stanley’s Mug, playing with confidence, momentum and a sense of fun on the ice; they will provide a serious challenge for whichever team comes out of the San Jose/Edmonton series.

A match up with the Sharks would be a Gary Bettman dream, a battle for California and two exciting squads that play a similar style of hockey and have two of the hottest goaltenders on the ice at the moment.

The other possible match up provides the mystique of the Oiler brand and a Canadian team that would be desperate to try and keep the option of Stanley returning to his homeland as a going concern.

Regardless, whichever match up should come to pass, the way to success is going to be through a hard working hockey team with little to no weaknesses and through a goal tender named Brygalov that shows no fear and can single handedly turn a series with his play.

The season of the dark horse playoff teams continues, none darker than the Ducks who are quickly finding the bandwagon starting to fill up. Nobody may know many of the names of the players, but the style of the teams play should spur on the search engines as hockey fans quickly get a crash course on Duckology 101.

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