First-time Stanley Cup champs to be crowned
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) – Back in 1927 when Babe Ruth and the rest of Murderers’ Row feasted on American League pitching, Canada’s capital celebrated a Stanley Cup championship.
The city of Ottawa has waited 80 years for another celebration.
The new version of the Ottawa Senators has a chance to end the drought against the Anaheim Ducks in the first matchup of teams in search of their initial NHL championship since 1999. Game 1 of the best-of-seven series begins in the shadow of Disneyland on Monday night.
The original Senators won the last of their four Cup titles just as the Bronx Bombing-New York Yankees established themselves with Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the middle of the lineup. Ottawa’s championship run stopped, and the Senators moved to St. Louis in 1934 only to be reborn in 1992 as a new franchise that has merely its name in common with the old team.
Lord Stanley introduced his Cup in Ottawa, and no West Coast team has won it since the Victoria Cougars of the Western Canada Hockey League claimed it in 1925 – two years before the Senators’ last title in the first season NHL clubs exclusively competed for it.
Anaheim entered the NHL in 1993. Not since the Montreal Canadiens won their 23rd title earlier that year has the Stanley Cup been claimed by a team in Canada. No team north of the border even reached the finals between 1995 and 2004 when Calgary got in, followed by Edmonton and Ottawa.
“We’re hockey historians also,” top-line Senators forward Jason Spezza said Sunday. “Having the opportunity to bring a Cup back to Canada and become Canada’s team is definitely another driving reason for us to try to win.”
Ottawa, the No. 4 seed in the East, owned home-ice advantage in just one of its four series. The Ducks were second out West, and knocked off top-seeded Detroit to reach the finals.
“We’re content to be the underdog in this. It’s clear to us that we are and we like our team,” Ducks general manager Brian Burke said. “We’re happy with our group and we’re happy to be here.”
This is the third time in 14 seasons a California club has a shot at the Cup. The matchup of a small-market U.S. team and a club from Canada pushes this series far off the mainstream sports map. It won’t be on network television until Game 3, and most American newspapers have decided to cover it from afar, if at all.
The lack of buzz is especially evident in Southern California.
“It gets obscured by both baseball teams. As luck would have it they’re in first place,” Burke said of Los Angeles’ Dodgers and Angels. “These are things that we compete with.”
Walt Disney probably never imagined a hockey team created by the company that bears his name would take flight a stone’s throw away from his famous theme park, and have a shot at the revered trophy.
The Ducks have their second chance at it, after falling one win short in 2003 to the New Jersey Devils, a team once called a “Mickey Mouse” organization by Wayne Gretzky. The Ducks are no longer owned by Disney and have dropped the Mighty from the moniker.
Now their strength comes from a defense that has Norris Trophy winners Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger – both finalists again to be the NHL’s top blue-liner – and goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere. They will have the task of slowing down the No. 1 line in the NHL playoffs, made up of Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, Spezza and Dany Heatley.
Heatley is first in playoff scoring with 21 points, and Spezza is right behind him with 20, powered by seven goals- one more than Heatley. Alfredsson, who has played in all 94 playoff games in the history of the modern Senators, is fourth with 17 points, including 10 goals.
“They’re the hottest line in the playoffs,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “They lead their team in all the offensive categories, plus people have described Alfredsson as probably the best player in the playoffs.
“For us, it will be about trying to take away time and space.”
Time will be a factor for the Senators, not for the usual reasons. Ottawa hasn’t played since finishing off top-seeded Buffalo on May 19, hasn’t been out of the Eastern time zone since March 4, hasn’t visited California since October 2003, and will have to deal with 5 p.m. start times to accommodate East Coast prime time.
“We’re just changing our clocks for a couple of days,” said Senators coach Bryan Murray, the former GM of the Ducks. “People have to make adjustments in this league if you’re going to be competitive.”
Giguere already has a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoffs MVP on his mantle from four years ago, even though the Ducks didn’t win the big prize. He is a major reason why Anaheim is back in the finals one year after falling to upstart Edmonton in the Western Conference finals.
The just-turned 30-year-old butterfly goalie patiently waited his turn to answer questions Sunday while higher-profile teammate Teemu Selanne fielded many.
“This is not a very big market,” said Selanne, who at 36 is the oldest player in the series. “If Giggy were playing in Toronto or somewhere else, he would be a god.”
Giguere smiled and rolled his eyes, but the numbers support Selanne’s claim. In his postseason career, Giguere is 27-12 with a 1.92 goals-against average.
Selanne spent parts of six seasons in Anaheim from 1996-2001 and reached the playoffs twice with the Ducks. He returned as a free agent before last season and scored 40 goals.
He did even better this season with a team-high 48, third in the NHL, including the 500th of his career. Selanne is in the finals for the first time after playing 1,041 regular-season games and 81 in the playoffs.
“Makes me feel pretty old,” he said. “I was waiting 15 years to get this chance, and I’m going to enjoy every moment.”