St. Paul, Minn. — Anaheim goaltender Jean Sebastien Giguere blanked the Wild twice during the regular season, and now he's duplicated that feat in the post-season. The game two shutout follows a game one masterpiece in which Giguere held Minnesota scoreless until his Anaheim teammates finally managed a goal in the second overtime.
As Giguere's shutout streak continues, so does the mystery of how to break force field he seems to have put up around the Anaheim goal. Minnesota winger Andrew Brunette says the way to break the spell is by not thinking about it.
"Our biggest problem is we can't worry about it. We're worrying about it and it's stupid by doing it. He's a goalie, he's like every other goalie," says Brunette. "And when you're thinking about it you're double-clutching, you're making plays that you're not normally playing, we're out of sync on the power play -- all because of the goalie? That can't be the way it is."
That seems to be the way game two was, but that doesn't mean things will stay that way. More than once during Minnesota's surprising playoff run, coach Jacques Lemaire noticed that his team began playing much better after scoring its first goal of a game. Lemaire is looking for the Wild to settle down again -- once they break their scoring drought.
"To me it's only a matter of getting a goal here and there. And you could see all the atmosphere change on the guys -- on the bench, in the room. They feel a lot better," says Lemaire.
As in the first game, Minnesota players said they felt they had some scoring chances. But Chance with a capital "C" did not seem to be with them. Twice with the Wild on the power play, they were victimized by the vagaries of the game.
Anaheim's first goal deflected off the stick of a Minnesota player. The second came when the Wild's Cliff Ronning had his stick break at an inopportune time.
"I went to fire a slap shot and the stick just kind of exploded in my hands. The puck still took off, and I kind of fell from leaning into the shot," says Ronning. "So, I was stuck without a stick and trying to chase a guy without a stick. Those things happen and it's unfortunate, but we have to rebound next game."
It was Rob Niedermayer who scored after Ronning's stick-shattering incident. The Ducks' first goal came from defenseman Kurt Sauer, a Minnesota native who starred at Apollo High School in St. Cloud. This was Sauer's first season in the NHL, but he became a fixture on the Anaheim blue line. Apart from a two-game hiatus for the birth of his son, he played in every regular season game.
Goaltender Giguere is flirting with the NHL playoff record for best save percentage. But after Monday's game, he tried to share the spotlight with the defensemen who play in front of him.
"Tonight they did such a good job. I saw every shot out there. They made sure I saw every shot," says Giguere. "They took all the rebounds away and they were really tough in front of the net. It was really tough for the Wild to come and try to get in front of me and all. So, you've got to give credit to the defensemen."
Some of the Wild felt that when they did attack the Ducks' net, they played into Anaheim's hands by going for the single-handed quick strike instead of employing the more patient style that has served them well this season.
Andrew Brunette says in these playoffs, higher scoring teams than Minnesota have failed when they sent individual skaters into the Duck zone hunting for goals.
"We should know better. We've got play as patient as they are, and not for the issue," says Brunette. "If the Detroit Red Wings can't skate the puck in, the Minnesota Wild's not skating it in. I thought we were a little too individual tonight. We've got to get in smart mode."
Coach Lemaire says the pressure to break Giguere's hex accounts for some of Minnesota's solo missions on offensive. But he says they're also the mark of young team that's still learning.
"That is also experience that we don't have. The worst thing you can do in the playoffs is try to do it by yourself. That is the worst thing. Then, you don't have the team anymore -- you're not working together. And one guy is so easy to stop," says Lemaire.
Games three and four are Wednesday and Friday in Anaheim.