<
>

Nobody knows why Ducks so mighty in OT

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- In sports, as in life, some things just defy reason. Let's face it, who could predict things like Belarus beating Sweden in the 2002 Winter Olympics? (Remember Belarus goalie Andrei Mezin?) Or, for that matter, who would've thought a bunch of U.S. college kids could defeat the Russian Red Army team in 1980? And, of course, we're still scouring ESPN Classic for a goal like the one that deflected off Martin Brodeur's fallen stick and through his legs in Game 3 of this Stanley Cup finals.


So, perhaps, there's just no explaining why the Anaheim Mighty Ducks have been so successful in overtime playoff games. I mean, what's their track record before this season? The Ducks' three previous playoff appearances ended faster than Bryan Trottier's head coaching career.

On Monday night, in Game 4, the Ducks continued their overtime dominance with a gritty 1-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils at the Arrowhead Pond. This time, the hero was ancient forward Steve Thomas, who scored 39 seconds into overtime. It was the Ducks' seventh OT win during these playoffs (with no OT losses) and their second in a row over the Devils. In a single postseason, the 1993 Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens are the only team to record more overtime victories (10), but they had a loss in doing so.

Afterward, there were some foggy theories, but no concrete explanations for this overtime dominance.

"I don't know for sure," said head coach Mike Babcock, his voice scratchy from barking instructions and encouragement from the bench. "Obviously, we really believe. We've been in a lot of them all year long. We're pretty comfortable in that situation."

Comfortable?

"I don't know about that," Ducks center Steve Rucchin said. "I'd much rather be up by a couple of goals. But, I guess we're used to it."

They should be. Ten of their 14 playoff victories have been decided in the final five minutes of regulation or overtime. And, during the regular season, the Ducks played in 48 games that were decided by one goal or less. Coincidentally, only the Devils (49) played in more one-goal affairs. Both clubs tied for the league lead with 24 one-goal wins. In this playoff run, the Ducks are an unimaginable 12-1 in one-goal games.

"I can't explain it, either," said Ducks defenseman Keith Carney, standing in front of an oversized photo of the Stanley Cup in the club's home dressing room. "I guess when you've had success in those situations, you build a lot of confidence."

Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who ran his all-time playoff record overtime shutout streak to 168:27, figures that their previous good fortune doesn't hurt.

"In overtime, we feel good going in," Giguere said. "You don't have time to think. You've got to go out there and play. That's what we have been doing so far. We go out there and play our game. We're not scared to lose. We go out there to win. It's been great so far."

The Devils, meanwhile, don't believe anything mystical is going on during overtime.

"We don't think that way," Devils center John Madden said. "Hockey is hockey. It just didn't go our way tonight."

So, maybe, the Ducks' late-game success is just another of the many things in sports you can't really explain. It's intangible. It's why they play and why we watch. After all, on the flip side, who can explain Brodeur's 8-18 career record in overtime playoff games?

Not me.

E.J. Hradek writes hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com.