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Ducks' recipe: Preparation and rest

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Mighty Ducks are in a waiting mode. Again.

The Ottawa Senators' 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Monday forced a sixth game in the Eastern Conference finals and assured that the Ducks will have a full 10-day break between completing their sweep of the Minnesota Wild on May 16 and the Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals on Tuesday, May 27.

That's a lot of time between faceoffs. The good news is rest and recovery. The bad news is possible rust and complacency.

After all, players aren't exactly lining up to schedule their day with the Clarence Campbell trophy.

But for the Ducks, the wait between series is becoming almost as common as a game-breaking save by Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

"We had a layoff after the season, we had a layoff after Detroit," coach Mike Babcock explained. "We'll be prepared."

After sweeping Detroit, Anaheim had a seven-day break before taking on the Dallas Stars, who had to play a six-game series against Edmonton.

The Ducks then had a four-day break after eliminating Dallas in six games. Meanwhile, Anaheim's eventual opponent in the West finals -- Minnesota -- was orchestrating its second consecutive comeback from a 3-1 deficit. The Wild also had little more than 36 hours between beating Vancouver in Game 7 and playing host to the Ducks in Game 1.

"It's nice to get a break to refresh physically and mentally," center Steve Rucchin said. "You look at Minnesota, they had two tough (seven game series) before ours and you think maybe they were a little tired. I think that was a factor for them. You can never have enough rest."

The Ducks have shown an ability to stay sharp during the delays. They became the first team in NHL history to win the first two games of three consecutive playoff series on the road, taking Games 1 and 2 at Detroit, Dallas and St. Paul, Minn., while going 6-1 on the road in the playoffs.

Winning early and rest has been a successful formula.

"It's always nice when you get some time off," forward Paul Kariya said. "If the other teams beat each other up, it's also a plus."

So having played the waiting game before, the Ducks have mixed some up-tempo practices Sunday and Monday with some time off.

"The great thing about winning when we have is that we actually get to enjoy it," Babcock said. "We get to feel good about it, but then we get to put it aside and get on with our day-by-day process of getting better."

After giving the players a day off Saturday the first order of business early this week was to help players take care of outside matters.

"We spoke about tickets, travel and family," Babcock said. "You allow them to be part of what you're doing without ever changing your routine. We'll have a theme each day."

Added Kariya: "We talked a little bit about the ticket requests and the families coming down. Everyone and their dog wanting tickets to games and whatnot. The nice part of having some time off here is we can get everything out of the way so we can get our focus back on playing the game. We have some time here where we can take care of the family stuff."

Babcock also is allowing his veteran players to explain what it will be like during the Cup finals.

"Meetings don't have to be me talking," said Babcock, "It can be sharing. The knowledge of the group is far more valuable than the knowledge of one. Fredrik Olausson, Adam Oates, Rob Niedermayer ... anyone who's been there has more to offer than I do."

The veterans also help put the long layoff in perspective.

"I talked to Rob Niedermayer and Adam Oates about it. They have gone (to the finals before) and not gotten the job done. They both said you're there so fast, and down so fast they never had time to get prepared."

Soon, they'll find out if 10 days is enough.

Graig Woodburn covers the NHL for the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif.