Ducks, Devils place importance on Game 1

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For years, teams that have opened a playoff series on the road have talked about getting a split, stealing a game in the opponent's building. While that's well and good for most, it's not the way the Mighty Ducks have approached each of their playoff series.

"Settling for a split on the road is the biggest bunch of B.S.," said veteran Ducks right winger Steve Thomas, who, at 39, is old enough to know. "Other teams that I've played for in my career have thought that way. And maybe we thought that way because those teams weren't good enough. But this team doesn't think like that. We've come here to win two games."

So far, that kind of positive thinking has worked wonders for the Mighty Ducks, who've opened each of their three previous series with a pair of wins on the road.

"Winning those early games of a series on the road definitely gives you confidence," said center Steve Rucchin. "It has helped us get going in the right direction."

Ducks coach Mike Babcock, though, feels his team has gained its early series success by simply focusing on the task at hand.

"For us, the most important game we'll play is Tuesday," said Babcock, who described his team's style as one of skating and puck management. "We have to prepare like that and that's what we're going to do.

"I don't think there is any better way at this time of year to survive. If you can live in the present, you can be successful."

Veteran center Adam Oates, who, like Thomas, is trying to win his first Cup, echoes his coach's sentiments.

"Winning Game 1 definitely gets you off on the right foot," Oates said. "But, win or lose, it's just one game. For us, we just want to stay focused on our next game. The game you're playing is the most important game. Period."

Left winger Mike Leclerc, who's tied with Oates for the club playoff scoring lead with 10 points, believes the early road success has caused a snowball effect for his team.

"It makes you believe you can do it," Leclerc said. "It gives everybody confidence and it puts a lot of pressure on the other team."

The Devils, meanwhile, have been watching the Ducks from a distance, and they're aware of how the Ducks have moved from one series to the next.

"I think if we can win Game 1, it might put a little doubt in their minds," said Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. "If we can win, we can put them a little bit behind the eight-ball. Then, they have no choice but to win the second game."

Devils coach Pat Burns also sees the significance of getting off to a good start against the Ducks.

"I think they've been on a mission at the start of every playoff round and that's the reason they've had success," said Burns, who is making his first appearance in the finals since 1989, when -- as a rookie head coach -- his Canadiens lost to the Flames. "I think our job is to be ready when the puck drops and make sure that doesn't happen again."

Devils two-way center John Madden is taking a logical approach to Game 1.

"I just think it's important to find some way to get the upper hand in the series," said Madden, whose 15 playoff points ties him with occasional linemate Jamie Langenbrunner for the team lead. "And, of course, you never want to give up home ice advantage in the finals."

Madden thinks the Ducks might be vulnerable during the first part of Game 1 because of their 10-day layoff.

"I know that I felt kind of sluggish in our first game against the Lightning after being off for several days," Madden said. "It took me about half the game to really get my legs going."

If Madden is right, the Devils shouldn't waste their opportunity to bake the Ducks in the opening game. In this series, a win in Game 1 could go a long way toward deciding who skates away with the Cup.

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