Kariya, Ducks force Game 7

Anaheim standout rallies squad to 5-2 victory

Anaheim's Paul Kariya yells after scoring in the second period. After being helped off the ice following a hit by New Jersey's Scott Stevens, Kariya helped the Ducks wins Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals, 5-2, Saturday in Anaheim, Calif.

? Anaheim star Paul Kariya was on wobbly legs, staggered by a thunderous hit that threatened to end his Stanley Cup finals. Then he made a comeback that stunned even the New Jersey Devils.

Just like the rest of the Mighty Ducks.

Kariya, leveled by a hit from Scott Stevens that was so hard it appeared he might be seriously hurt, returned to score his first goal of the series, and Anaheim evened the Stanley Cup finals by beating New Jersey, 5-2, in Game 6 Saturday night.

Kariya was invisible for much of the series, unable to escape the Devils’ trapping defense. But he set up two of the Ducks’ three first-period with the breakthrough game coach Mike Babcock said was necessary from him to force a Game 7.

“It definitely showed a lot of grit for him to come back from a hit like that,” Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said. “There’s not too many guys who can do that.”

What’s equally remarkable is his unexpected return mimicked that of his own team. The Ducks were wobbly themselves after being dominated in the first two games of the series, in danger of being swept, yet have forced a Game 7 it seemed unlikely they would ever see.

“One game to win Stanley Cup? You can’t ask much more than that,” Steve Rucchin said.

Rucchin scored the Ducks’ first two goals about 41¼2 minutes apart in a fast-paced, all-offense first period that imitated the Devils’ 6-3 victory in Game 5, when each team scored twice.

It was a familiar story for the Devils, who looked flat and uninspired at the start for a team in position to win the Stanley Cup. This is the second time in three years the Devils couldn’t close out the finals in Game 6; they lost 4-0 in Game 6 to Colorado in 2001, then lost Game 7, too.

“We had a great opportunity to finish a series and let it slip away,” Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer said. “We just didn’t play our game again. We weren’t playing as a team, and that’s how we have to be play in order to be successful.”

Added Devils coach Pat Burns: “I was surprised we did that.”

In what is threatening to become the first finals since 1965 in which the home team wins every game, Game 7 will be Monday night in the New Jersey swamp. The Devils have outscored the Ducks 12-3 there in three wins all decided by three goals apiece. Anaheim outscored New Jersey 9-4 in the three games at the Pond.

If Anaheim can somehow find a way to win Monday, the Ducks will be the first team since 1971 to rally from a 2-0 deficit to win the Stanley Cup.

That Colorado comeback in 2001 also marked the only time since Montreal rallied past Chicago in 1971 that a team leading the finals hasn’t held a 3-2 lead.