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SELANNE REELS, DUCKS FALL.

Byline: KAREN CROUSE

Teemu Selanne insisted there was nothing wrong with him, but his tired tone gave him away. That and his eyes. Usually they sparkle - but on Sunday, after the Mighty Ducks' third playoff loss in as many games to the Detroit Red Wings, they were as dull as a scuffed pair of platform shoes.

To see the Ducks' emotional leader this way was disconcerting, disorienting even. The sight left you as woozy as Kris Draper in the second period right after Stu Grimson's stick tattooed his face.

``I haven't played to the level I want to play at,'' Selanne said in a tinny voice not at all like his usual rich timbre. ``I feel it's important to be honest with yourself. It's not working right now.''

At that, your brow really furrowed. No way was this the same Selanne who oozes joy from his pores the way everyone else oozes sweat. From the day he arrived in Orange County via Winnipeg in a blockbuster trade in February of 1996, he has brightened the Ducks' dressing room like no can of paint or roll of wallpaper possibly could.

The left winger is the Ducks' primary source of electricity. His teammates are so used to plugging into his energy and enthusiasm, they had to be in for quite a shock when Selanne short-circuited in the team's first home game of these NHL playoffs.

By his own admission, Selanne was operating at a dangerously low current on a day the Ducks desperately needed his high-voltage game. Rarely has Selanne failed to deliver, but in 26 shifts the skater who led the league in goals this season with 47 couldn't muster so much as a shot.

``I want to be a big part of this team and do the right things,'' he said. ``Obviously it's so frustrating when I can't help this team as much as I want.''

Only twice in the 1998-99 regular season had he failed to get a puck to the net. But that wasn't the worst of it. In a game the Ducks had to win to avoid almost-certain elimination, Selanne had a hard time keeping the puck on his stick. It kept squirting and squirming away from him. It was every bit as hard to control as his rambunctious 3-year-old son Eemil in the desolate Ducks dressing room afterward.

The few Mighty Ducks who were up to talking repeated in robotic-like voices that Grimson's cross-check of Draper, which resulted in a match penalty for him and a five-minute power play for the Red Wings, was the turning point in the Ducks' 4-2 loss in the best-of-seven series.

They were half right.

It's true, Grimson's retaliatory act of thuggery did put the Ducks down two men for two minutes, an untenable position for a team so overmatched by the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings that it appears to be skating shorthanded at even strength.

The Ducks' Travis Green elbowed Draper to start the ill will flowing. Draper reacted by cross-checking the first Duck he saw, Antti Aalto, and Grimson, seeing that which the referees apparently didn't, instinctively reacted in kind.

One minute and twenty seconds into Detroit's ensuing five-on-three, captain Steve Yzerman broke the 2-2 tie with a rebound goal that proved to be the game-winner.

The Ducks weathered the remaining 3 minutes and 40 seconds of Grimson's penalty and had plenty of time to get mad and get even. Instead, they looked as lethargic as Selanne, engaging Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood just twice in the first 18 minutes of the third period.

``I couldn't push myself today,'' Selanne said. ``I tried, but there was nothing there.''

That never was more painfully evident than early in the third when Selanne and Paul Kariya broke up ice and snapped the drowsy Arrowhead Pond sellout crowd of 17,174 to attention. Kariya feathered a pretty pass to Selanne, but the puck skipped off Selanne's stick and skittered off his right skate. Before he could recover his dignity or the puck, Selanne was dumped by Detroit's Wendel Clark.

Selanne was as invisible as a drop of sweat on the ice after that.

To be sure, Detroit defensemen Niklas Lidstrom and Chris Chelios had a hand in making Selanne disappear. Chelios was all over him and Lidstrom lithely swept away most of the pucks intended for Selanne that squeezed through the narrow passing lanes.

Selanne gave credit where it was due, then heaped the rest of the blame on his shoulders. If he was carrying some other burden, he wouldn't unload it.

``I'm OK,'' he said, but you could see his upper lip stiffening.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

PHOTO (Color) The Ducks' Teemu Selanne (8) skates around Detroit's Ulf Samuelsson.

Kevork Djansezian//Associated Press
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 26, 1999
Words:794
Previous Article:OUTLOOK GRIM; GRIMSON'S CHECK HANDS DETROIT WIN NO. 3 : DETROIT 4, DUCKS 2.
Next Article:DODGERS NOTEBOOK: MCGWIRE'S HAMSTRING TIGHTENS, FORCES HIM OUT.


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