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Kariya lands most effective blow

DUCKS 5, DEVILS 2: He comes back from major hit to spark Anaheim to Cup decider.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published June 8, 2003

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Paul Kariya was down. He looked like he was out.

Devils defenseman Scott Stevens had crushed the Mighty Ducks captain with one of his heat-seeking, forearm and shoulder blows that are as fearsome as they are effective.

And after Anaheim's 5-2 victory over New Jersey in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final Saturday night, it was all anyone could talk about.

Not only because the second-period hit left Kariya immobile in the neutral zone for a few frightening minutes, though the left wing said he did not lose consciousness. But because Kariya came back later that period to score a goal that gave the Ducks a 4-1 lead and highlighted Kariya's three-point game.

"What an incredible play," Ducks center Steve Rucchin said. "What a sign of leadership to come back and score that goal. What a huge goal. I just can't say enough about that play. What a competitor."

It was vindication for Kariya, Anaheim's regular-season points leader who had struggled so mightily in this series (one assist, six shots on goal).

It also was the flash point of a game that tied the best-of-seven series and forced Game 7 Monday at Continental Airlines Arena, where the Devils are 11-1 in the postseason and have beaten the Ducks nine straight since 1998.

But was the hit legal?

"It was a great hit," Stevens said.

Kariya said he believed it came too long after he gave up the puck.

"A little late," he said.

No penalty was called and the league's director of hockey operations, Colin Campbell, said it was clean, which did not satisfy Ducks coach Mike Babcock.

"I didn't think there was going to be any contact at all because ... because you're supposed to have the puck," he said.

The confrontation happened 6:16 into the period as the 5-foot-10, 182-pound Kariya carried the puck through the neutral zone. As he gave it up near the Devils blue line Stevens, 6-2, 215, hammered him from the blind side.

"I didn't know if he was alive," Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said. "He just didn't move for a while."

The hit, a left shoulder and upper-arm blast to the head, was reminiscent of playoff blows Stevens administered to Philadelphia's Eric Lindros in the 2000 East final and Carolina's Shane Willis and Ron Francis in the 2001 East quarterfinals. Willis, now with the Lightning, suffered a serious concussion and has not been the same.

There were added concerns for Kariya, who missed two games in 1996 because of a concussion and the final 28 games of the season and the Olympics in 1998. That is why Kariya said he has worn a mouth guard and a helmet with extra padding for four years.

Kariya got to his feet and went to the trainers room clearly weak in the knees. Campbell said the play was immediately reviewed.

"I saw a couple of replays," Kariya said. "It looked a little bit like the elbow. That's the way he hits so it's a fine line there."

"That's the way I've played all my life," Stevens said. "I don't take a lot of penalties. I was always a physical player. It's part of the game."

Babcock reiterated, "You're supposed to have the puck."

Kariya left for 4:31, just enough time to get checked out and clear his head. His goal came with 2:45 left in the period.

Anaheim had scored three first-period goals; two by Rucchin and one by Steve Thomas on the power play, the team's first with the extra man in 10 tries. But 2:18 into the second, New Jersey's Jay Pandolfo cut the deficit to 3-1.

"That's my job, to produce offensively," Kariya said. "I haven't been doing it very well in this series, so I wanted to help the team and solidify the win."

"He's got a lot of grit," Brodeur said. "To come back from a hit like that, there's not too many guys who can do that."

[Last modified June 8, 2003, 01:33:29]

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