The Ducks’ 2003 Stanley Cup Finals run is no doubt ingrained in the heads and hearts of Anaheim hockey fans even to this day.
The scrappy 7-seeded Ducks rode a legendary string of performances from Jean-Sebastien Giguere past the hated Detroit Red Wings, the top-seeded Dallas Stars, and the equally-squirrely Minnesota Wild to find themselves in the Stanley Cup Finals just 10 seasons into their franchise’s history.
Until this point, the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were seen as a Mickey Mouse operation (and they technically were) who couldn’t possibly contend with actual, “legitimate” NHL franchises.
Now, could this little team of underdogs was finally a contender, powered by our All-Star captain Paul Kariya and the hottest goaltender we’d seen in ages in J.S. Giguere, not only go on a deep playoff run but possibly capture Lord Stanley’s Cup?
Unfortunately for the Mighty Ducks, they ran into one of the most well-constructed teams of all time, lead by perhaps the greatest goaltender ever, and a suffocating defense spearheaded by two of the best to ever do it. We’d come to love one of those two guys soon thereafter, but at this time, we hated him and all his teammates. The New Jersey Devils were a juggernaut of the mid-to-late 90s because of this core, and the Mighty Ducks would ultimately fall to them in a competitive 7-game series, where the home team won every single night.
Of course, this is where JS Giguere would win his Conn Smythe in a failed endeavor – which remains the last time such a feat happened. But no matter how we tried to swing it, the fact of the matter was our little underdogs couldn’t get the job done. To get so close, yet still so far away, was truly a crushing moment. For many of us 20-30-something Ducks fans, this Stanley Cup loss was our first true heartbreak.
For me, this was particularly devastating. I’d never tasted success in sports anywhere, so to be so close to the mountaintop only to have the rug pulled out from under me was especially crushing. At the moment, this loss was the worst thing that could possibly happen in my young sports career (until my Philadelphia Eagles lost in the Super Bowl the very next year.) It didn’t help matters that I live in New Jersey, surrounded by Devils fans celebrating in my misery (whether they knew it or not.) Sure, eventually things would eventually work out for both of my squads, but there’s nothing worse than being around the party with nothing to celebrate.
In 2019, the Ducks and Devils both find themselves in the NHL’s basement, a far cry from where they were almost two decades ago. The Devils recently parted ways with supposed franchise stalwart Taylor Hall and their head coach John Hynes, while the Ducks can’t stop anyone from putting a puck past John Gibson.
Even though we’re both miserable now, both Ducks and Devils fans will always have the good times, for better or for worse.
Featured Image: Orange County Register