Thursday, May 3, 2007 Updated: May 9, 1:41 PM ET
Giguere doing the right thing, on and off the ice
By George Johnson Special to ESPN.com
For Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the decision, if you want to call it that, was absurdly easy.
"My wife and son needed me. I had to be there," Giguere said. "Your team needs you, too. But not as much as your family."
Just before the start of these NHL playoffs, doctors discovered that Giguere's infant son, Maxime, had been born with a deformed right eye. There were fears that more damage would be found in the left eye. That he might be blind. A specialist at UCLA Medical Center was consulted.
Goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere didn't allow more than two goals a game in the Ducks' second-round series vs. the Canucks.
All parents can at least believe they understand the anxiety Giguere and his wife Kristen were going through.
So dad did what dads do; even a dad who goes to work in front of 18,000 screaming zealots every other night, who earns nearly $4 million a year; a dad who appears on Leno and has middle-aged men in little-kid sweaters sheepishly approaching him for an autograph.
Dads do the right thing.
Because Giguere missed the final two games of the season and hadn't played in 10 or 11 days, the irrepressible Ilya Bryzgalov was chosen to open the playoffs in net for the Stanley Cup-hunting Anaheim Ducks.
"You hear people say a team is a family, too," Giguere said this week. "And it's true. You go through a lot together. But my wife and son, they're my family forever, for when hockey is over for me and I'm an old man. For me, the decision was simple. Hockey's my job. I love it, I love to play, but it's still a game."
The news on Maxime is encouraging. And dad? Well, he's gone from strength to strength. Giguere is once more the go-to guy in Anaheim. The Ducks will travel only as far as he can carry them. The same plotline as in 2003, when Anaheim reached the Cup finals.
"It was tough, at first," Giguere admitted. "You go through something like that, you worry, and your focus is elsewhere. But I've been in this position before, playing in the playoffs, at this time of year, and I drew on that experience.
"This is the fun time. We're not playing for money now. We're playing for something we've all dreamed about since we were kids. Sure, there's pressure and expectation. But if you can't have fun now, there's something wrong."
While most of the goaltending talk this postseason has centered on Martin Brodeur's uncharacteristic leakage or Roberto Luongo's brilliance, Giguere has quietly, almost unnoticed, put in the best turn of anyone out there.
Only Marty Turco sports a better goals-against average than Giguere's 1.42 or a stingier save percentage than his .950. And in you case you hadn't noticed, Turco and his Dallas Stars have been off on summer vacation for a week and a half now.
Giguere's Ducks, though, are on to the Western Conference finals after eliminating the Vancouver Canucks in five games, despite many observers' belief that they haven't seen the best out of Anaheim yet.
"I don't think we've played a full 60 minutes to our capabilities so far," Giguere said. "Against Minnesota, we played really well at certain times, did a good job of shutting them down."
Giguere won the battle-within-a-battle against Luongo, only a Hart, Vezina and Pearson finalist this season. Not that Giguere sees it in that light.
"[It wasn't] about 'me' vs. 'him.' It's about trying to be the best team," Giguere said. "There are no heroes now. Nobody's going to do it on his own. You're trying to be the best team and keep playing."
Saddled with infinitely more expectation, this is a vastly different Anaheim group than the one that came within a game of the 2003 title. Mike Babcock, who's trying to prod the Detroit Red Wings past San Jose and into a possible conference finals matchup, was the coach back then. That team had Paul Kariya, Adam Oates, Keith Carney, Steve "Stumpy" Thomas and Fredrik Olausson as fixtures in the lineup.
Back then, the Ducks were one of those sprinkled-with-pixie-dust-feel-good stories, along the lines of the 2004 Flames or 2006 Edmonton Oilers, that seemed to be blessed by destiny.
"Four years ago, we just scraped into the playoffs. Nobody else expected us to do anything once we got there," Giguere said. "We just played, had fun, and wanted to see how far it would take us. There are only a few of us left. Sammy Pahlsson. Rob Niedermayer. Myself. Andy McDonald was hurt. It was an amazing time. But you can't live in the past.
"This team has a different mind-set. This year, from the first day, we've only had one goal in mind."
That goal is now just eight wins away.
Watching the Devils celebrate back in 2003, to be so close yet so far away, is a lingering memory.
"It hurts a lot," Giguere said. "It's something you never forget. It reminds you, makes you realize how hard it is to even get there in the first place. And how, when you get the chance, you'd better make the most of it.
"We have that chance this year. But there are other teams who believe they do, too. It's funny, but even though we lost in the final, that was still the best time I've ever had in hockey. Just a blast. An absolute blast.
"I can only imagine how much fun it'd be to win."
George Johnson, a columnist for the Calgary Herald, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.