|Getting prospect Dale Mitchell from Toronto (above) and Sebastian Erixon from Vancouver was the extent of the Ducks' deadline moves. And that's a good thing.|
On a day when the rest of the league made few splashes in terms of major deals, the Ducks made a major statement on the state of their team by only making two minor-league trades. They got defenseman Sebastian Erixon from Vancouver for winger Andrew Gordon and later acquired winger Dale Mitchell from Toronto for defenseman Mark Fraser (more on those guys later).
"Awhile back we kind of challenged this group and they responded," said Murray. "Since January 1, I don’t know who’s been better in this league than our team. They’ve earned the opportunity and they deserve it, and they wanted the opportunity to continue."
The Ducks, again, have the NHL's best record since January 1, and go into tonight's game in Colorado six points out of a playoff spot after having been 20 back as of January 6.
"You look back in late December, we were thinking about selling," Murray said. "Now today, you look at how well they’ve done and you think we could get in here.
"They’ve made it real difficult the last couple of weeks and good for them. I have no problem with that."
Murray acknowledged that he had looked at some other deals, but as is common on deadline day, the asking prices were too high.
"They started out high, and they just stayed that way," he said. "I hoped they might come down today, but they didn’t. I don’t think a lot happened, really. A lot of teams are so bunched up and a lot of them just didn’t want to do much. We looked at a couple things, but the price tag was too high for us."
It's tough to see Gordon go because he was well-liked when he was up here, but he didn't fit into the current forward corps and had been in Syracuse since last month (three goals in 19 games). In Erixon, the Ducks get a young skating defenseman from Sweden who had eight points in 30 games with Chicago of the AHL this season. He played for the silver medal-winning Swedish national team at the 2009 World Juniors.
Mitchell is a stout (5-9, 200 pounds) forechecking winger who played with Cam Fowler and Oilers young star Taylor Hall with a Windsor Spitfires team that won the 2010 Memorial Cup. Fraser came to the Ducks in the trade with New Jersey that also brought Rod Pelley here last December, but he had played only in Syracuse (five points in 25 games).
"Things haven’t gone well in the minors this year and we’re disappointed in what’s gone on down there," said Murray of a Crunch team that's 14th in the Eastern Conference. "We tried to shake a few things up down there and will continue in the offseason."
Meanwhile, another vote of confidence was cast for Devante Smith-Pelly, as Bruce Boudreau announced this morning that the bowling-ball winger would remain with the team for the duration of the season.
"He's up now. This is it, he's here. He's a member of the Ducks for the remainder of the year," Boudreau said.
Boudreau said the Ducks have liked what they have seen from Smith-Pelly, especially in the handful of games he's played since he came back from the broken foot suffered in December at the World Juniors.
"It was the last couple days, depending on how he played and where we thought we were and where it would best suit him, how important a role he would play with us," Boudreau said. "We think he's developing really well here, and hopefully he'll be a great 19-year-old. He's a big strong body and he can skate. He's learning daily. He's got a lot of energy. Those things are all good.
"Bob made a big statement by keeping him here because he loses that year of eligibility when it comes to arbitration and free agency. We think highly of him."
Trade Deadline Day is always an interesting one around the Ducks offices. It's more often than not a busy day -- especially as we get closer to the noon Pacific deadline -- and it's usually a little nerve-wracking. Players you may have grown accustomed to or developed an affinity for may be on their way to another team, with new players coming here to replace them.
You remember days when the deadline activity was relatively tame for Anaheim (for example, Brad May in 2007) and relatively frenzied (trades involving Sammy Pahlsson, Travis Moen, Kent Huskins and others in 2009).
You've got your eyes and ears honed in on TSN, to see the action around the NHL. Your attention perks up, and you sit up a little more in your seat, when you hear the words "Anaheim Ducks" mentioned by the commentators.
For those Ducks, their approach to this day has seemingly changed dramatically from what we may have thought it would be back at the turn of the new year. A Ducks team that was once miles out of a playoff spot (20 points as of January 6) is now six points back thanks to an incredible run that has been the best in the league. Anaheim 17-4-4 (38 points) since January 1, just a little better than Detroit (17-6-2) and St. Louis (17-5-2) with 36 each.
The last notch on that scorching stretch came last night at Honda Center against the Blackhawks, where the Ducks just continued the outstanding play that saw them go 5-1-2 on this recent road trip. Aside from an early Patrick Kane goal, the Ducks mostly dominated Chicago last night, cruising to a 3-1 victory in which they outshot the Hawks 38-19 (giving up just four in the third when the Hawks were trying to tie it). And they did it in front of a record regular season crowd of 17,601 (standing room only included).
The Ducks got scoring from a guy with 658 career goals and a guy with just three. They got goals with immediate satisfaction and one they had to wait several minutes to celebrate. The latter came late in the first, when Andrew Cogliano kicked the puck under Hawks goalie Ray Emery and (though it was tough to tell) slapped it behind him with his stick. A six-minute replay review seemed to determine that Cogliano did make contact with the stick and the goal was allowed. Here's a look:
The Ducks took the lead (ultimately for good) with 7 1/2 minutes left in the second, when a Teemu Selanne pass from behind the net squirted out to Sheldon Brookbank, whose shot deflected off Duncan Keith and got through Emery. After going 167 games without a goal, that one was Brookbank’s second in the last five (he had one on the trip against his former team, the Devils).
That assist and Selanne's insurance power play goal from his office in the lower left wing circle pushed him past a guy named Luc Robitaille for 20th on the NHL's all-time scoring list.
The Ducks badly needed that win (heck, they need them all) to stay within six of the eighth spot after Dallas scored with less than a minute to go in regulation and won in overtime against Vancouver earlier in the day. After the game last night, the Ducks hustled out the door for the airport, where they headed to Colorado for another big one tonight. For the first time in awhile, the Ducks can not only win, but hold back another team in that crowded bunch of teams fighting for that eighth spot, as the Avs are two back of Dallas and four ahead of Anaheim in the standings.
But right now we're looking less at that 6:00 puck drop than the noon deadline for trades, waiting to see what moves the Ducks might make this morning. We'll keep you posted.
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Meanwhile, here's a great quote from Bruce Boudreau in this Q&A in this morning's L.A. Times:
"This is about our hopes and dreams. I've been doing this my whole life and I've learned if your dreams aren't high enough and if you don't think of winning the Cup, you're not giving yourself a chance. If you don't shoot for the moon, you sell yourself short. I haven't won the Cup yet, but it's something I dream of every day."
|Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. This one just says "awesome."
It's more than a well-deserved one, as the team arrived at LAX at 1:30 a.m. (4:30 if you're into that "still on East Coast time" thing) on the heels of a successful marathon road trip. Anaheim flew home with 12 of 16 points in their carry-ons, going 5-1-2 on this 15-day odyssey and firmly planting themselves in the thick of the Western Conference playoff chase.
The final triumph came last night in Carolina, a 3-2 shootout win over the Hurricanes that conjured thoughts of the saying, "I'd rather be lucky than good." The Ducks were certainly both in that game, fighting their way into a hard-earned road victory but escaping on a few occasions thanks to one Jonas Hiller.
As remarkable as Hiller has been on this road trip -- heck, since the turn of the new year -- he may have never been better than he was last night. Among his 30 saves on the night were several that were solid, a few more that were spectacular and at least one that was downright ridiculous.
Late in the second period, with Carolina looking to add to a one-goal lead, Hiller scrambled to get back into position after making a save, and actually was facing the net as Drayson Bowman slung a shot into a seemingly open net. Somehow, Hiller managed to knock it down with the glove, "like a shortstop," as Brian Hayward eloquently put it. Take a look:
"I think the shot hit the glove behind my back or something like that," he said. "I'd even have to see it on the replay. It was a little desperation move there."
At the other end of the rink, the Ducks had a ton of chances, but struggled to get much past Justin Peters, playing just his fifth game of the year but coming off his first NHL shutout Monday night vs. Washington. Anaheim finally got a gargantuan power play goal from (who else?) Corey Perry midway through the third to tie it 2-2, the first PPG in the last 18 opportunities.
In fact, the Ducks had scuffled so much on the power play -- including four other missed chances last night -- that Bruce Boudreau had an interesting reaction when they got that one. "Our power play's been so dismal, I think the third one in the third period, I said, 'Decline it.'" Boudreau said. "And Perry looked at me as if I had two heads and then went out and scored because I think he was (ticked) at me."
That tying goal gave way to a scoreless overtime and a shootout in which Saku Koivu was the only one to convert, undressing Peters with a number of deke moves before sending it home. (Here's a look at the whole shootout.)
Hiller looked incredibly confident in the shootout, easily stoning Brandon Sutter and Jeff Skinner, and getting a little help from the post on Eric Staal's bid.
"I kind of saw we weren't playing our best game tonight and the guys looked a little tired," Hiller said. "That was not too surprising after such a long trip. (Carolina) had a couple of really good chances - odd-man rushes and two-on-ones - and I just didn't want to get scored on."
So he didn't.
And as well as all the Ducks played in this road trip, none were better than Hiller, who gave up just 13 goals in the eight games, and seemed to be at his best when Anaheim needed him most.
The Ducks were able to get to 62 points, four behind the 66 owned by Dallas in the eighth spot in the West. Although, that's a total held by LA and Calgary as well, after the Flames earned one by going to a shootout with Phoenix last night. It's a heck of a position for the Ducks to be in after they were 10 back going into that long-ago first game on this trip -- two weeks ago in Detroit.
But as Boudreau reiterated just before heading to the airport in Raleigh-Durham, they could have been even better.
"We could have won all eight, you know?" he said. "We outplayed Detroit, we outplayed New Jersey, and I think we outplayed Tampa (Wednesday) night. I was really hoping we could reach 60 points and still be in the hunt. To get more than that was really great."
Great is an understatement, and now the Ducks have today to relish it, then it's back to work tomorrow to get ready for Chicago at Honda Center (hat night and a 4:05 start!) on Sunday. That's the first of three games in four nights (yikes) -- home Sunday vs. the Hawks, in Colorado Monday and home to Buffalo on Wednesday.
So yeah, they've earned a day off today.
|More of this tonight, please.
An eight-game, 15-day road trip that once seemed never-ending, actually comes to a close tonight. And there is no better way for the Ducks to seal it off than with a win this evening in Carolina.
What was deemed a make-or-break journey two weeks ago has been mostly make, as the Ducks got on the plane at LAX nine points behind the eighth spot in the West. With a win tonight, they could cut it to as low as four (as current eight-place LA lost 4-1 to Colorado last night and Calgary could take over eighth with a win in Phoenix tonight).
The Ducks are a respectable 4-1-2 on the trip so far, and they could have easily won all of them. "We've had seven games on this road trip," Bruce Boudreau said today, "and you'd be hard pressed for me to think we shouldn't have won all seven."
Anaheim has been able to make up ground in the standings, despite mostly facing teams that aren't among those jockeying with the Ducks for playoff position. Of these eight games, only one (a 2-1 win last week in Minnesota) has come against the handful of teams battling for those remaining playoff spots. Instead, the Ducks have had to win (or get a point) and then scoreboard watch.
"We've got a chance again [tonight] to go forward and if we do that, we have 21 games left after that," Boudreau said. "It's a lot of divisional games and definitely a lot of Western Conference games. We'll be in good stead."
Right now the focus is on the Hurricanes, who will probably be looking for a little revenge on Anaheim after the way things ended two weeks ago at Honda Center. As you might recall, Corey Perry scored the game-winner in overtime after taking the puck away from Jussi Jokinen on a play where some thought there should have been a tripping call.
Despite that defeat, the Canes are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games (though still 15th in the East). They've won six of their last seven games at home, including the last three in a row. (Is there anyone on this trip that hasn't been absolutely killing it at home?)
A key for the Ducks tonight is starting strong, something that has eluded them on this trip, despite their relative success. The most recent example is a Stamkos 2, Ducks 0 hole in the first period in Tampa on Tuesday night. The Ducks dominated the Lightning the rest of the way, giving up only three shots in the third period. Against Carolina, a focused start is going to be even more critical.
"They are known for their first periods and their starts, and they come really hard and aggressive," Saku Koivu said. "We've got to be ready. Sometimes if you lose your focus a little bit on the road trips, it shows in the beginning of games and the first period. That's the one thing we've got to pay attention to now, to make sure we're ready for the first 10 or 15 minutes.
And then Koivu either intentionally or unintentionally decided to go with some Hurricanes wordplay. "We've got to weather the storm," he said, "and then I think we'll be fine after that."
Justin Peters will start in net for Carolina, as Cam Ward is still recovering from an injury. Peters will be making just his sixth appearance of the season (all since December 27) but had his first NHL shutout on Monday against Washington at home. The Ducks will of course go with Jonas Hiller, and this lineup (according to their skate):
|Not a bad night for these two dudes.
After all, Anaheim had gone the last nine games with at least one point, and won outright in six of those. And last night, they appeared to outplay and outchance the Lightning, only to come away with a disappointing 3-2 loss. Tampa had traded winger Steve Downie earlier in the day and also had lost No. 2 goal-scorer and captain Vincent Lecavalier to a right hand. But they still have Steven Stamkos, and that was more than evident last night.
The league's leading goal-scorer struck twice (even though they say Lightning never does) at the very start and near the end of the first period, to put the Ducks in an early hole. “I think he’s a tremendous hockey player,” Bruce Boudreau told the OC Register. ”But I’m glad he’s in this division now and I’m not.”
And even though Anaheim fought back in the second with an early goal by Saku Koivu and a late one from Bobby Ryan, they bookended a Teddy Purcell strike that was enough to bury the Ducks.
Ryan's goal was a thing of beauty, as he redirected a Koivu pass between his own legs with his back to the net. Take a look at his latest edition to the highlight reel:
But while the Ducks generated plenty of chances to get the tying goal, they couldn't get anything else past one-time King Mathieu Garon, whose 28 saves included 11 in the third. (Meanwhile, the Ducks limited Tampa to just 16 shots the entire night.)
So while the Ducks appeared to have the upper hand on yet another opponent on this mammoth road trip, they couldn't make up ground in the standings. And Phoenix's win over LA (which of course came in a shootout) meant the Ducks slightly dropped to six points back of the eighth spot, currently held by the KIngs.
"When you get into that feeling that you're going to win every single game, it's a good feeling," Bruce Boudreau told the OC Register. "But in the end, you're not going to win 35 in a row."
It's true, but there were times it seemed like the Ducks would at least get points in every game from here on out. They'll try to start a new streak -- while sealing off this eight-game trip on a good note -- tomorrow night in Carolina.
"I really believe this team can do it."
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As Jonas Hiller has been in net for each of the last 19 games for the Ducks (and been outstanding in them), there hasn't been much thought about the Ducks' backup goalies. Jeff Deslauriers and Iiro Tarkki have each split time as the guy in the baseball cap while Dan Ellis has been out the last six weeks with a nagging groin injury, but it appears Ellis is poised to return as early as next week.
“He’s getting better,” Boudreau told the OC Register. “I’m hoping by the time we get to practice at home next week that he’s practicing with us.”
Since Hiller continues to be a workhorse for the Ducks, Ellis has only appeared in 10 games this season (2.72 goals-against average).
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|Photo by Rose Palmisano of the OC Register
The Mural depicts a Ducks goalie stationed in front of the net, in classic netminder pose. The face on the goalie is that of Yvonne Jordan.
Behind her, in the stands, are the faces of her husband, Damien, and the Jordans' children, Aden and Gabrielle.
"We have to warn people before they go in that bathroom," Damien says. "It can be a little shocking at first. They say stuff like, 'I don't want to go in there and have Yvonne staring at me.'"Anyone who believes they are the biggest Ducks fan around might need to reset their sights. Whenever Damien's father, Paul, encounters someone who makes that claim, he says something like, "No, you have no idea," and then he reaches into his wallet, where he carries a picture of The Mural.
Make sure you click the MORE PHOTOS link in the story to see the other Ducks-centric stuff in their house. Truly incredible.
(I'm hoping she's a big enough fan that she reads this blog as well.)
As Ducks fans, we're suddenly doing something we never thought possibly a couple of months ago.
No, not just watching our team win at an alarming pace, but suddenly doing some serious scoreboard watching as the Ducks look to make this incredible climb into playoff position.
While the Ducks were 20 points out of the eighth spot as of the morning of January 6, they have gone on a 15-2-4 run over their last 21 games, the most recent being an impressive 2-0 shutout of the Panthers in Florida on Sunday. ("It's made with bits of real panther, so you know it's good.") Anaheim has gotten to within five points of the eighth spot over that stretch, but still has plenty of work left.
That's because the Ducks are crammed into a typically packed Western Conference in which everybody seemingly beats up on everybody else night after night (including an abundance of three-point games that finish in either OT or shootout). They're battling alongside teams like LA, Dallas, Colorado and MInnesota to get into that top eight, with Phoenix and Calgary holding onto playoff spots by a thread.
Should the Ducks win tonight in Tampa Bay (4:30 Pacific puck drop) they would get within three points (three points!) of that eighth spot -- incredible considering where they were six weeks ago. But that could be short-lived as the NHL schedule tonight also includes Dallas at Montreal, Edmonton at Calgary, and LA at Phoenix.
All that being said, you better believe the rest of the West is well aware of the charging Ducks (tip of the cap to Eric Stephens for the "Objects in the mirror are indeed closer than they appear" line in the OC Register over the weekend).
"It's nice to get to the 60-point plateau because then you can at least see the guys and the distance," Bruce Boudreau said in the wake of that win in Florida. "It still a long ways away."
Indeed, the Ducks have been winning, but they need to keep winning, starting with tonight in Tampa, where the Lightning are engaged in their own battle for playoff position in the East (six points short of eighth).
The Ducks will go with the hottest goalie in the league in Jonas Hiller, who just took NHL first star of the week honors with a 3-0-1 record, 0.98 goals-against average, .961 save percentage and one shutout. Meanwhile, the Lightning are likely to start former King Mathieu Garon (18-15-4, 2.84 GAA), who has been in there for all but two games in the last month, as veteran Dwayne Roloson (8-11-2, 3.67 GAA) has struggled.
Anaheim will look to put a lid on Steven Stamkos, whose 40 goals leads the NHL by a mile. "He can really skate, so he can do it from your end to the other end," Boudreau said this morning. "At the same time, he's got a beautiful release on his shot, so you can't give him any space from the blue line in." Tampa's second leading goal-scorer, Vinny Lecavalier, is out indefinitely with an "upper body injury" that emerged in yesterday's practice.
One guy who will be in the Ducks lineup for the first time in awhile is Devante Smith-Pelly, who Boudreau said will be in the lineup tonight after recovering from the foot injury suffered in late December at the World Juniors. With Pelly in there, here are the lineups the Ducks flashed at today's morning skate:
It's stop 7 of 8 on this marathon road trip, which the Ducks need to finish off strong (they're 4-0-2 so far) to keep hope alive. "So far, it's gone as good as anybody could have expected," Boudreau said. "But you'd like to be able to say that at the end of the trip."
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Great news for Ducks season ticket holders who are looking to renew next season: We've just announced that season tickets for next year will either be decreased or remain the same as they were this season. The average season ticket price will decrease 4.8%, while reductions could be as high as 35% per ticket. Among Ducks season ticket holders, 40% will see a reduction in price, with 60% remaining flat to this season.
Click here for more on that.
|"LET'S GET IT ON!!!"|
The Devils have won six of their last eight -- but two of those losses came last week at Prudential Center -- and are locked into the sixth spot in the conference. They're coming off a resounding 4-1 win in Buffalo in which Ilya Kovalchuk had the first New Jersey hat trick since April of last year. It's just the continuation of a hot streak for Kovalchuk, who has 13 goals and 26 points in his last 17 games. Meanwhile, captain Zach Parise has 10 points in his last nine games.
"Kovalchuk is feeling it right now and Parise is feeling it," said Bruce Boudreau this morning. "They're coming to play. They have so much more firepower than they've had in recent years. They can score."
The Ducks have their own hot player, as Jonas Hiller comes into this one having gone 12-2-3 in his last 18 games, with a 1.76 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage. He has allowed two goals or fewer in 14 of his last 17 starts, and will be back in there tonight against Martin Brodeur for New Jersey.
There are similarities between what the Ducks are doing this season under Boudreau and what the Devils did last season when they got off to a rough start and turned things around when Jacques Lemaire was hired in late December. (However, they fell short of the playoffs, the first time they missed the postseason in 14 years.)
Ducks winger Rod Pelley was on that Devils team, and said in this story on NHL.com, "It's pretty amazing how similar these turnarounds have been. I thought about it a few different times. It's a can't-afford-to-lose-many-games type of thing. We've been talking about the similarities in coaching styles between Bruce and Jacques, and wondering if they ever talked about it because they're pretty similar in how they approached it. It's pretty cool to see that two different coaches can get their groups to buy into a turnaround like this."
If things go according to the skate this morning, Jason Blake will again be on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, while Bobby Ryan will skate with the two Finns. Here's the lineup from this morning (which doesn't include the newly activated Devante Smith-Pelly):
“For a guy that’s played in the East or coached in the East as well, I don’t know how they do it,” he told the OCR. ”I really don’t. It’s quite a testament to every team in the West’s character for not griping as much as I’m doing right now about it.
“When you have a four-game road trip in seven days, you’re coming home exhausted. We’re at seven days right now and this is just the halfway point in our trip.”
Boudreau said there are times "you don't even know what hotel room you're getting into," and joked, "I haven’t been on a vacation for 15 days. The East has no idea how lucky they are. And I think every team in the West should start with 10 points before the season starts."
Like a lot of the games on this trip, the puck drops for this one at 4 p.m. Pacific, so you might want to start your fake coughing and sneezing now to get out of the office a little early.
One last thing: After scoring at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh the other night, Teemu Selanne has now scored in 53 different NHL arenas. The only two he hasn't scored in? MTS Center in Winnipeg and ... Prudential Center.
|"Fellas, relax. I've done this 656 times."
The Anaheim Ducks are in the playoff race.
And how have they done it? How have they gotten to within six points of the eighth spot in the West after being 20 back as recently as six weeks ago? With an astonishing 14-2-3 sprint that has culminated with what has to be their most impressive road victory of the season, last night.
The Ducks didn't get into Pittsburgh until the early morning, hours after a heart-stopping 2-1 victory in Minnesota. They had to face a very good Penguins team that hadn't lost at home in the last six and hadn't lost to the Ducks there in 11 years. And Anaheim went down early on a beauty of a first period goal by Jordan Staal.
But that hardly discouraged these Ducks, whose defense and the still-scorching Jonas Hiller gave up nothing else the rest of the way, and Anaheim got all the scoring it needed from their usual suspects. Corey Perry, at the end of a long shift for him, undressed Zbynek Michalek before slipping a close-in shot past the previously infallible Marc-Andre Fleury. Then in the third, Matt Beleskey (also laboring at the end of a lengthy shift) made a gorgeous backhand pass on the rush to a barely-onside Teemu Selanne, who beat Fleury with a Selanne-esque backhand inside the near post. Said broadcaster John Ahlers of Beleskey, "He found enough energy to find The Flash!"
(I like that.)
“He’s in shape because it was about a three-minute shift,” Bruce Boudreau said. “I was yelling at him to get off. He positioned himself well and when he got the puck, he made a fabulous backhand pass.”
Added Beleskey: “I think I started losing oxygen and just blacked out for a while. It was good though.”
And of Selanne, Bruce Boudreau said, "There's a reason he's got a jillion goals in this league." Well, not quite a jillion, but the 656th of his career tied him for 12th all time with Brendan Shanahan.
Selanne was asked about the fact Boudreau kept him out of much of the victory in Minnesota the night before, including a good part of the third period. “I missed probably three shifts,” he said to the OC Register (check out more on that here). “That’s nothing. To be honest, I was dead tired for some reason. And it happens. A lot of times when you feel like that, it’s not the greatest place to be.
“This is about team effort. Everybody has done the job. That’s what makes this team special.”
Boudreau was clearly pumped with the win last night, as the TV cameras caught him shaking assistant coach Brad Lauer's hand on the bench, then promptly punching him in the arm (photo at right).
And the Ducks' heart in this one was never better exemplified than in the final seconds, as they nursed a one-goal lead and Toni Lydman went to a knee to sacrifice his body and block an Evgeni Malkin shot.
"This game was huge for us," Selanne said. "We got here at like 3 in the morning. They came out pretty hard and controlled the first period and then we got into the game. This team is playing with a lot of confidence right now, and even though we got behind we believed we could come back."
That's a world of difference for a Ducks team that once owned the worst road record in the league, but is now a remarkable 7-1-3 in the last 11 games away from home. Their 14-3-3 record since the new year is good for 31 standings points, tops in the NHL with Detroit. Anaheim may not be blowing anyone out lately, but its +20 goal differential since January 1 is also first in the league. The Ducks also returned to .500 (24-24-9) for the first time since October 30.
They're just six points now behind Phoenix in eighth (with the same number of games played now), but can't stop now. They need to keep rolling on this mammoth road trip that continues tomorrow night in New Jersey.
"The morale is high," Bobby Ryan told ESPN.com. "We're all realizing there could be something special that happens here for us this year."
|There's a puck in there somewhere.
The latest case in point came last night in Minnesota, when space on the Xcel Energy Center rink was at a minimum and it seemed virtually impossible for the Ducks to get a puck past goalie Josh Harding. Maybe in October-November-December the Ducks might have taken a 1-0 loss and chalked it up to a goalie standing on his head. But not these Ducks.
Instead, a struggling Niklas Hagman managed to force in a gargantuan goal eight minutes into the third period, Corey Perry did what Corey Perry does another four minutes later, and Jonas Hiller did the rest of the work in helping the Ducks hang on by the lightest of threads in the final moments.
The Ducks were 0-21-1 when trailing after two periods going into that game. The Wild, meanwhile, were 16-1-3 when leading after two.
You can't possibly put a price on Hagman's goal and its impact on that game, as well as this marathon road trip for Anaheim. After being denied by Harding right in front, Hagman stayed with the puck and somehow got a stick on it to trickle it deliciously over the stripe as he was knocked down.
"He managed to get a piece of [the first shot]," said Hagman, who hadn't scored since Jan. 18 and had been dropped to the fourth line. "I tried to whack at it but I think one of their guys lifted my stick. I thought it wasn't even going to go in. Just barely went over the line. But that's what it takes."
And it seemed to electrify the previously frustrated Ducks, who got the go-ahead goal from Perry a few minutes later on the rush, a shot that Harding would probably like back. That goal continued the "Hart winners on heart's day" trend that we mentioned yesterday. The last 11 reigning Hart Trophy winners have scored 12 goals on Valentine's Day. (And not for nothing, but Perry is starting to heat up just like he did in the final months of that MVP season. Perry had 28 goals through 56 games last season. He has 27 through 56 this season.)
That goal gave the Ducks a 2-1 lead they held onto through the nail-biting, stomach-churning final moments. The Ducks missed two chances to fill an empty net with Minnesota skating with an extra attacker, and Hiller and the other five Ducks survived a flurry around their net. Here's a look:
While Hiller came up big, it was the Ducks defense that deserves a ton of credit, as they made sure their goalie only saw 17 shots all night. And with that win the Ducks -- who now have the best goal differential (+19) in the NHL since Jan. 1 -- continued to make their charge into the playoff race. They're eight points behind eighth-place Phoenix, six if they can turn around and win another big one in Pittsburgh tonight.
It won't be easy. While the Ducks are playing the second of a back-to-back, the Pens haven't been in action since Sunday. And they've won six in a row at home, the two-year-old Consol Energy Center the Ducks will be seeing for the first time. The Pens are gripping onto the fifth spot in the East, despite the absence of Sidney Crosby (concussion) since December 5. the Penguins have only lost twice in regulation in their last 14 games. The Ducks have only lost twice in regulation in their last 18.
Should be a good one, and you can check it out with other fans on a huge screen in a cool setting at the official watch party at UltraLuxe Cinemas in Anaheim.
|Brother ... pitted against brother ... in the ultimate battle of attrition. (Or, just two Koivu brothers taking a face-off.)
Only problem is, Minnesota isn't in eighth place anymore.
The Wild, who were at one time near the top of the West through mid-December, and more recently gripping onto that last playoff spot in the conference, have hit a major slide as of late. After starting the season with a 20-7-3 record, they have gone 5-15-5 since, which includes an eight-game losing streak and their current three-game skid. They've fallen five points behind Phoenix in the eighth spot in the West. Meanwhile, a win tonight for the Ducks gets them to within eight points of that slot with a game in hand on the Coyotes.
"Just like us, they're a desperate hockey club that needs a win," Bruce Boudreau said this morning about the Wild. "I was just looking at the numbers, I think we were 16 points back of them when I first got here, and now we're five. It's a good chance to keep things going, and if things fall our way, we'll get a little closer."
Minnesota has been hurt by injuries and an inability to find the net. Including their 3-1 loss at home to Columbus last Saturday, they have scored just six goals in their last five games. Among the guys out for them tonight are winger Cal Clutterbuck, who has the rarely reported charley horse, suffered Saturday night. Also sidelined are Clayton Stoner (lower body) and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Guillaume Latendresse and Jarod Palmer (all out with concussion symptoms).
To make up for those injuries, winger Kris Foucault will make his debut for Minnesota tonight, the 39th skater and 13th rookie the Wild have suited up this season.
Minny will go with Josh Harding in net (for the first time since January 31) over No. 1 Niklas Backstrom, as Harding beat the Ducks 5-3 in the teams' last meeting, December 4 at Honda Center.
"I think our biggest challenge is to come out in the first period and surprise them, play the way we've been playing -- maybe 10 percent better than that," Boudreau said. "If we can come out and meet their push early, get the lead on them and frustrate them, I think it will be to our advantage."
Since it's Valentine's Day, here's a couple of things for you: The first 5,000 female fans through the gates at Xcel Energy Center tonight will get a free box of chocolates (congrats to their dates for being able to knock that one out).
And if you believe in this sort of thing, look for Corey Perry to continue the scoring run he got on Sunday in Columbus. According to The Score, the last 10 reigning Hart Trophy winners have scored 11 goals on Valentine's Day.
One of the great things about a road trip that covers the midwest and the east are puck drop times that come right around the time we're leaving work (or at least I think it's great). Tonight we get things started at 4:30 p.m. Pacific, and if you're not already getting the game on Prime Ticket, tonight's tilt will be aired on NBC Sports Network (the former Versus). Also, if you have DirecTV (I know I do), you can catch more of the games on this trip (and other NHL action) during a free trial of Center Ice going on now through the 19th.