|Somewhere there's a Ryan Getzlaf in there.
In the wake of hammering a one-timer inside the far post with 46.0 seconds left to earn a crucial 3-2 victory over the Calgary Flames, Ryan Getzlaf was asked how long he and his Ducks mates could savor the win.
"About eight minutes," he said.
Indeed, despite securing a victory that was the 15th straight over Calgary at home -- and more importantly kept the Ducks within seven of the last playoff spot in the West -- the Ducks are in no position to hold onto this one too long. That's because they turn right around and face an equally important -- and probably more daunting -- challenge tonight in LA against the rival Kings.
But before we look ahead to that one, let's appreciate what Getzlaf did, scoring his first goal in the last 18 games at the most dramatic of times. With the Ducks and Flames looking certain to head to overtime (which would have given Calgary a point in this race as well), Corey Perry dropped the puck to his linemate from the right wing and Getzlaf blistered a shot that left goalie Leland Irving helpless.
As great as the goal was, the celebration may have been even better. A crowd of more than 16,000 went absolutely ballistic as Francois Beauchemin wrapped Getzlaf in a bear hug while jumping up and down like a little kid who just opened an Xbox on Christmas morning. Take a look:
Earlier in the game, a vintage Getzlaf play gave Anaheim its first lead, as he emerged from behind the net with an open look at the net, but passed it up to feed a wide open Perry for the tap-in. It was another one of those "Shoot it! Shoot it! Why doesn't he? ... YEAH!!!" moments for Ducks fans, something they've grown accustomed to over the years with the pass-first Getzlaf.
"Everybody in the building is thinking he's going to shoot the puck there," Perry said. "He just is so patient with the puck, and if you keep your stick down and go to the net, good things happen."
It was among a number of good things to happen last night, including a first period fight between Beauchemin and Flames leader Jarome Iginla that was a pretty cool flashback to the '06 playoffs. (That fight almost six years ago was a lopsided Beauchemin win, while this one may have gone to Iginla.)
The Ducks have a pretty good fight on their hands tonight, facing a Kings team that hasn't played since Tuesday. And it's the second straight game against one of those teams in the pack fighting for that eighth spot. Anaheim moved up to 12th (tiebreaker over Minnesota based on regulation/overtime wins) with the win last night, while LA is in ninth, four points ahead of the Ducks.
Jonas Hiller, who last night broke the Ducks team record by making his 24th straight start, figures to be back in there tonight, as Bruce Boudreau said yesterday he planned to start him in every game from here to the finish line.
For those interested, I'll be heading up to Staples Center for a live game log and recap on the website, and I imagine I'll be seeing more than a few Ducks fans up there as well.
LA, by the way, has won three of the previous four meetings this year, including both games at Staples Center in shootouts. The Ducks this time would love to snatch one in regulation for the second straight night, which would push them up the standings while subsequently giving the Heisman to a fellow team in the crowded race.
"We have half the battle done this weekend," Getzlaf said last night. "Tonight was an emotional one. We have to enjoy it right now and get ready for the next one."
|No Miikka tonight, but hopefully a lot more Perry.|
Both Calgary (in 11th) and the Kings (ninth) are part of the crowded pack of teams battling with the Ducks for those last playoff spots. Wins for Anaheim in both those games would not only help the Ducks whittle down the seven points between them and eighth, but it would hold back those two teams from climbing the standings as well.
"Obviously right now we know the next two, pretty much next three is going to be do or die," Teemu Selanne said, "because we can’t let those games slip away. Both are against teams that we want to catch.”
But -- and I don't know if you've ever heard this -- you have got to take one game at a time, and that means the focus is on tonight with the Flames, who are coming off a rather impressive road win in Phoenix. Calgary knocked off the Coyotes 4-2, putting a halt to a ridiculous 11-0-1 streak by Phoenix that catapulted them into first place in the Pacific (and third in the West).
The Flames got that win behind Miikka Kiprusoff, who will actually sit down tonight in the second game of a back-to-back. The Flames' shootout loss to the Ducks back on February 6 dropped Kipper to 1-6-3 lifetime at Honda Center. Tonight the Flames will go with Leland Irving (which happens to sound like a very exclusive private school).
The Ducks, of course, will counter with Jonas Hiller, who will break a Ducks team record when he starts his 24th straight game tonight. The old mark was set by set by Guy Hebert (who happened to go on a nice run during last night's Ducks-Kings poker event) in 1997 and matched by J.S. Giguere in 2001.
Hiller has more than earned those starts, going 14-5-4 with a 1.84 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage in that stretch.
"I haven’t played that many games in such a short period of time in quite awhile. I don’t think I ever have," Hiller said this morning. "But I’m feeling good, so why not?"
Hiller was given a day off from practice yesterday, part of a process of the Ducks giving him rest when he can get it. "We’ve been very cognizant of giving him the time off between games because we’re worried about him getting overly tired," Bruce Boudreau said. "The only time I’ve ever seen him with any sense of fatigue was maybe the Colorado game [on Monday]. Other than that, he’s been sharp and he’s strong and I ask every day how he’s feeling to make sure we’re doing the right things for him to stay strong."
Said Hiller, "I definitely have a little better understanding of my body and how to take care of it, to listen to my body and not just try to work through it when something is aching. With massage or treatment, you can get rid of stuff before it really gets serious. Bruce has also given me the opportunity to take my rest on certain days and certain practices. That definitely helps to stay sharp, especially mentally, which is almost as tough as staying ready physically."
The Ducks plan to not only go with him again tomorrow night in LA, but for the duration of the season, with Dan Ellis still out with a groin injury. "Unless something negative happens, he’s probably starting the rest of the games from here on out," Boudreau said.
He also used one of his typical non-hockey references to talk about Hiller's focus these past couple of months. "As a goalie, you can’t let up," he said. "A forward might have a bad shift, but if a goalie has a bad shift, it’s in the net. A goalie reminds me of a golfer. If a golfer lets up, he’s two-over. It’s that focus for 60 minutes or [for a golfer] four hours that is really difficult."
"Goalies are special that way. That’s why they’re all a little weird."
Boudreau immediately remembered a time he was made to wear one on the bench during his stint as a coach in the ECHL with the Mississippi Sea Wolves.
"I looked like an idiot," he said. "When you're in the 'coast' [a nickname for the ECHL] and you're down south, you do a lot of weird promotions. This was one of them. The owners wanted me to do it, much to my chagrin."
He was asked if he won the game.
"I can't remember," he said. "I'm too embarrassed to even know if I coached."
He then paused, waiting for a reporter to ask the first question of the scrum, and said. "Anyway, what's up?"
Last night's Rivalry Hold 'Em Poker Challenge at San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino, involving Ducks and Kings alumni, broadcasters and fans, was a great event for the second straight year.
Kings fan Greg Smyser came out the winner out of the close to 1,000 people who competed and took home $3,500 in cash and prizes. Among those who won their tables to advance to the final 100 were Guy Hebert (can't believe he's mentioned twice in this blog post), who was among the Ducks alums with Sean Pronger and Jason Marshall. Hebert, who happens to be a heck of a nice guy, told me later that he actually rarely plays poker and had no idea how he managed to win a table. Also winning his table, oddly enough, was Kings mascot Bailey. File this in Things You Don't See Every Day (although he did play last year too):
On a personal note, I actually won the second hand of the night and (thanks to some conservative betting) lasted 40 minutes before being knocked out, doubling my time from last year. I knew when I was in trouble when I sat down and asked which of the fellow players were Ducks fans and which were Kings fans. Three guys said they were neither, just poker fans. (Got the feeling this wasn't their first tournament.)
Here is a gallery of photos San Manuel took during the event, and below are some that I snapped:
Not sure where the "personality" part came from
At our pre-event dinner. That's Kings alumni/broadcasters/staff at the far table and the Ducks people at the near one, with an empty table in between us. Got to love rivalries.
A nice touch on the cheesecake desert. I took a bite out of the Kings logo and left the Ducks one alone.
This guy's not so great with making decisions.
|This pretty much sums up last night for the Ducks.
But thanks to the work of Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, the Ducks suffered a loss they could ill afford, a 2-0 defeat at Honda Center that cost them a chance to make up precious ground in the Western Conference standings. Miller saved all 43 Anaheim shots on net, earning his 26th career shutout and his first in five appearances against the Ducks.
And the Ducks showed their frustration in the final minute, as both Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry got in fights during play, and several members of the Ducks and Sabres engaged in a brawl after the horn.
It was an ugly way to end a night in which Anaheim could have gotten to within five points of the eighth spot in the West, as Dallas lost 4-3 in a shootout in a game that ended just after we dropped the puck at Honda Center. The Ducks could have moved into 12th place and been just a point shy of Calgary in 11th. (Right now it's not just about getting close to that eighth spot, but passing the cluster to other teams also fighting for it.)
“We were really counting on tonight because we could have jumped over a team,” Boudreau said. “And then Friday, if things went well, we could have jumped over another team. And then Saturday, we could have tied a team (the Kings).”
Now we can only move on from this one and focus on those games, and try not to engage in the agonizing scoreboard watching in the meantime. For example, three games on the NHL docket tonight involve teams fighting with Anaheim for that playoff spot: Calgary at Phoenix, Minnesota at Montreal and Columbus at Colorado. (For the sanity's sake, it's best to avoid watching those games, and just wake up in the morning to see where the Ducks stand.)
That extra day of February marked the end of an interesting month for the Ducks, as they suffered consecutive losses to Dallas and Columbus at home to start it, then went on a 8-1-2 tear before dropping two in a row to finish it. Now the Ducks have 18 games left in March and April, where they desperately need to go on another torrid run.
“It’s a little bit of a heartbreaker,” Boudreau said of last night's defeat. “But this team hasn’t quit in two and a half months, so I don’t expect them to quit now.”
|This is how things looked the last time Buffalo played at Honda Center (January 19, 2010). They've since changed logos, getting rid of the Buffalo that some thought looked like a yellow slug.|
Both finished last year's regular season hot (the Sabres winning four straight, the Ducks winning three in a row) to jump into the playoffs, only to fall in the first round. Both had high hopes coming into this campaign, only to dig themselves pretty big holes through the first three months. And both have come on strong as of late to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Buffalo's turnaround is not quite as drastic as what the Ducks have done (but who's is?): a 17-5-4 record since January 1 that is tied for best in the NHL. That has them within six points of a playoff spot after they were once 20 back. The Sabres have points in five straight games (3-0-2) and are within seven points of the eighth spot in the East.
Both teams suffered setbacks to that hopeful climb in the standings in their last games, the Ducks losing in Colorado on Monday night and the Sabres falling in overtime to the Rangers in New York last Saturday. The Sabres, like the Ducks earlier this season, have struggled on the road, enduring a 12-game losing streak that mercifully was snapped January 24. And like Anaheim a couple weeks ago, they're currently facing a road challenge that could make or break their season: a stretch of seven games away from home in their next eight.
But despite their similarities, these are two teams that don't see each other all that much. Buffalo hasn't been here since January 19, 2010, and although the two have faced each other this season, it was under very different circumstances. That was in the opening game of the season, in Helsinki, a 4-1 loss for the Ducks that was their only defeat in the first five games.
And unlike the Ducks, Buffalo was quite active just before the trade deadline, dealing big center Paul Gaustad and a fourth-round pick to Nashville for a first-round pick and sending top prospect Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani to the Vancouver Canucks for rookie forward Cody Hodgson (who will make his Sabres debut tonight) and Alexander Sulzer.
Ryan Miller will be in net tonight for Buffalo while Jonas Hiller will make his 23rd straight start for Anaheim. (Another thing these two teams have in common: standout goalies who played great in the '10 Olympics -- Miller for the U.S. and Hiller for Switzerland.)
The Ducks did not practice yesterday after getting in late following that loss in Colorado and facing a stretch of four games in six nights starting this evening. With a win tonight, they would pull into 12th place in the West and could get as close as four points to the eighth spot, depending on what the Stars do tonight at home vs. Pittsburgh (4:30 p.m. Pacific)
Bruce Boudreau was asked by a Buffalo reporter this morning if the Ducks still believe they can make the playoffs even though, as he put it, they are still "a ways back" in the standings.
"You say that and I think you're wrong," Boudreau said. "I don't think we're far back at all. If I don't think we're far back, then I'm sure the rest of the guys don't. No matter who's in front of us, it still depends on us. If we do what we're supposed to do, eventually Colorado and Dallas and Phoenix and those teams are going to lose. They can't go 20-0.
"Until our last breath, until we're eliminated, this group is going to believe they can do it. We've come from 20 points back already, so there's no sense in stopping now. "
|One of the few happy photos from a tough night in Denver.
The Ducks got little time to catch their breaths after finally completing a 15-day road trip that spanned more than 7,000 miles, having to turn around and play three games in four nights. It didn't seem to take its toll during an emphatic victory Sunday night at home vs. Chicago, but last night in Denver the Ducks appeared to run out of fuel.
Typically when a team plays the second of a back-to-back, you don't see its effects in the first period, but it's the latter half of the second and the third when you can see them wearing down. That's what happened to Chicago (played LA the night before) on Sunday, and it's pretty much what happened with the Ducks last night. Despite giving up the game's first goal, they fought back to tie it on a beautiful snipe on the power play by Bobby Ryan in the second.
But that appeared to be all the Ducks had to give, as a couple of giveaways led to two Avalanche strikes in the first three minutes of the third period, and Anaheim wasn't able to recover.
"I told them, I said I usually don't make excuses for them ever and probably won't again," Bruce Boudreau said. "It looked like we had nothing. For all intents and purposes, it's been a three-week road trip."
Although they allowed Colorado to climb into ninth (same point total as Dallas in eighth), the good news for the Ducks is that they didn't lose any ground on that last playoff spot. The Kings (four points ahead of Anaheim in 10th) lost 2-1 in Nashville, and Calgary (three ahead in 11th) fell 3-1 at home to St. Louis.
Anaheim -- which took today off from practice -- remains six points back with 19 to go, and faces a critical bounceback game here at home Wednesday night vs. Buffalo. Aside from Boston on March 25, that's the last Eastern Conference foe Anaheim faces this year. Of their last 19 games, six will come against teams with whom they're battling for those playoff spots.
- - -
For just a $35 buy-in, you can play poker alongside other Ducks and Kings fans, as well as these Ducks alumni and broadcasters: Guy Hebert, Jason Marshall, Sean Pronger, John Alhers, Jenny Cavnar, Kent French and Brian Hayward.
And yes, I will be playing as well, hoping to top the 20 minutes I lasted in last year's tournament. I'm also prepping myself for the looks of disappointment on the faces of the people at my table when they find out I'm the "Ducks alumni/broadcaster."
The tournament starts at 7 p.m. and players will compete for $10,000 in cash and prizes (all proceeds going to benefit the Anaheim Ducks Foundation and Kings Care Foundation). There is also an after-party that runs from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.
The deadline to sign up is tonight at 11 p.m. and there is still space available.
Click here for more information and to register
|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.
- - -
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.)