Wednesday, 11.2.2011 / 9:01 AM PT
Going into the building of one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and coming away with a point would often be cause for celebration.
Last night in Washington was not one of those times.
The Ducks, who looked so in control for much of the game last night against the Caps at Verizon Center, had to be wondering how they walked away with a crushing 5-4 overtime defeat. Anaheim led by as much as 3-0 in the second period and 4-2 halfway through the third and couldn't hold it against a hard-charing Caps team that never stopped firing.
Despite a shot advantage that ballooned to 40-15 in favor of Washington, the Ducks could have still escaped with a tense 4-3 victory if not for Nicklas Backstrom's rebound goal with just 42.0 seconds left in regulation. And while momentum can often be overrated, the ice was heavily tilted in the Caps' direction, making Backstrom's game-winner seemed almost inevitable.
Jonas Hiller, who certainly couldn't have been blamed on that last goal -- as the puck trickled through Toni Lydman to Backstrom right on the doorstep -- nevertheless had a night he'd like to forget. The Joel Ward goal that somehow snuck under Hiller seemed harmless enough, as it made it 3-1 Ducks with 6:37 left in the second. But things got worse when Hiller seemed to have some indecision while playing a puck away from his net, and couldn't recover before Dennis Wideman blasted a slap shot by him.
“I thought one of our guys was coming back,” Hiller told the OC Register. “I was a little surprised that nobody was coming because it wasn’t icing. I thought well we’ll take that icing call and I was surprised that nobody was there. And then I thought I’ve go to play it.
“The puck just wouldn’t want to come back [to me]. If I knew right away, sure I would have played it right away. That’s what I’m saying. The wrong decision at the wrong point.”
Washington got within a goal with 8:18 left when a seemingly benign Troy Brouwer shot deflected straight into the air off Hiller's normally reliable glove and fluttered behind him.
Hiller had a number of clutch saves among his 35 on the night, but said, "In the end, I still can’t be happy. Normally those things happen if you’re not sharp enough. It’s always going to happen, those kinds of things. But, yeah, I definitely can’t be happy with the way I’m playing or the way we’re playing right now. I know I have to step it up. It’s definitely a tough loss.”
A win in that game, would have been a huge boost to a Ducks team that has struggled on this seven-game, 13-day road trip and has now lost six of seven. Part of that struggle had been rooted in their inability to score goals, something that certainly wasn't a problem last night. That was especially true for that revamped second line of Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu and Andrew Cogliano, which accounted for those first three Ducks goals -- two by Selanne and Koivu's first of the season. (Selanne, by the way, had a four-point night, making him the oldest player to do so since 1972.)
It was during that time everything was going the Ducks' way, a time when an impending overtime loss seemed almost impossible. You had that feeling again when Corey Perry never gave up on a pinballing puck around the net and jammed it through to make it 4-2 Ducks, giving them some breathing room with 10:47 left in the game.
That goal left Ducks fans (at least this one) thinking, Okay, that was a little scary but we've got this now. That's what made Backstrom's last-minute goal and his stomach-punch in overtime that much more devastating. All I can remember thinking while watching the Caps celebrate was, I feel sick. (I believe those words may have been used in a text message or two.)
And after it all sinks in, the only thing to focus on is what's next. In this case, a date tomorrow night with the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. A win there will seemingly turns things around for the Ducks and hopefully make us forget what went down last night in D.C.
Well, not completely forget, but certainly make it a little easier to bear.