Wild Night in Minny
Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 8:14 AM PT
|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.