Adam Brady is the Director of Publications & New Media for the Anaheim Ducks and Honda Center. Email him by CLICKING HERE.
Updated April 10 at 10:28 p.m.
And we're in.
It shouldn't have gotten that far, but the Ducks' 4-3 shootout win was much preferable to them backing into a playoff berth by getting just that one point (which is all they needed after Nashville got creamed by Minny earlier tonight).
And thank goodness they pulled it out, since more than 17,000 people had been made sick to their stomachs when the Ducks gave up that Steve Ott goal with 13.1 left in regulation.
And thank goodness for Ryan Getzlaf getting that shootout tally when the Ducks were down to their last shooter. And thank goodness for Teemu Selanne making that slick move for the game-winner. And thank goodness for the official not waving off that goal, since it looked like Selanne had actually stopped, an illegal move in the shootout.
And thank goodness for these Ducks, who looked all but dead as recently as three weeks ago, when they sat in 12th place and the playoffs looked like a pipe dream.
I'd love to say more, but I have an early flight tomorrow to head to Phoenix for the regular season finale. (Oh, who am I kidding? I'm going to get some beers.) Either way, I can't say I mind the fact that tomorrow night's game has no effect on the Ducks getting into the postseason, but instead it's all about positioning.
We're in. And the season starts all over again next week.
Updated April 10 at 12:34 p.m.
Win and you're in.
Lose ... and well, you still might be in.
There is a scenario tonight in which the Anaheim Ducks can clinch a playoff berth even if they don't win tonight's game against the Dallas Stars at Honda Center. Should the Minnesota Wild beat the visiting Nashville Predators (in a game that will wrap in Minnesota during the Ducks game tonight) and then the Ducks lose in overtime or shootout, the Ducks are officially playoff bound.
But I don't think there is a Ducks fan out there who would be content with that turn of events, and for a variety of reasons. After all, this is the Dallas Stars we have coming in here tonight, the same Stars that ended Anaheim's season with a Game 6 victory in Dallas in last year's first round. (My ears are still ringing from the godforsaken gunshot and the streamers that fell from the American Airlines Center rafters that night.) This year's Stars, on the other hand, were eliminated from the playoffs last week, and tonight is their last regular season game. So, it wouldn't be such a bad thing to turn around and end their season with a loss.
But here's why an overtime/shootout loss would still work for the Ducks. If the Preds lose in Minnesota, even by gaining a point in overtime, they would finish the regular season at 89 points. The Wild, meanwhile, could get to 89 points by winning tonight and winning again tomorrow at Columbus. But if the Ducks also finish at 89 points (by getting that point tonight) they win the tiebreaker over both teams by virtue of having more wins.
But once again, we'd prefer it didn't come down to that, and there are even more reasons why a Ducks win tonight would be so much more satisfying. As hot as they've have been the last 11 games, the last thing in the world the Ducks want to do is back into the playoffs. And should Nashville get the win tonight in Minny, a do-or-die game for the Ducks less than 20 hours later in Phoenix isn't all that palatable (especially considering the Coyotes just blitzed San Jose 4-1 last night).
Not to mention, the Ducks are fighting to hang on to that seventh spot in the Western Conference, which would pit them against a Detroit team that looked very beatable last night against the Preds. Nashville was able to keep its slim playoff hopes alive by stealing a shootout victory in Detroit, that came virtue of the Red Wings deciding to stop playing in the last minute of regulation.
Plus, it's the last regular season home game for the Ducks tonight. And it's Fan Appreciation night. And Francois Beauchemin will probably be in the lineup for the first time since Nov. 14.
Oh, and did we mention it's the Dallas Stars?
Just like in last year's playoffs, the Stars have had the Ducks' number, going 3-1-1 against Anaheim this year. But they've been puttering into the closing stretch of this season, winning just two of their last 11 games, including a 3-2 shootout victory over the hapless Avs last night in Colorado. Despite a very solid stretch from the end of November through mid-March that made up for their putrid start, a rash of injuries has finally caught up with Dallas. Tonight they'll be without defensemen Stephane Robidas (lower body), Sergei Zubov and Trevor Daley (lower body) and forwards Krys Barch (upper body), Brad Richards (hand) and Brenden Morrow (knee).
But word is that goalie Marty Turco will be in there tonight, despite missing the past three games with a lower-body injury. He had been replaced in net by a rookie named Matt Climie, though Climie was sent back to the minors this morning. For the Ducks, it will again be Jonas Hiller, who boasts a 1.21 goals-against average and a .956 save percentage in two games against the Stars this year.
Hiller was one of about a half dozen Ducks and a handful of media members who stood around the locker room flat screen after the morning skate and watched a replay of last night's shootout between the Stars and Avs. He intently watched this move by Mike Ribeiro that clinched it, in which Ribeiro turned his back to the net, and took a shot from behind his back that crawled over goalie Peter Budaj, hit the ice and bounced in. Said one Duck (whom I won't reveal) as he walked away from the screen, "He would have never tried that move if they were fighting for the playoffs."
Even Ribeiro admitted as such after the game: "I wouldn’t have tried that if a playoff spot was on the line,” he said.
I couldn't help but feel a certain satisfaction in that statement. That's right, the Stars are not fighting for the playoffs. And they still won't be tonight when they come into this building, but you can bet they'd like to end their season with a victory.
The Ducks, meanwhile, have a pocketful of reasons not to let that happen.
Updated April 9 at 2:57 p.m.
It's a dark day here in Anaheim after Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed, along with two others, in a hit-and-run accident early this morning in Fullerton. I happened to be at last night's game when Adenhart threw six shutout innings in his first start of the season, and to learn this morning that he had lost his life was just devastating. Our thoughts and condolences go out to the Adenhart family, the families of the other two victims and the entire Angels organization.
The Ducks plan to have a moment of silence prior to tomorrow night's game against the Dallas Stars at Honda Center.
Updated April 8 at 4:44 p.m.
One of the countless perks I get from this job is a free subscription to the Center Ice Package on DIRECTV. But strangely enough, I don't take advantage of it as often as you might think. And I certainly never thought I would be drawn into it by a Nashville Predators-Chicago Blackhawks game or a St. Louis Blues-Phoenix Coyotes tilt.
But my focus was on those two games last night to see just how much easier the Ducks' road to the postseason would get during these four days off. And we were left with mixed results.
Nashville's 4-2 loss to Chicago all but dashed the Predators' hopes for making a fourth straight postseason, as they failed to make any ground on the Ducks and St. Louis. "This is really devastating," said goalie Pekka Rinne (with Alfredo sauce) after the loss. "It's out of our hands."
The Blues, meanwhile, took full advantage of the fact that the Phoenix Coyotes decided not to show up for the night, and St. Louis trounced them, 5-1. That put the Blues in a tie at 88 points with the Ducks, but Anaheim still holds onto seventh place by virtue of the fact they have two more wins than St. Louis.
It's a little crowded, since Minnesota is still technically in the mix (though they're out if they lose either of their last two games). But this is what we know: The Ducks are ensured a postseason spot if they get at least two points in their last two games (Friday at home vs. Dallas and Saturday in Phoenix). If they want to hold onto the seventh spot (and thus play Detroit in the first round), they need two wins. Anaheim could also nab the sixth spot currently held by Columbus and thus play either Calgary or Vancouver in the opening round. Either way, it would be nice for the Ducks to win both of those games, because there is nothing better going into the dance than a little win streak. And hey, if the Coyotes play anything like they did last night against the Blues, a win for the Ducks in the regular season finale looks like a lock.
So, while Nashville, St. Louis and Minny are all possibilities to nab the last spots, one team we no longer have to worry about is the Edmonton Oilers. Needing a win to hang on to their last remaining shreds of a season, the Oil couldn't get it done at home against the lowly Kings and fell 2-1. And when St. Louis won its game later in the evening, that meant the Oilers postseason hopes were officially killed.
And the Ducks? Well, they keep waiting to play. They had sort of a half-practice at Honda Center today that involved about a dozen players, including Francois Beauchemin, who looks more and more like he might be in there Friday night. And that's almost shocking considering he's coming back almost a month before anyone thought he would when he went down with that ACL tear in November.
“I don’t really have any expectations," Beauchemin said yesterday. "I just want to go out there and do my best and see how it feels, try and play my game, be physical. I’m not going to know until I get out there how it’s going to feel after a game. Hopefully, I’ll feel good and be able to play the physical game that I can play.”
And Ducks fans are also looking forward to seeing him back in there. Heck, we're just looking forward to seeing some Ducks games again. Watching Nashville and St. Louis just isn't cutting it.
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It's been mentioned before that Scott Niedermayer could be one of the most unphotogenic legendary athletes in the history of team sports. But hey, O.C. Register website, couldn't you have found a better photo of him for this story?
Updated April 7 at 3:38 p.m.
There are times when no news is good news, and yesterday was a perfect example of that. When the phone didn't ring at Honda Center with the NHL offices on the Caller ID, that was a good thing in the aftermatch of the postgame brawl between the Ducks and Sharks on Sunday night.
There were some concerns that the league might hand down punishments to either Corey Perry or Ryan Getzlaf for their involvement in the melee, especially when it came to their tangles with Marc-Edouard Vlasic and goalie Brian Boucher. And we had every reason to think at least those two would be fined and/or suspended because -- after all -- they're Anaheim Ducks.
But thankfully, nothing came down, and all the Ducks have to think about right now are their final two games of the regular season -- at home against Dallas on Friday and in Phoenix on Saturday night (Ducks staffers flights are booked, by the way).
And speaking of good news, the Ducks could very well have defensemen Francois Beauchemin and Bret Hedican back this weekend. Beauchemin hasn't played since tearing his ACL last Nov. 14 and Hedican has been on the shelf with a bad back since Feb. 26. Both have been skating with the team the last several days, and Beauchemin was actually on this last road trip with the Ducks. Hedican, however, was not. And part of the reason I know that is I was walking down the hall at Honda Center a couple of days ago and watched a security guard let Hedican into the Ducks locker room. The security guard grabbed me as I walked by and said, "Who is that guy?"
Better get back in the lineup soon, Heddy, so the guys around here can recognize you. And Randy Carlyle indicated this morning that both Hedican and Beauchemin might be available soon. Beauchemin remarkably received clearance for full practice on Sunday night and Carlyle indicated that if nothing serious comes about in his knee the next few days, he could play Friday night. Hedican's availability, meanwhile, depends on how his increased ice time goes this week in practice.
“Both of them have the ability to step into our lineup and play,” Carlyle said. “I think it will be a positive contribution. If we didn’t think they were going to be positive, we wouldn’t put them in the lineup. We think it’s imperative that they get in and have an opportunity to play a couple games,” Carlyle said. “With that being said, if they continue to progress, we’ll probably use them."
In the meantime, those guys will join the rest of their teammates in doing a little scoreboard watching over the next few nights, starting with tonight, when a whopping 13 games are on the docket. With Nashville and St. Louis both two points behind the Ducks (who are in seventh in the Western Conference), those two teams' games tonight are huge for Anaheim. Nashville plays host to Chicago in a couple of hours and St. Louis visits Phoenix (come on, Bryz) at 7 p.m. Pacific.
In another version of "Every game is like a playoff game right now," Blues center Keith Tkachuk says, "It's almost a Game 7 situation every game we play right now."
Well, almost. The only diffference is, if the Blues lose, their season keeps going. And the Coyotes are one of two puffballs they face in their final three games of the regular season, the other being the Avalanche in the finale this Sunday.
And if you're in the mood for seeing the Oilers' and the Wild's postseason hopes get all but destroyed, you can root for their opponents in those games tonight. The Oilers host the Kings and the Wild host the Stars, a team whose playoff chances have been officially dashed (can't say I'm too broken up about that).
Oh, and on the Eastern side, well-liked former Duck Brad May will actually sit out tonight's game between the Maple Leafs and Devils so that he can play his 1,000th NHL game at home tomorrow night.
So, if there was ever a time to shell out $19.75 for the NHL's GameCenter Live package for the rest of the month, it's right now. Me, I'll be enjoying it on my beloved DirecTV on my beloved couch, where I'm going to become a huge Blackhawks and Coyotes fan tonight. "American Idol" will have to cool its heels on the DVR.
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It took us awhile to get it together, but I was finally able to sit down with George Parros for "Ask a Duck", where I asked him questions submitted by fans on the website (I don't even want to say how long ago).
And it's important for me to point out (since my mother used to be a speech therapist) that I do not have a lisp. Somehow the recording device we use for these things makes it sound that way. Not too happy about that.
Regardless, Georgie couldn't have been better for this thing. I'm hoping we can do more in the future.
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TSN is having fans cast their vote for the NHL Play of the Year Showdown, and Bobby Ryan's spin-o-rama goal to give him a hat trick against the Kings is one of the nominees. It actually has a huge lead in "Pool B" at 46.4 percent of the vote. Although, apparently it wasn't good enough for the NHL, which didn't include it in its Goal of the Season nominees.
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My dad's playoff tickets were just placed on my desk in a sealed FedEx envelope, even though they were delivered from the office across the hall from mine. Maybe I'm superstitious, but I think I won't open them for a few days.
Updated April 6 at 1:23 p.m.
It was a weekend that started beautiful and ended ugly for the Anaheim Ducks.
Beautiful: Thrashing the Western Conference frontrunning San Jose Sharks 5-2 Saturday night in their own building, a place they don't lose in very often.
Ugly: Losing a tight battle to those same Sharks the next night at Honda Center, a game marred by an ugly brawl after the final horn and complaints about shoddy officiating.
But no matter what the feelings are about the calls and non-calls last night (and there have been plenty), there is no disputing the fact the Ducks lost their legs in this one around the middle of the second period, right around the time they lost their 2-1 lead. Randy Carlyle said the team "seemed like we were running on fumes at times." And frankly, they had every reason to run out of gas, having played their fourth game in four cities in six nights, the previous three hard-fought wins against formidable foes.
But they were never able to counter when Jonathan Cheechoo got the go-ahead goal with 6:41 left on a power play that stemmed from questionable roots.
Drew Miller's holding penalty 10:41 into the period appeared to be more of a dive by Joe Pavelski, who flopped like a European soccer player to draw the call. And exactly one minute later, Chris Pronger took a delay of game call while trying to kill that penalty, sending the puck over the glass. While the Ducks survived the ensuing 5-on-3, Cheechoo made them pay with a redirect off the shaft of the stick before Pronger could escape the box.
But the way things have been going for the Ducks lately, it seemed a lock they would find a way to tie it in those final six minutes. And they still appeared on the brink of getting the equalizer when they pulled Jonas Hiller for an extra attacker in the final minute and a half. Aaaand, that tying goal looked even more certain as the puck rolled to an open Ryan Getzlaf in the slot with seconds remaining on the clock.
But thanks to some antagonism (maybe illegal) from behind by Jeremy Roenick, Getzlaf whiffed on the shot. Based on the reaction to the play we heard from Ducks players and fans, you might get the impression that Roenick grabbed Getzlaf from behind, then pulled off his own skate and stabbed him with it. What really happened, if you watch the replay, was that Roenick did appear to hook Getzlaf's arm, just as Getzlaf was winding up for the one-timer. That and the fact that Teemu Selanne was cross-checked from behind (and went down like he was shot with a sniper rifle) and Getzlaf was again cross-checked from behind into the crossbar with about a second left, led to some concerns about the crunch time refereeing.
"There were many chances at the end there to put the puck away, coming down the slot, and guys kicking legs out, guys getting jumped from behind," Getzlaf said. "They seemed to put their whistles away, I guess, at the end of the game."
And this is the Scott Niedermayer equivalent of loudly complaining about the officiating: “I don’t know if the refs were out there at the end. There could have been a few things called.”
Even Roenick acknowledged there were "a couple of plays" during those final moments. where the referees hands should have gone up. "And they didn't and I think the frustration overflowed when the buzzer went."
Indeed, it did, which you can see at the end of this video. Getzlaf responded to Marc-Edouard Vlasic tackling him from behind by throwing punches. Teemu Selanne spent the time screaming at both the Sharks and the officials. Corey Perry got into it with goalie Brian Boucher, which apparently flustered Sharks TV analyst Drew Remenda, who shouted, "Perry just went after Nabokov! Or, uh, Boucher, I mean." Well done.
In all, five misconducts and six minors were handed out in the melee, which was pretty meaningless considering the game was over. The funniest part was that Getzlaf even got a minor for interfering with the goalie, even though it was apparent Vlasic shoved him into Boucher ... I mean Nabokov ... no, Boucher.
But again, nothing was called in the Ducks favor when they really needed it -- BEFORE the final horn had gone off. And it's leading some to speculate that the Ducks continue to get the short end of the stick when it comes to drawing penalties. Whether that's valid or not, the numbers don't lie. On Thursday in Vancouver and Saturday in San Jose, the Ducks had exactly two combined power plays, while their opponents had seven. In those two games with the Sharks over the weekend, the difference was an eye-opening 10 to 3.
“It’s frustrating," said Ryan Whitney. " If you’re standing still, you don’t deserve to get penalties, but when we’re skating, you’d think we’d be drawing some, and we’re just not.”
Said Carlyle, “To some degree, I think the reputation that we’ve had historically is hurting us. We’re not saying we haven’t committed fouls, but when we play in the offensive zone for the number of minutes we’ve played, and watch what other teams do to defend our players, and if we do the same thing, it doesn’t seem there’s an equal playing field at times.”
And so what happened in the aftermath of that one last night might have been not so much frustration with what the Sharks were doing, but frustration that there were no whistles for it. And that there haven't been the past several games. The same could be said for James Wisnkiewski's open-ice shot at Devin Setoguchi in the closing minutes of the second, after there was no call for Setoguchi shoving Wiz down by the face seconds before.
There's something else to be said about the postgame fireworks between the Ducks and Sharks players -- oh, how we'd love to see these two teams battle again. And we just might get that wish in the first round (if the Ducks get the eight seed and the Sharks hold onto No. 1) or even in the second stage, a point in the postseason when the Sharks really enjoy bowing out.
But first thing's first -- the Ducks have to get in. And with four days before they play again (and today off from practice), things are out of their hands for the time being. They are seventh in the West with Dallas coming to town Friday night and the regular season finale in Phoenix on Saturday (for which I and some fellow Ducks staffers are hurriedly making flight arrangements for that morning).
Before that time, Tuesday night is a huge one for the Ducks. That's when the Predators, trailing the Ducks by two points with a game in hand, play at Chicago. And St. Louis, also two points back with a game in hand, plays at Phoenix. And right now, if it comes down to a tiebreaker, the Ducks have two more wins than Nashville and three more than the Blues (more on all of that tomorrow).
Hard to believe, but as much winning as the Ducks have done over the past three weeks (nine of their last 11), they're still teetering on the edge of playoff position. And while two wins in those final two games gets them in automatically, it might be nice to get some help from others so it doesn't come down to that.
“We couldn’t ask for more than that; we have four days off to recharge our batteries and if we win our last two games, we’re in,” Selanne said. “It’s in our hands.”
Ryan Getzlaf was asked last night about his team "losing its momentum" during these idle four days. "We lost tonight. What momentum?" he said. "The momentum's got to be up to us. We've got to use the break properly and get ready for the weekend. We know the task that's at hand, and it's been the same for the last month."
And oh what a last month it's been, not to mention a head-spinning last weekend. Let's hope next weekend has a little happier ending.
Updated April 3 at 12:37 p.m.
"That is probably one of the few games like that you’ll have in your whole career. It’s sad to lose it at the end. Roberto won this time, but we’ll see next time."
- Jonas Hiller, Oct. 31, 2008, following a 7-6 Ducks loss to Vancouver in a 13-round shootout
That game back on Halloween night almost looked like a snoozer compared to the 6-5 shootout victory the Ducks pulled off in Vancouver last night. And it's not often a guy gives up five goals and ends up the hero, but Hiller earned that with his glove snatch of an Alex Burrows shot to clinch the shootout and that vital extra point for Anaheim.
“It was Halloween last time," said the suddenly very quotable Hiller, "and probably a late April Fool’s joke this time.”
But there is no joke about the massive amount of heart the Ducks showed last night, fighting back after losing an early 2-0 lead and twice trailing by two goals and tying it before the end of the second period. The third period and overtime looked a lot more like two teams battling for playoff position, rather than the 10-goal barrage that marked the opening two stanzas. And a lot of credit for that goes to Hiller, who made a number of big stops down the stretch. But Jonasty wasn't so nasty in those opening two periods, when the Canucks beat him five times, leading one to wonder if the Ducks might yank him. “In that kind of game, you always think that could happen,” Hiller said. “I was happy it didn’t.”
Said Randy Carlyle, “I considered it after the fourth one. But then when I reviewed the fourth one, the Sedin power-play goal. It was post and in. So I just kind of deferred, and said ‘We had to find a way to rally around this.’”
And that's exactly what the Ducks did, though I don't think I was the only Ducks fan that, despite what they've shown the last two weeks, wondered if they had it in them. But it was this remarkable goal by Bobby Ryan that seemed to give the Ducks new life, as he completely fooled both defenseman Mattias Ohlund and Roberto Luongo to score it. It was a little surprising that the seemingly innocent backhand Ryan snapped off got through, but if you look at the highlight, he releases it about a half-step sooner than most players would have, and that was enough to get it by Luongo.
Still, the Ducks fell behind by two again on a nice redirect by Kesler, but they kept fighting. They got within one on a Corey Perry goal set up by a nice crash to the net by Ryan Whitney, a goal that caused announcer John Ahlers to exclaim, "First one to 10 wins!" And they tied it on Teemu Selanne's second of the night, created by another Ducks defenseman, Brendan Mikkelson.
While the defensemen were getting it going on the offensive end, neither team's defense had much to brag about in front of their own net. (By the way, just how many Sedins were out there last night? Seemed like about five or six. Those guys were absolutely killing it.) "It's not that fun, trust me," Ryan Getzlaf said of the onslaught of scoring. "Not when we're playing for a playoff spot."
Said Carlyle, “We were trading chances. We can’t play that type game. We had a two-goal lead and then we stopped doing some of the things that gave us the two-goal lead. Then they got the momentum, and we were able to seize it back, battled back to get ourselves in the hockey game."
Just that quote made me dizzy, to say nothing about what watching that game felt like.
“When they scored that fourth one, we had to kind of pick up our socks and get back at it,” Perry said. “We had given up four unanswered at that point. We talked at a timeout. We said, ‘Lets go play our forechecking game and create some turnovers.’ We did that, got some shots and got some goals.”
Both defenses locked it down over the final period and overtime, giving way to the shootout in which Perry scored the only goal by swinging wide enough to grab a hot dog from the concourse before slipping a shot under Luongo.
And Hiller let none of the Vancouver attempts through, though he got some help when Pavol Demitra's first attempt clanged off the post. But he made his trademark dramatic glove save on Burrows (very end of this video) to seal the Ducks' sixth shootout win in eight tries this season. And much of the credit for that success goes to Hiller, who has only given up nine goals in 30 shootout attempts this year and is 4-1 in the tiebreakers. “We work on it a lot,” Perry said of the Ducks' shootout success this year. “You have to. The points are way too critical. Those are extra points that if we didn’t have, we wouldn’t be in this race.”
I know it sounds at times like I've been asked to hype the watch parties at Zito's in Anaheim, but I haven't. And I can't say enough about the atmosphere there the last few road games. It was never better than last night, when a standing-room-only crowd of jersey-clad Ducks fans roared after every goal and every big Hiller save. And it was never louder than during that last shootout attempt, as an impromptu chant of "Hiller! Hiller!" got progressively faster as Burrows approached the net, then a defeaning roar bounced off the ceilings after Hiller snatched the shot out of the air to seal it. (Of course, on a personal note, it didn't hurt that after most of the Ducks staffers who normally attend the watch parties had other plans last night, they were replaced at our usual table by five Power Players.)
I keep flashing back to a conversation that one of our Ducks staffers, Matt Vevoda, had with one of our broadcasters (I won't say which one) a few weeks ago. Matt casually mentioned how the Ducks needed to get it going if they want to make the playoffs. "Matt," the broadcaster said, "teams don't change after 70 games."
And really, he's right. But somehow this team has managed to do it. And the grit and determination behind their turnaround was on display last night as they fought for every loose puck and refused let up when things got tough, notably when they gave up four unanswered goals. And here's something we never thought we'd be bragging about: The Ducks have now won 9 of 11 and a gaudy five in a row on the road.
But they face another tough one tomorrow night in San Jose, then turn around and play those same conference-leading Sharks again at Honda Center. And it remains to be seen whether Hiller will start both of those games. He's played back-to-backs twice this season and lost the second game both times.
Speaking of that Sunday game in Anaheim, you think NBC might decide to air that one as their Game of the Week? After all, it's a clash between the Western Conference frontrunner and a sizzling Ducks team with three Hall-of-Famers, six former All-Stars and a rookie of the year candidate. A game that involves two division rivals that will likely have a fierce battle the night before. But no, instead NBC is airing Red Wings-Wild, even though Minnesota is currently four points out of a playoff spot. But in NBC's defense, by showing the Wild, at least it's the first time this year they've acknowledged that there are other teams in the league besides the Wings, Rangers, Flyers and Penguins.
But I digress. It's still two huge ones for the Ducks, a weekend back-to-back that we were looking at three weeks ago and, let's face it, kind of dreading. And now? I don't see any reason why the Ducks can't win them both. They've given us that much hope.
And if they can keep this going over these last four games, we might be looking at this weekend's opponent as a possible first-round playoff foe. Or it could be that team playing on NBC on Sunday. And not to get ahead of ourselves, but I doubt either of them is looking forward to facing Anaheim to lead things off.
"Once we get in it's anybody's game," said Ryan Getzlaf. "But we haven't thought a minute about who we're going to play in the playoffs. We just want to get in there."
All of a sudden, it looks like they just might.
Updated April 2 at 1:54 p.m.
The make-or-break road trip the Ducks are in the middle of this week would appear to get more challenging with each passing game. Step 1 was Tuesday night against an Edmonton team that was struggling at home and had lost four of its last five. Step 2 is tonight in Vancouver against a Canucks team that is as hot as anyone in the league right now. And Step 3 comes against a San Jose team that has been the best team in the Western Conference pretty much the whole year and simply doesn't lose in its own rink.
But the Ducks are only thinking about this one tonight, as they try to maintain their hold on seventh place in the conference. But it won't be easy, as the Canucks have won eight of their last 10 games and haven't lost at home in their last 11 (outscoring opponents by a staggering 42-19 in that run). Tonight's game is also their first at home since March 19, though they handled their recent six-game road trip pretty well. They went 4-2-0, including an overtime winner in Minny two nights ago that gave them the Northwest Division lead and third place in the conference for the first time since December. Much of the credit for that successful trip goes (as usual) to Roberto Luongo, who posted a 1.75 goals-against average in those six games. You have to wonder where the Canucks would be today if they hadn't lost Luongo to injury for 24 games. Not to mention the fact Mats Sundin didn't start playing for them until January.
And if the three previous bouts between the Ducks and Canucks this season are any indication, this one should go down to the wire again. All three games have been one-goal affairs, including a thrilling 7-6 shootout win for Vancouver here on Halloween night and a huge 4-3 overtime victory for the Ducks three weeks ago in which Scott Niedermayer scored the OT winner.
The Ducks can actually look back to that game as a turning point in their season that has keyed this run for the playoffs. Since that win, the Ducks have won 8 of their last 10, the only losses coming from heroic performances by opposing goalies (Evgeni Nabokov of the Sharks on March 15 and Dwayne Roloson of the Oilers last Friday).
And as Dan Wood points out in an excellent story in today's edition of the O.C Register, No one more epitomized the gritty effort that lifted the Ducks back into a Stanley Cup playoff position in the NHL's Western Conference than Todd Marchant. Despite taking that puck off the ribcage two nights ago in Edmonton, Marchant did practice yesterday and will be in there tonight, despite continuing to get some serious treatment from the Ducks training staff. Wood writes, As the Ducks showered and changed after Tuesday night's 5-3 triumph at Edmonton, word was that veteran winger Todd Marchant was in the training room, with "ice everywhere."
When Marchant ultimately emerged, a cry of "Warrior" from one of his teammates provided a most fitting greeting.
I like this quote from Randy Carlyle: "The thing with Marchant, and I've told him before, if he's not cut up, bruised and black and blue, he's not involved in the game," Carlyle said. "Look at his face. Look at him limping around. He has various bumps and bruises, but that's what he has to do to be successful."
And you thought your job was tough.
"You have to sacrifice yourself," Marchant says in the story. "Everybody's doing it, and that's what's making us successful."
Speaking of pieces in the Register, Curtis Zupke has a blog item today entitled 3 reasons the Ducks will/won’t make the playoffs. And among the reasons in favor: 1. Their best players are better than the other teams’ best players; 2. They’ve finally found an identity; and 3. The other teams are just plain bad.
One of those other teams, the St. Louis Blues, had a chance to supplant the Ducks in seventh place last night, but couldn't get it done against Chicago. They play again tonight in Detroit, so we'll be keeping an eye on that one just before the Ducks and Canucks drop the puck.
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Have you ever decided to skip your workout and instead go to a hockey game, and you down four beers, a pretzel and a plate of nachos and you're feeling a little guilty about it? Well, there's always this option if you're looking to immediately work off those calories. (I think the four beers has more to do with this than the nachos.)
Updated April 1 at 12:47 p.m.
If you had told me yesterday afternoon that the Ducks would take down the Oilers, 5-3, I would have been elated.
And if you had told me with four or five minutes left in the third period, the Ducks cruising into harbor with a three-goal cushion, that they would barely hang on after two lightning-quick Edmonton goals, a failed stick measurement and a Rob Niedermayer empty-netter, I would have thought April Fool's Day (worst "holiday" ever) struck a little early.
But that's exactly what happened last night as the Ducks backpedaled into a gargantuan victory in Edmonton, surviving a final few minutes that proved much more exciting and gut-wrenching than they originally looked to be. That's because Edmonton got two goals in a span of 1:16 from Denis Grebeshkov and Zack Stortini (the last with an extra attacker after a pulled goalie) to slink to within a goal of the Ducks.
And it was immediately after that second goal that something clicked in Oilers coach Craig MacTavish's head and he made a move he would later regret. He asked officials for a measurement of the width of Teemu Selanne's stick blade, and if it had been deemed too wide under NHL regulations, it would have resulted in an Anaheim penalty. Selanne himself claimed he was confident the measurement would find nothing illegal.“It’s borderline, but I knew it was going to be good,” Selanne said. “It looks pretty wide. It’s right at the edge.”
But Bobby Ryan was asked later if he was nervous during the few minutes officials took to check it out. "Uh, yeah, because have you seen that paddle?" Ryan said. "I was like, 'Oh, here we go.' "
Fans watching the game on TV could only see Selanne skate toward the Anaheim bench with a slight smile on his face, but we were left to wonder whether that was a sheepishly guilty grin or a satisfied one. And we soon found out it was the latter when the referee announced the stick was indeed legal and the Oilers would take a delay of game penalty for MacTavish's gamble. With that, all the momentum the Oilers had built with those two goals was blown to smithereens. And viewers were then treated to the Craig MacTavish Face, which looked a lot like this photo.
"You've got to be sure in a situation like that. We had what we thought was some reliable information," said MacTavish, sounding more like a police detective than an NHL coach. "On a visual, it didn't even look close to me. I was so sure that I made the call and it was obviously a terrible mistake. You have to be sure and I thought I had enough information so it's a terrible feeling."
And if you think MacTavish is being too hard on himself, that's nothing compared to the basting he's getting from the Edmonton message boarders, who are using words like "idiot," "moron," and "fired." (Yikes, guys.)
If you think the Ducks players were nervous during that measurement, how 'bout what the equipment guys were probably going through during those few minutes, since they're in charge of making sure all sticks are within the legal limits. Said Randy Carlyle, “Teemu is right on the edge. We make sure. That’s part of our trainers’ responsibility that he plays with a legal stick. It looks wide. Some of them appear wider than the others, but they’ve been shaved and sanded down to conform to the rules.”
Maybe it's just me, but I thought MacTavish made another mistake by selecting Dustin Penner to serve the penalty, a guy who might have helped create some traffic in front of the net as Edmonton made a last-ditch effort to tie it with Dwayne Roloson again sent to the bench. But instead, Empty-Nettermayer found the puck on his stick after a nice chip up the wall by Todd Marchant and tossed it into the unoccupied cage to finally put the game away. The setup by Marchant was just another in a long line of heroic plays he made in the game -- and frankly, over the last several months. That included a Sheldon Souray rocket during a 4-on-3 power play with a few minutes left in the second that nailed Marchant square in the chest (1:50 mark of this video) and clearly hurt him badly. But after a huge Jonas Hiller save, Marchant got his breath back enough to sweep the puck out of the zone. And he was still clearly struggling when he got back to the bench, but still didn't miss a shift.
Honestly, how can you not absolutely love that guy?
Marchant also helped the Ducks endure in a third period in which they played unfortunately on their heels pretty much the entire period. They only got two shots off in the 20 minutes, the first not coming until Drew Miller put one on net 17:05 into the period and the second one the capper from Niedermayer.
But they managed to survive, and jumped into the seventh spot in the Western Conference with the victory, their seventh in the last eight games. (They also got some help when Nashville and Minnesota lost last night.) Meanwhile, the Ducks are an inspiring 5-0-1 in their last six on the road, games they've desperately needed down this stretch. That's the kind of stuff that playoff teams are made of.
And there was so much to like about last night's game, in addition to where it put the Ducks in the race. How about Sheldon Brookbank's first career goal (in his 86th NHL game) that tied it 1-1 in the first? (A goal that, by the way, may have sent the message early to Dwayne Roloson: Hey, Rolie, remember those 51 saves? It's not happening this time.) And how about the first fight of Bobby Ryan's career (48-second mark of this video) in which he held his own against Steve Staios? And how about Ryan getting cut by a high stick yet again (just like last Friday against Edmonton), with the Ducks this time converting on the ensuing power play with a Chris Pronger slapper that made it 3-1?
And how about Rob Niedermayer's mammoth goal in the closing minutes of the second off a feed from his brother (also a pretty good player), that drastically turned the game in Anaheim's favor? And how about Hiller turning in another fantastic effort that was only slightly sullied by those late goals? (By the way, anyone else notice that whenever Hiller gets scored on, which is rare lately, he tilts his head back in frustration as if to say, "Oh, you've gotta be kidding me"? Always kills me.)
All of it was overshadowed by something as kooky as a late-game stick measurement, a move similar to one Sharks coach Ron Wilson pulled on Selanne in a Ducks-San Jose game in April of 2007 that actually worked. Wilson had been tipped off that Selanne's blade might be iffy because Selanne had previously sent his old coach an autographed stick that looked to be a little too wide. Not surprisingly, Selanne wasn't too pleased at the time, but last night he jokingly said, "We won the Stanley Cup that year, so he’s still a buddy of mine."
“Maybe," Selanne said, "I should sign a stick for him.”