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(All times Pacific unless otherwise noted.)
Updated February 26 at 2:48 p.m.
If you didn't already know it after the Canada win on Sunday, this just in: USA is a heck of a hockey team.
The Americans just polished off a 6-1 victory in the first semifinal against Finland, scoring all six of those goals in a jaw-dropping first 13 minutes. That pretty much ensures what promises to be a heck of a game Sunday, a USA-Canada rematch for the gold medal. (That is unless you really think Canada will fall to Slovakia in the second semi tonight at 6:30. Yeah, not gonna happen.)
On the NBC broadcast, Doc Emrick's words after the final horn were, "There was no anesthetic. This was surgical."
If you missed it, here are the six USA goals in 60 seconds (it's a heck of a lot of "scores!" followed by a long horn).
And he looks just fine in this very cool photo snapped after the game, a Ducks legend with a potential future Ducks legend -- both in different uniforms. (By the way, announcers on both the NBC and CTV telecasts mistakenly said Teemu was playing likely his last game for Team Finland, forgetting that the Finns will play in the bronze medal game tomorrow.)
Speaking of BR, he had a post in his Olympic blog after the win over the Swiss in which he wrote, I think I’ve had about enough of seeing Jonas [Hiller] as an opponent. He was so good against us on Wednesday and almost got us off our game. It was getting frustrating on the bench, which Jonas can do to a team sometimes.
Hiller, by the way, just flew into Orange County today and will get some well-deserved time off before re-joining the Ducks for practice on Sunday. It's too bad Hiller's team was denied a chance at a medal in that quarterfinal loss to the U.S., but from a Ducks fan's perspective, that's just fine. Considering how much the kid has worked in the last couple of weeks, it's nice that he's finally getting some time off.
Back to the Ryan blog, he tells this story: The night before the Canada game, we had a team meal at a local Italian restaurant. As we were leaving, all the fans actually applauded us, but then they broke out into a chorus of “Oh Canada,” singing it right at us. … We didn’t really know what to do. But the next night after we beat Canada, we went back to the same place, and nobody said a word. It was stunned silence.
Could that happen again this Sunday? Frankly, I can hardly wait to find out.
Speaking of Canada, the latest episode of The Element is entirely dedicated to a road trip to Alberta to watch the Ducks play at Calgary and Edmonton. Meanwhile, the latest Power Players blog, written by Amanda, documents the topsy-turvy trip a few of them took up there.
Updated February 24 at 4:19 p.m.
I didn't get to see much of the USA-Switzerland game (just the last few minutes) because I'm at the NHL Club Business Meetings in Chicago. (Yes, that's right, meetings about hockey made me miss a hockey game.) But I will say that having the Americans beat the Swiss 2-0 while Jonas Hiller only gave up just one goal and had 42 saves -- well, I'll take that every time.
Looks like we've got a goalie coming home from Vancouver knowing he's one of the best in the world at his position. And that's a pretty good thing for the Ducks.
Updated February 22 at 2:58 p.m.
A week ago, sure, it didn't look like Team USA had much of a chance against mighty Canada. But so much can change in just a few precious days of an Olympic tournament. With the way Canada barely got by Switzerland -- a team the U.S. beat 3-1 two days prior -- and the way the Americans cruised in their second game (against Norway) it certainly appeared that beating Canada was well within American means.
So when Brian Rafalski put the U.S. on top just 41 seconds in, it wasn't that surprising. Nor was it when they went on top by two goals in the third and finally polished off a 5-3 victory. A huge win? Certainly. A "Miracle"? Hardly.
Sure, it was probably the biggest win by a U.S. hockey team since beating the Russians in the 1980 Olympic semifinal game (which happened to have occurred 30 years ago today) and going on to win the gold medal. And this one was a major step in the right direction of going for that gold again, but Team USA was all about keeping it in perspective. And no one more so than the 22-year-old kid playing in his first Olympics.
"It's just a game, it really is," said Bobby Ryan, who had an assist on the Chris Drury goal in the second period. "It gets us a bye. It gets us a couple days of rest, a couple of days of practice together, but other than that, I don't think people should read too much into it. We could see these guys again and it could be for a medal."
Yet, he acknowledged it's a sign this U.S. team is much better than people might have thought. “You saw guys do the dirty, gritty things it takes to win a game like this," Ryan said. "For that to happen after we’ve been together for three games is pretty remarkable.”
Remember when I said I was surprised at how passionately I found myself rooting for Switzerland against Canada? When Rafalski got that first goal early in the game, and when Ryan Kesler dove and slapped in that incredible empty-netter to seal it, I was surprised at how I wasn't more elated.
That play, which provided a huge sigh of relief for a U.S. team that looked in danger of giving up the tying goal, was the ultimate in guilty satisfaction as a Ducks fan. After all, it was Perry that Kesler beat to the puck to will it into the empty cage. And no photo from last night better represents the struggle of an American Ducks fan being torn watching that game than this one here.
There was one point in the game, however, I couldn't help but be pro-Canadian. At the end of the second period, Team USA and Kings defenseman Jack Johnson was about to take a shot on net from the wing, but pulled up when he heard the horn.
How about as a Ducks fan having to root for Brian Rafalski, a dreaded Red Wing who somehow has four goals in the last two games, while scoring only four in 57 games this season?
But while Rafalski's surprising offensive output was a spark, the undisputed MVP of that one last night was Ryan Miller. The Buffalo goalie (and brother of former Duck Drew Miller) was credited with 42 saves, though it seemed like he had at least that many in the third period alone. Heck, maybe that many in the feverish last three minutes, which Miller called, "some of the most intense I've ever played in."
That was partly due to a raucous crowd that made Canada Hockey Place a veritable red sea. A co-worker who was in Vancouver all last week told me it's been so crazy over there that "It's as if everyone in Canada came to Vancouver ... and all bought red Team Canada jerseys." And he was talking about walking down the street, not being at that game.
In his latest blog entry for the L.A. Times site, Ryan wrote: It was a pretty quiet building at the end; it was almost eerie.
American Ryan Kesler said of the impact of the U.S. victory, "Maybe there will be a little less yelling on the streets. I was walking around last night and it got a little scary. I had to put my wife under my wing and get out of there."
By the way, Kesler PLAYS FOR THE VANCOUVER CANUCKS.
So yeah, huge game and huge win for the Americans, but leave it to Team USA Brian Burke to put things in perspective. "Our goaltender stole us the game,'' Burke said today while watching the U.S. women's semifinal game against Sweden. "They out-chanced us 2-1. Except for the goaltender position, we did not deserve it. But that's why we brought him. That's not going to work in the next round. We know it.''
And there was more: "I'm not happy with the way we played. If that's how we play, we're going to have a hard time getting where we want to be. We have 10 guys carrying us. Everything gets ratcheted up now. We've got to ratchet it up. They don't give medals for finishing first in the preliminary round.''
That's for sure, but there is no denying the Americans have as good a chance to win the gold as anyone. And after watching that game, we can only hope they have to play the Canadians one more time to do it. And you can bet all of Canada is feeling exactly the same way.
Updated February 19 at 10:41 a.m.
With three Ducks on their roster, by all means I should have been pulling for Team Canada last night. But with Jonas Hiller in net for a Team Switzerland team that was a decided underdog (just two current NHLers on their roster), I was rooting hard for the upset.
And I mean hard.
I haven't cared that much about a non-Ducks hockey game in quite some time, but there I was rooting for guys I'd never heard of before like Hnat Domenichelli, Romano Lemm and Mathias Seger.
But mostly I was rooting for Jonas Hiller.
And the kid didn't disappoint, saving 44 of 46 Canada shots, but none more impressive than the double-Ducks-denial that came with about 7 1/2 minutes left in the third period. With the game knotted 2-2 and Canada seemingly assured of breaking the tie, Hiller made a lunging stick save on Corey Perry near the post and seconds later robbed Ryan Getzlaf with flash of the leather. Hiller actually caught that puck slightly behind his body then held that orange and black glove high in the air, something Ducks fans have enjoyed countless times.
Right after those saves, I shouted an expletive that starts with the word "Holy" and found myself clapping loudly -- only to realize I was home alone. And then the texts from fellow staffers started coming in:
Are you watching this game?
Go Hiller Go!
That was sick! Love Hiller.
Hiller deserves a win.
Indeed he did, especially after stopping all 18 Canada shots in the third while his Swiss mates only got of three of their own. And let's not forget Ducks prospect Luca Sbisa, who looked phenomenal as part of a workhorse defensive effort by the Swiss.
That included a tense two minutes late in regulation, where a Swiss penalty gave Canada a power play in which they sent over the boards Getzlaf, Perry, Sidney Crosby, Scott Niedermayer and Shea Weber. It was slightly awkward rooting against some beloved Ducks during those moments, and again in the shootout when Getzlaf had a chance to win it in the third round.
But Hiller, who has been so good in shootouts for the Ducks, stoned Getzlaf, just like he had with Crosby and Jonathan Toews in those first three rounds. Yet it all came to a crushing end when Crosby went again in the fourth round (Olympic rules allow repeat shooters after the third round) and slipped a puck past Hiller for the first time since 35 seconds into the second period. And when Martin Brodeur made a pretty stop on Martin Pluss at the other end of the rink, the upset bid was officially denied.
Minutes later when the relieved Canadians and the disheartened Swiss shook hands, and the Team Canada players held their sticks aloft to salute the home crowd -- well, let's just say it got a little dusty in my living room.
Afterward, Hiller was a mix of disappointment and satisfaction at what he and his team had done. And as if he didn't already do enough, he conducted postgame interviews in English, French and German. "I could have stopped one more shootout shot or one more puck during regulation and we would have won," he said. "It's a tough one to lose. I sure wish we would have won. I think it will take some time to realize what we did out there." (By the way, it was four years to the day when former Duck goalie Martin Gerber led the Swiss to an upset of Canada in Torino
What they did was put a serious scare into a team that has an entire country expecting nothing short of a gold medal. And that makes Sunday's Canada-USA game even more intriguing than it already was. The USA, once thought to be a decided underdog in that game, now look to have a very good chance of knocking off Team Canada. The Americans opened with a 3-1 win over Switzerland on Tuesday and trounced Norway 6-1 yesterday afternoon.
And come Sunday, watching Bobby Ryan, Ryan Whitney and those red, white and blue sweaters, I won't need instinct to know who I'm rooting for.
Hiller has a new entry in his Olympic blog this morning. Meanwhile, Bobby Ryan is writing a blog for the L.A. Times website and Ryan Whitney is doing one on the O.C. Register site.
Also, longtime Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan writes about his (almost) namesake Bobby Ryan in today's edition. It's a very good story in which Ryan touches on the story of how Bobby Stevenson became Bobby Ryan. (Somehow I didn't know Ryan was his mother's maiden name. How did I miss that?).
Ryan, while noting the number of Bob Ryans out there, admits he forgot to ask Bobby why he doesn't go by "Bob." I actually call him Bob once in awhile, though I'm not sure why.
Updated February 16 at 2:48 p.m.
On one hand, I'm an American and a Bobby Ryan fan, so typically I'd want Team USA to win the game on the strength of eight Bobby Ryan goals. On the other hand, I'm also a Jonas Hiller fan. So ideally in this one, I would have liked Team USA to win 1-0 on a Bobby Ryan goal despite 48 Jonas Hiller saves.
As it was, that 1-0 score was the case after one period, when Ryan (playing on the fourth line) scored on a wicked wrist shot from the slot to beat Hiller high glove. David Backes and Ryan Malone had second-period goals to help USA to a 3-1 victory in which Hiller certainly held his own for a Swiss team that only has one other current NHLer in Mark Streit of the Islanders. (Ducks prospect Luca Sbisa, who has had some NHL experience this year and last, I thought looked strong on the defensive end.)
Speaking of awkward, prior to the game both Ryan and Ryan Whitney (do we dare called them "Bobby and Whitney"?) said they would share Hiller's tendencies with their USA teammates. (By the way, there are seven guys on Team USA with either the first name or last name Ryan.) And ironically enough, it was Ryan (that's Bobby) who first took advantage of that knowledge. "I like to think I have the upper hand," Ryan told reporters about his work against Hiller in practices. "He and I try to have battles out there. We go back and forth quite a bit. I know his weaknesses, but he knows that I know them."
Said Whitney, "Everyone was saying he's the guy that you've got to worry about. He's a guy who can steal a game even if you get 50 shots on him. There's ways to beat him."
The allegiances of Ducks fans will be split again in two days when Hiller has to go against Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Scott Niedermayer and the rest of Team Canada (4:30 p.m. on Thursday).
Whitney had an interesting take yesterday about how odd it feels suddenly seeing your teammates as the enemy. "It's a little weird," he said. "Obviously it's a totally different setting and just a kind of different animal. Even this morning I just saw Perry and Getzlaf sitting with a couple of Canada guys. You just say hi quickly. It's just different. Just last night you were hanging out with them playing a game. So it's really different and I think it will take a little bit of just getting used to."
Ryan Getzlaf sounded rather chipper when he talked to the media about his not-so-injured left ankle and the official announcement that he would remain on the roster.
"It's excellent," Getzlaf said. "I'm the happiest guy here, that's for sure."
He commented on balancing his commitment to the Ducks with playing in the Olympics by saying, "I definitely had to put those guys in the room ahead of my own priorities, as well as my organization. My team has invested a lot of money and time into me, and I've got to make sure I'm ready for the whole season, not just these two weeks. We were comfortable with that. We went through it with the training staff over and over again and it worked out the way we wanted it."
Getzlaf will likely center a line with Corey Perry and Eric Staal of Carolina.
And on a personal note, I'm just noticing how the Winter Olympics can toy with your masculinity. At one moment you're watching USA-Switzerland in ice hockey. Then you happen to leave the TV on when it's over, and the next thing you know you're watching pairs figure skating, as people walk by your office with a raised eyebrow.
Canada-Norway drops the puck in less than two hours.
Updated February 15 at 4:24 p.m.
That's pretty much the message that number 15 sent last night at Edmonton, with the eyes of an entire country on him to see how he'd respond in his first game back from an ankle sprain, the last game before the Olympics. And Getzlaf was pretty definitive with his four points (two third-period goals and two solo assists) in helping the Ducks to a 7-3 rout of the Edmonton Oilers.
He did it in front of an Edmonton crowd that was torn between rooting for their Oilers and hoping one of Team Canada's biggest potential contributors looked okay. (That crowd also included more than a few Ducks supporters -- fans that traveled on the Ducks Road Crew and a half dozen Power Players who made the pleasure trip on their own.) Just as importantly, one of the seats was filled by Doug Armstrong, assistant general manager for Team Canada, who was their to check out Getzlaf in person and report back to executive director Steve Yzerman.
“Certainly we wanted to see how he performed tonight, and obviously he had two goals and two assists,” Armstrong told the O.C. Register. “But more importantly, he played a regular shift. He played in all the situations that he would normally play in. I think that was a big thing for him and a big thing for Steve Yzerman to see if he can be able to do that. Now what we’ll do is he’ll come to Vancouver and meet with our medical staff and Steve. The final decision will be made. We’ll see how his ankle is here in a couple of hours.”
This morning that decision was made, as the final roster Yzerman submitted was the same one he put together in December. That meant Getzlaf was officially in and Jeff Carter -- who was contacted as a possible replacement -- got some disappointing news. "His situation, it's a tough one and so is mine," Getzlaf told reporters. "We're good friends and I'm sure it'll be perfectly fine no matter how it turns out."
Yeah. For you.
Most importantly for the Ducks, Getzlaf's impact helped them pick up a much-needed win that drew them to within two points of the eighth spot before the break. Getzlaf's first goal was the eventual game-winner, as he punched in a rebound after Teemu Selanne was robbed by Edmonton goalie Jeff Deslauriers.
The second goal was an absolute thing of beauty -- or just Ryan Getzlaf being Ryan Getzlaf. He took in a pass from Scott Niedermayer that was slightly behind him, redirecting it between his own legs before whipping a lightning-quick wrist shot off the inside of the post. "This guy," said analyst Gene Principe on the telecast, "is making a statement tonight."
Getzlaf admitted after the game he didn't treat the ankle very well right off the bat. “I tweaked it right on my first shift which was not exactly the way I wanted to start the game,” he said. “But it was a good sign that I was able to walk it off a little bit and I was fine after that. It proves that I can tweak it a little bit and still be able to perform.”
That performance prompted some gushing from a guy who doesn't usually gush. “There’s a reason he was selected to Team Canada,” Randy Carlyle said. “He just went out and proved that he’s quite capable of going and playing to a high level. He’s to be commended. To think that he would play in this game after an injury -- and I’m sure everybody in Canada saw it numerous times -- it’s just amazing.”
The Oilers did have a cool ceremony before the game by honoring the Olympians from both teams, as they stood behind kids wearing their country's jersey. Something about this obviously struck Getzlaf and Corey Perry as hilarious.
So, clearly Getzlaf was in a good mood that only got better as the game went on. And what a way for the Ducks to go into this break, where we'll have to wait a couple weeks before we can resume hoping for more games like that one last night.
Updated February 12 at 1:44 p.m.
The noon (Pacific) deadline for teams to make roster moves before the Olympic break trade freeze came and went with the Ducks not budging. Teams now can't make any moves before the Olympics end February 28, then will have three days to wheel and deal before the March 3 deadline.
A couple of teams made some last-minute moves, including Chicago trading defenseman Cam Barker for defenseman Kim Johnsson and and the rights to 2009 first-round pick Nick Leddy. The Senators picked up center Matt Cullen in exchange for defenseman Alex Picard and a second-round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
Meanwhile, two players significant to the Ducks were put on waivers today -- Jonathan Cheechoo of the Senators (who used to kill the Ducks) and Brad May of the Red Wings (who used to be a Duck). May is just the victim of a roster shift for cap room because d-man Andreas Lilja is coming back from injury. But the Cheechoo waiving is jarring when you consider the fact he won the Rocket Richard Trophy just four seasons ago when he potted 56 for San Jose (including three hat tricks against the Ducks alone). But Cheechoo has been hampered by injuries and has declined the last few seasons. He was sent to Ottawa with Milan Michalek in the Dany Heatley deal over the summer, and while Michalek is leading the Sens in goals with 20, Cheechoo has just five goals in 61 games and is -13.
Back to the Ducks, who left first thing this morning for Calgary for a game tomorrow night in which they could conceivably hop into the eighth spot in the Western Conference with a victory. Although, a lot has to fall into place for that to happen. First, the Ducks would have to win in regulation. And meanwhile, the Stars and Red Wings (who both play before the Ducks tomorrow evening) would both have to lose. Even still, it's an intriguing possibility (even in February) for a Ducks team that was 12 points from the eighth spot five weeks ago.
And just as intriguing: Ryan Getzlaf continues to progress nicely from that ankle sprain and is actually on the ice with the Ducks in Calgary as we speak. No word yet on whether he's playing tomorrow night or Sunday against Edmonton.
Unfortunately, neither of those two games will be televised here locally, since television trucks and crews are sparse because they have all left for Vancouver for the Olympics. Both games will be available on Center Ice or GameCenter Live, however.
- - -
Jeff Miller of the O.C. Register has a good story about observing yesterday's First Flight Field Trip from the Ducks bench (which, I have to admit, was a pretty cool spot).
Reader Bret has informed me that he is among a group of three Ducks fans who are taking a road trip from Orange County to Vancouver for the Olympics and are documenting their trip on a travel blog called The Jetpacker. They're starting their trip by driving up to San Francisco today, where they will stay for a few days before heading north through Eugene, Seattle and finally Vancouver. There is a little background about the group and the trip on the OC Register website and you can follow along with them during the Olympics on The Jetpacker (www.thejetpacker.com).
Updated February 11 at 4:46 p.m.
I shot some video from the Ducks bench of the entertaining Breakaway Challenge during the skills competition portion of today's First Flight Field Trip at Honda Center. You'll see on the video that the event ended in fairly dramatic fashion.
Updated February 11 at 11:32 a.m.
The prevailing sentiment coming out of the Anaheim's 3-2 victory over the Oilers last night at Honda Center was this: The Ducks did exactly enough to win.
By their own admission, the Ducks weren't their sharpest in just getting by the last-place Oilers, who have now won just three times in the last 27 games (including 11 straight on the road, a record for them as well). "It's all about getting points," Randy Carlyle said. "It doesn't matter how you get them. Every game isn't the picture of beauty and tonight wasn't one of those beautiful games where you're going to keep the tape and file it. But we won the hockey game and that's the most important thing."
Indeed it is, and the fact that it was a team-record 11th straight win at Honda Center makes it even harder to face the fact the Ducks won't play in that building for three weeks. Nevertheless, they should go into this Olympic break (after two weekends games in Western Canada) in a nice position in this playoff race. Last night's victory pulled the Ducks to within two points of eighth place in the West, the closest the Ducks have been to that spot in I-don't-know-how-long. Put it this way: On the morning of January 7, the Ducks were in 13th place, 12 points back of the last playoff spot. Since then, they've gone 12-5-0.
A great second half team? It would appear so. Dominating at home? Remember last year when the Ducks struggled at Honda Center, posting a middling 20-18-3 record? Yeah, I don't remember that either.
And it's funny, but the way things have been going for the Ducks at home the last two months, was there any doubt in your mind they were going to pull that game out? (My dad said it best on the phone after the game: "Even when we were down 2-1, I was just never worried.")
But the Ducks did have to overcome a bit of sloppiness. Bobby Ryan goals in the first and second periods were offset by two shorthanded tallies by the Oilers, emblematic of a Ducks power play that had trouble getting it going last night. That was partly because they were without one of their quarterbacks on that power play, as 15 missed his first game with that sprained ankle. (By the way, he was actually on the ice for a little bit during a practice this morning.)
The Ducks did actually get one goal on the man advantage, though it was more of an odd-man rush goal than a power play goal. That was Ryan's deadly snipe from the wing, which came at a great time -- just more than a minute after Ethan Moreau's shorty.
But it wasn't until Todd Marchant's nifty tip redirect 8:21 into the third that the Ducks went on top again, and they put the clamps down the rest of the way with the help of a few of Jonas Hiller's 37 stops. Meanwhile, the Anaheim penalty kill did some serious bailing out, killing off four power plays (three that produced free Del Taco tacos in the second). That last came in the final few minutes of the game after a Petteri Nokelainen tripping call, when the Oilers briefly had a 6 on 4 after pulling goalie Jeff Deslauriers.
"The penalty killing came up big tonight, especially late in the game there," Marchant said. "But we know we have to be better. We’ll take the win. We need the points and just have to keep moving up."
They'll have a prime opportunity to do that this weekend in their final two before the break. Saturday is at Calgary, the team holding that eight spot, who has an opportunity to increase its lead tonight at home against Dallas. And Sunday is at Edmonton against these same Oilers before eight of the Ducks go off to play for their countries and the others get some rest.
For now, however, the Ducks are performing in front of what is likely the screamingest (is that a word?) crowd they'll see all year. Today is the annual First Flight Field Trip, where 15,000 third-through-sixth-graders invade Honda Center and watch the Ducks take part in an interactive practice and skills competition. We'll have more on that later today.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I thought I would share some pictures of our good friends who got engaged in section 415 last night.
Their names are Brian and Lilly. Brian had been planning this for months and last night was the culmination of those plans. Right as the 2nd period came to an end, one of her friends kindly asked if Lilly would go with her to get some popcorn. As soon as she left the plan was quickly set in motion.
A group of about 14 of us who were all scattered around the arena quickly converged on section 415 before she returned. As she returned to her seat, she was quite surprised to see all of us there but didn’t think too much of it. As soon as she settled into her seat, Brian handed her a Ducks Team Store bag. As she began to open it, he got on one knee as she read the back of the Ducks jersey that read – WILL YOU MARRY ME?
Luckily she said yes! And it got a nice ovation from everyone surrounding us. Oh, and big props to the guy manning the spotlight closest to the press box (left side) who heard us and put the spotlight on us.
Everything went perfectly, and it was a even better when Ducks closed the night with a victory. Of course, no story is complete without accompanying YouTube video.
Very cool. And I love this video. Love the fact that a box of licorice plays such a prominent role in it. Love the fact that Brian appears to be inspired by the Timmy Marchant piece for The Element that you can clearly hear playing on the video board in the background. Love the fact that the Tom-Cruise-lookalike dad sitting in the row in front of them appears to be shielding his son from being shot on home video before realizing what's going on. Love it all.
Updated February 9 at 1:38 p.m.
Gotta say, that one felt pretty good last night.
It's always gratifying beating the Kings, sure, but that one felt just a little juicier -- and for a number of reasons.
For one, it brought L.A.'s gaudy nine-game winning streak to a screeching halt. It also marked the first Ducks win over the Kings this season, with the bitter taste of last Thursday's defeat at Staples Center still lingering entering last night. It kept the Ducks that-much-closer in the playoff race, with the seventh spot now just four points away. It gave the Ducks a pretty impressive 10th straight win at Honda Center, tying a franchise record. Also, it came against the Kings (maybe I mentioned that).
Getzlaf left the game and didn't return. X-rays were negative but he left the arena in a walking boot. (Let's just say the postgame spring in my step got a lot less springy when I passed him in the hall as he headed out, a noticeable grimace on his face.)
Getzlaf, however, was somewhat optimistic when he talked to reporters this morning prior to getting an MRI.
"I feel a lot better actually," Getzlaf said. "Last night was pretty ugly at times and painful. The swelling reacted perfectly. There is not much swelling in it. I am going to get an MRI right now and we’ll see how it goes from there.
"With the way the play went and the way it felt, it was definitely a scary time. Last night was tough for me. This morning, it looked really positive. My meetings with our trainers so far have gone really well. I’m crossing my fingers going to get the MRI this afternoon."
Yeah, you're not the only one. There might be some toes crossed right now -- all the way from Orange County to the Great White North, where Getzlaf's availability for Team Canada is also riding on how the ankle responds.
Getzlaf, of course, is likely to play on a line with Corey Perry on that team (trust me, I'm going somewhere with this), and if there was ever a time those two put their chemistry on display, it was on that Getzlaf goal. Perry made it happen by beating two Kings to the puck behind the net, and then dropped a pass to Getzlaf as if he just knew he'd be there. From there, all Getzlaf had to do was bang it past a somewhat caught-off-guard Quick.
That was just part of a tremendous night for Perry, who did it both with and without Getzlaf out there with him. He set up Anaheim's first goal in the first, picking up a loose puck and firing a shot that was blocked in front, but Selanne was able to lift it just inside the far post. It was a big goal because to that point Quick was quite stingy -- -- including on that very play (Johnny Ahlers' call: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try, try again.").
Perry's goal late in the second was a monster one as well, giving the Ducks a little more comfort with a two-goal lead they took into the intermission and held for the final 20. Not to mention, it came 24 seconds after Anze Kopitar brought the Kings to within a goal. And he did it pretty much all himself, snaking into the offensive zone and then slinging a sick wrist shot from a tough angle that somehow fit into the inches-wide gap between Quick's leg pad and the far post. Let's also not forget that some thought the Perry goal that was waved off for goalie interference should have been allowed.
Perry's workmanlike effort the entire evening was emblematic of the entire Ducks team that clearly showed how crucial that game was. That includes Jonas Hiller, who sparkled yet again, notably in a third period in which the Kings peppered him with 18 shots and he allowed none to get by him.
"I think," Scott Niedermayer said, "we were tired of losing to them."
And it showed.
Known for his gaudy attire (in addition to his Ducks gear) on the show, Erdman topped himself last night with this phenomenal suit. And giving Wild Wing a quick golf lesson at the end? A nice touch.
Click here to watch the entire episode.
Updated February 8 at 2:54 p.m.
Right about now, it doesn't get much bigger than this one tonight.
It's the Kings here at Honda Center, a team the Ducks haven't beaten yet in three tries, a team the Ducks suffered a heartbreaking loss to at their place four nights ago. But more than that, it's a critical time for Anaheim, which came out of a rare game-free weekend five points back of Nashville's eighth spot with 24 games to go.
Ironically, the Kings gave the Ducks a little help by ensuring that Detroit didn't also reach Nashville's 66-point plateau by making a comeback from down 3-0 to knock off the Red Wings on Saturday afternoon. That was the Kings' ninth straight victory, a streak that really needs to come to an end tonight. The Ducks, meanwhile, have won nine in a row at home, not having lost at Honda Center in more than two months.
None of those games, however, have been more crucial than this one. "We were able to battle back last game and show we can play with that team," Ryan Getzlaf said after the skate this morning. "We need to take that confidence into tonight's first period.
"We're coming down to crunch time now."
Man, do I want this one. Badly.
Goalie Vesa Toskala, picked up with Jason Blake in the J.S. Giguere trade with Toronto, finally arrived in Anaheim after getting through the immigration process and obtaining a work visa. Toskala practiced with the team Sunday, donning his Toronto mask with a Ducks practice jersey. When asked when he would get a new mask, Toskala told reporters, "Hopefully soon, so I can wash that blue and white out of my gear.”
Toskala had his struggles in Toronto, but certainly wasn't the only one. “As a team in Toronto, we weren’t very good in front of him … the defense and the forwards just didn’t get the job done," Blake told the O.C. Register. "There were so many nights when we left him and our other goaltender out to dry.”
It wasn't enough for Toskala to lose confidence in himself. “I don’t think I’m a backup goalie,” he said. “I obviously want to play a lot, and I know how good I can play. But like I said earlier, there are lots of things you can’t control in this league. I just do whatever I have to do here to help the team make the playoffs. I’m not going to complain or anything. If it’s my call, I would play every game because I love to play. When I play a lot, I play my best.”
Toskala will be wearing 36, by the way.
You might remember Brendan was the subject of a fantastic ESPN.com story that centered around him revealing to his family and others that he was a homosexual. The author of that piece, John Buccigross, offered these thoughts on Brendan for the Toronto Star:
A select few people on this earth illuminate. They shine from an energy deep within their cores. Brendan Burke was one of those people. You liked him 10 seconds after you met him. His wasn't a flamboyant or self-serving gallop. He was there for you. He connected quickly because he had a genuine like and interest in you. And he had that youthful energy that he used to float through life. I imagine he would have had that bounce until every hair on his head was grey and brittle. He was a modern man with an old-school heart.
Several members of the Ducks organization are headed to the Boston area for Tuesday's memorial service, and there will be a moment of silence before tonight's game.
Updated February 5 at 2:24 p.m.
The question is, does it hurt more to take a 4-0 loss to the Kings (as occurred three weeks ago), or to come all the way back from a three-goal deficit in the third and lose anyway (as happened last night)?
The answer: They both stink.
But that one last night was certainly tough to take after the Ducks found new life in that third period and fought to tie the game 4-4 on goals by Troy Bodie, Matt Beleskey and Ryan Carter. But last night's game -- the second of a back-to-back -- seemed to be all about energy for the Ducks. They came out flying in the first, slowed down in the second, found another gear in the third, but seemingly ran out of gas after scrapping to tie it.
"Fundamentally we made a couple mistakes that gave them an opportunity to attack in the neutral ice for their fifth," Randy Carlyle told reporters. "That's a sign of a tired group. We played a lot of hockey in the last little while. We came off a 13-day road trip. We played last night against Detroit. To me, it was mental tiredness more than physical tiredness, and we made some mistakes."
Indeed they did, which led to that three-goal deficit in the first place. But give it to the Ducks for not giving up and scoring three times in 6:24 to tie it. Unfortunately, they couldn't manage anything more, and instead gave up a go-ahead goal and insurance to the Kings, who haven't lost yet this season when leading after two periods.
If you believe in momentum, how about this? Less than four minutes after Ryan Carter scored the tying goal, Ryan Getzlaf put a big hit on Matt Greene that sent a pane of glass tumbling into the crowd. There was a pretty significant delay as they replaced the glass, and one minute after they finally resumed play, Dustin Brown got the eventual game-winner at 14:28.
Either way, it was a gut-twisting loss to what admitedly is a very good Kings team, a team that Ducks fans are going to have to begrudgingly root for (I'm sorry to say) tomorrow afternoon. That's because the Ducks have one of those rare weekends where they don't play a single game (not resuming until Monday night against the Kings at Honda Center). Meanwhile, the Kings face the Red Wings at Staples Center tomorrow at 1:00, with Detroit three points ahead of the Ducks in the ninth spot. Calgary, who like Detroit has 64 points, is in the eighth spot and plays tonight at Florida and tomorrow at Tampa.
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Slight delay from our hockey operations guys on further explaining the Dan Sexton reassignment, so look for that this weekend.
Updated February 4 at 2:57 p.m.
When your team wins a game it desperately has to have, it's pretty satisfying. When said game is against a team like the Detroit Red Wings, it's really satisfying. And when that win is spearheaded by another brilliant performance by the goalie who just got a brand new contract, that's off the charts.
There was a sign held up by fans at Honda Center last night that simply said:
HILLER THE NO. 1 RED WINGS KILLER
It's a label the Swiss kid earned in last year's seven-game playoff series against Detroit, and he's maintained it in the last two home wins against Anaheim's bitter rivals in the last month. Last night he was near-flawless in denying 46 of 47 Red Wings shots (a season high for saves) and making a few huge stops on Detroit power plays.
None was more impressive than this one on a Pavel Datsyuk breakaway, in which Hiller snatched a Datsyuk wrist shot out of the air with the glove, went into the splits and then sat there for five seconds like he was on his couch watching golf on a Sunday afternoon.
All the while, a huge roar rained down on him from an appreciative crowd who now know we'll be seeing stops like that for years to come. Datsyuk did eventually break through with a goal (Detroit's only one) on a very similar-looking play, and it broke a shutout streak of 155 minutes, 3 seconds for Hiller, best of his career.
If you're into numbers, try these on for size. Hiller in his last three games: 3-0 record, 0.65 goals-against average, .982 save percentage.
It was that type of goaltending last night that helped an early 3-0 Anaheim lead hold up with little doubt the rest of the way. Ryan Whitney, just added today to the U.S. Olympic team, wristed one through a Bobby Ryan screen just 1:11 in to put the Ducks up 1-0. Kyle Chipchura added to the lead later in the period when he got in the way of a Steve Eminger point shot enough to deflect it off his body and inside the post.
And Ryan put the Ducks comfortably in front with his 25th of the season in the second period, first whiffing on a one-timer try, then getting the puck right back from Ryan Getzlaf and calmly chipping it around Datsyuk and off the twine.(By the way, I know I give way too much love to BR, but I kind of dig that double-fist-pump-look-to-the-sky move he routinely does after he scores.)
All of it led to a mammoth win for the Ducks, because it kept Detroit from pulling away in the race for that eighth spot and got the Ducks to within three points.
But there is little time to celebrate it, as the Ducks had to turn around this morning and head up the freeway to take on the very hot (as much as it pains me to admit it) Kings tonight at Staples Center. The Kings have won seven in a row, and nine of their last 10, including that 4-0 victory at Staples on January 14 in which the third period got very violent (something neither team is likely to forget tonight).
Like tonight, that game was the second in a back-to-back for the Ducks after a big home victory and the hope is that things will go a lot differently this time around. (I'll be up there doing the live game log, if anyone is interested.)
"This is, just like last night, our biggest game of the year," Ryan Whitney said this morning.
And James Wisniewski dismissed the back-to-back games concern. "We're working hard enough that we should be able to respond to this and understand it's such a big game that we can put everything aside," he said. "We don't play for three days after this, so we should be able to come out flying."
Definitely looking forward to seeing that.
The other topic that I know is on a lot of Ducks' fans minds involves new goalie Vesa Toskala and the number he'll wear here. Toskala wore 35 in Toronto, which of course was Giguere's number. Murray confirmed that Toskala will likely wear a number in the 30s, but not 35.
So, you can breathe easy on that one.
Last night I got a chance to meet John T. Meyer, organizer of PickMyNHLTeam.com, the promotion the Ducks won in a landslide. He organized a "Tweetup" for last night's game and I was able to get together briefly before the game with John (who is extremely tall) and an enthusiastic group of Ducks fans.
Thank you again to John for putting that unique idea together and giving fans a chance to express why being a Ducks fan is so fun.
Updated February 3 at 12:13 p.m.
When it's the Red Wings, it's always big. But this one tonight is gargantuan.
That's because Detroit rolls into Anaheim on the strength of a 4-2 victory in San Jose last night that put them five points ahead of the Ducks in the eighth spot in the West. A Ducks victory tonight pulls them to within three or four (depending on it if comes in regulation or not); a loss drops them back to six or seven. That swing is huge, especially with the Ducks facing a tough one at Los Angeles the very next night.
That game will be the second of a back-to-back against a Kings team that isn't playing tonight. That's the same mini-luxury the Ducks are enjoying over the Wings tonight in Anaheim's first home game in more than two weeks. That time away from Honda Center slightly blurs the memory of the fact that the Ducks have won an impressive eight straight games in their rink, including a convincing 4-1 decision over these same Red Wings just under a month ago.
The Wings had been ravaged by injuries this season, a big reason they didn't creep into playoff contention until relatively recently. But (unfortunately) they're pretty much back to full health now, and it showed last night in San Jose where they crawled out of a 2-0 hole and rattled off four unanswered. Tomas Holmstrom got back into the lineup after missing 13 games with a broken foot, although d-man Niklas Kronwall injured his ankle late last night and won't play tonight.
That win in San Jose was also big for Detroit because it had lost seven of nine going in. Although, in four of those they went into extra time, so they still got points. And although most teams struggle in the back half of back-to-backs, Detroit has gone a surprising 5-3-1 in those this season.
Teemu Selanne, whose face is looking surprisingly alright as it continues to heel from that jaw fracture, had this to say about tonight's game: "It's going to be huge. We look at this game like a playoff game. We have to catch teams ahead of us. It's going to be fun, but same hand every point is so imporant right now."
Ah, "same hand." You haven't been around for a little while. Glad to see you're back.
Selanne was talking yesterday about his recovery from the injury and admitted he still needs to gain back about five or six pounds. "It's hard when you can pretty much only drink liquids the first 10 days," he said. "I highly recommend it to somebody who wants to lose weight. Don't break your jaw, but wire your mouth. It works."
Selanne also said the time away with the jaw injury allowed his once-broken hand to heal a little more, though it's still not 100 percent. "I'm good enough though," he said, "and I'm just happy to be back."
I think we're all happy about that, and happy the entire team is back from the road. Definitely looking forward to this one tonight.
It was odd being in the Ducks locker room this morning and seeing Justin Pogge's nameplate above the stall that J.S. Giguere owned for so many years.
And just as odd was turning on the TV last night and seeing images like this one (love the Ducks mask and pads with the Toronto uni).
And it was a nice debut with Toronto for Giguere, who pitched a 3-0 shutout for the Leafs in a win over the Devils. Although, Giguere wasn't overly tested by a New Jersey team that also has another former Duck on it, Rob Niedermayer.
In fact, I had almost forgotten that yesterday when I had the game on and heard them mention the name "Niedermayer." I had to look up at the screen to see who they were talking about. Watching a Toronto-New Jersey game and hearing the names "Giguere" and "Niedermayer" mentioned -- kind of strange.
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In a video on CNN's website about a guy riding a motorcycle on a tightrope over the Swiss Alps, at the 42-second mark there is a shot scanning the crowd watching him. And in the corner, there is a goofy-looking kid with a hockey jersey under his jacket.
Yeah, it's a little old school, but still.
Updated February 2 at 12:49 p.m.
While the focus the last couple of days has been on the goalie the Ducks traded away, somebody made sure we didn't forget the one that's still here.
Jonas Hiller, playing his first game after signing a four-year extension with Anaheim on Saturday, shooed away all 33 Florida Panther shots in backstopping the Ducks to a 3-0 win.
It was the second shutout of the season for Hiller, and one that made the final minutes remaing compelling even after the Ducks had put the game away on a Corey Perry goal with 2:42 left (35-second mark of this highlight video). I for one was pulling hard for Hiller to polish off that blanking, though because of the TV blackout I had to do it while listening to the game on my laptop.
Hiller definitely had some help in that third period, as the Ducks PK was able to stifle three straight Florida power plays (including a 26-second stretch with the Panthers on a 5 on 3) to hang on to a two-goal lead. And while Perry put the game away with his one-timer late in the third, that was hardly the biggest goal for the Ducks on the night.
No, that would be the one with a half-second left in the second period, courtesy of a certain No. 8 playing his first game back after missing the last eight with a fractured jaw. Teemu Selanne, wearing a shield to protect that injury, punched in a rebound off a James Wisniewski one-timer off the post (23-second mark of this video) to give the Ducks a 2-0 lead. Wisniewski's shot rang the pipe and got behind goalie Tomas Vokoun, and Selanne was able to poke it over the stripe with barely enough time to spare. (A quick video replay courtesy of the video board feed confirmed it crossed in time.) “I knew there was not much time at all," Selanne said. "But still, you play until you hear the buzzer.”
That goal came on a Ducks power play that hasn't exactly been clicking on the road, and it's just the latest example of Selanne seizing the moment, something he's done so many times in his career. You might recall that the last time he came back from a long-term injury absence -- after missing 17 games with a broken hand -- he scored in his first game back in Nashville, then the next night in Chicago. (He's actually got goals in each of his last three full games, since he exited the next game against Boston with the jaw injury midway through.) Ryan Getzlaf was asked last night how many guys would be able to score in their first games back after lengthy injuries and he simply said, "Not many."
The fact that Getzlaf led off the Ducks scoring off a Florida turnover in the first (13-second mark), meant that all three Ducks goal-scorers found the net after not having done so in awhile. Getzlaf's goal was his first in the last six games, and Perry's was his first in the last seven (also his 20th of the year). Both, it would seem, benefitted from having Bobby Ryan rejoin them on the top line after newcomer Jason Blake was inserted with Selanne and Saku Koivu on the second unit.
Despite getting back into California in the wee hours, they had an optional practice at Honda Center at noon today in which pretty much the entire roster hit the ice. Tomorrow it's Detroit in the first home game in 15 days.
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Updated February 1 at 11:21 a.m.
So overall, a pretty ho-hum weekend for the Anaheim Ducks.
It started Friday with a victory in Tampa Bay clinched in the third round of a shootout by a defenseman.
It continued Saturday with the Ducks solidifying their future by extending the contract of their No. 1 goalie.
And it ended Sunday with a monumental trade in which the team's one-time franchise goalie was traded away.
We'll start with the latter since it's freshest in our minds and certanly the most substantial. The trade of J.S. Giguere was almost like a bolt of lightning -- you can see it coming from a mile away, but it still surprises you. That's kind of how I felt when I woke up to this email yesterday morning from a member of our PR staff: Jiggy to Toronto. Be ready.
Soon enough, it became official: Giguere to the Leafs in exchange for winger Jason Blake and goalie Vesa Toskala.
It's a tough trade to make anytime you deal a guy who has been a face of your franchise for so long, but it's a trade that needed to be made. In the last year, Jonas Hiller has established himself as the No. 1 goalie in Anaheim, and the Ducks reinforced that by signing him to a four-year deal on Saturday. At the same time, Giguere struggled a bit and lost his grip on the top goaltender spot that belonged to him for so long.
On Sunday we were reminded yet again that sports are a business, and the Ducks couldn't afford to keep both of their goaltenders. When Hiller established for the second straight year that he was the guy, a move had to be made. Giguere, meanwhile, will get the opportunity in Toronto to be a No. 1 again, and we wish him all the luck in the world in that journey.
Said Giguere yesterday, "I had 10 wonderful years living in Orange County and being part of the community. Both of my sons were born in Orange County so we’ll always have some very good memories of California and, of course, Anaheim. I think it was time for me to move on and try to get a fresh start. Try to get a new experience. But I’ll never forget what I had in Anaheim. It’s always going to be in my heart for sure.” There is a great Q&A with Giguere on the O.C. Register site, and if you want to join fellow Ducks fans in a special thank-you to Jiggy, check out this website.
As Bob Murray put it yesterday afternoon when he talked to reporters via conference call about the deal, "We feel we’re a better team today than we were yesterday." And that's because the Ducks made a significant upgrade at forward in getting veteran Jason Blake, a 36-year-old that can shoot the puck, has speed and can kill penalties. He scored 40 goals three seasons ago with the Islanders and 25 last year with the Leafs. Blake himself admitted things haven't been easy in Toronto the last couple of seasons, and the hope for everybody is that a change of scenery will do him some good. "He's a very good hockey player and getting out of Toronto is maybe a good thing for him right now," Murray said. Blake couldn't repeat the words "great opportunity" enough when he had his time with the media yesterday. (He's also excused for slipping and saying "Mighty Ducks" at one point.) And after joining the team in Florida in time for this morning's skate, he said, "I’m ecstatic. I haven’t smiled so much in three years.”
Meanwhile, in Toskala the Ducks get a capable veteran in net, at least for the remainder of this year, after which his contract runs out. And it also should be mentioned the Ducks dug out some significant cap room (not to mention $4 million in real dollars) that will come in handy for Murray this summer. That includes re-signing Bobby Ryan, though Murray said he didn't see that being a problem even before this trade was made. Nonetheless, he said, " I can’t tell you how much better I feel about having more [cap] room next year."
On the ice, the Ducks face the Panthers tonight (unfortunately no TV for either side because of the VERSUS exclusive window on Monday Nights), fresh off a thrilling shootout victory Friday night in Tampa. Right about now, that game seems like it happened about three weeks ago, but it doesn't take away from the fact it was a huge one for Anaheim -- not to mention James Wisniewski. Wiz scored one goal in regulation, and for the second time in less than a weak, potted the game-winner in the shootout. This time Randy Carlyle threw Wiz out there in the third round (he went in the seventh a week prior in St. Louis) and he responded by sending a quick wrist shot under Antero Niittymaki. And instead of celebrating with the brash come-and-get-it gesture he made in St. Louis, Wiz this time offered a Pronger-like uppercut with a smile he couldn't manage to wipe off his face.
“I’m riding a hot streak,” Wisniewski said. “They’re going with the big Polish righty.”
And you can bet everything you have that when the Ducks face their next shootout, Wiz will be among the first three shooters. Nevertheless, when Teemu Selanne (hanging around the locker room despite still being out with that jaw fracture) was asked to comment on Wisniewski's winner, he said with a smile, "Miracles happen."
Overhearing that, Wisniewski responed, "Thanks, Teemu. I would say something else, but you have 595 goals."
And speaking of Teemu -- as if we haven't had enough to report in the past few days -- it's looking like he might be in the lineup when the Ducks drop the puck in Florida in a few hours. “I think I’m playing,” Selanne told reporters after the morning skate in which he took skated on a second line with Blake and Saku Koivu and tried on several versions of protective cages. “I talked to the doctors. Playing tonight or Wednesday isn’t going to be that much different. I’m very excited to be back in the lineup.”
Selanne making another triumpant return to the lineup after missing several games with an injury would normally be huge news in Anaheim. But after this weekend, just add it to the list.