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(All times Pacific unless otherwise noted.)
Updated April 29 at 1:12 p.m.
With so much focus on whether or not a certain longtime Duck will or will not return this season, there is one guy whose hazy future with the Ducks has gone relatively undiscussed.
And that's Todd Marchant.
The 37-year-old Marchant is a free agent come July 1 and faces some unknowns when it comes to 2011-12: Will he be with the Ducks for a seventh season, and will he even play hockey at all?
Marchant didn't have his best campaign numbers-wise, with just one goal, 18 points and a -18 rating. But then again, what Marchant has meant to the Ducks the past six seasons isn't about numbers. He was often a vital part of the Ducks penalty kill, and this season was second in the NHL in average shorthanded time on ice with 3:37. Numbers don't reflect his work ethic, what he meant in that locker room as a veteran leader, despite not wearing a letter. Numbers don't tell how many times he sent a puck flying out of the zone on the PK, or kept it pinned in the opponent's end of the rink or won a key defensive zone faceoff. All of it with an undersized frame of a listed 5-foot-10, 180 pounds.
And we've liked him even more for how good a quote he's always been. He flashed a little more of that gift of gab when he talked about his future during exit interviews Tuesday.
"I don't know what the future holds for me," Marchant said. "I'll sit back, take some time, really evaluate where I'm at. Make a decision whether I want to continue playing or choose the other course. It's not an easy decision to make certainly.
"As you get older, it's that much more difficult to stay in shape and play the game at the level it's needed to be played at. The guys coming into the league are bigger, stronger, faster, whereas maybe when you were younger you could get away with and do things a lot faster than everybody else, even though they were bigger.
"Now these guys are bigger and can skate as well as you can. That's very difficult. So that's something that definitely is part of it. The other part is, can you make a contribution? You want to be a player on a team that has a role and can fill a spot. I felt like on this team, this year, the obviously penalty killing was a big part of my role on this team. Moving forward, that would have to be something I would have to continue to do.
"I've enjoyed every day that I've been in this league. I feel that I beat the odds, so to speak. So we'll take some time here, and re-evaluate with my family and make a decision."
Updated April 28 at 3:39 p.m.
The official announcement from the league seemed so inevitable that it was easy to take for granted, but today is a pretty big day for Corey Perry and the Anaheim Ducks.
Perry was named a finalist for the Hart Trophy given to the NHL's most valuable player, along with Vancouver's Daniel Sedin and Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis. It's a fitting acknowledgment of a career year for Perry, and you could make the argument that no NHL player was more valuable to his team than Perry was to the Ducks.
When Perry was at his best, so was Anaheim: He led the NHL with 19 goals and 31 points over the last 20 games of the regular season, a window in which the Ducks went 15-5-0 and vaulted into fourth place. The rest of the numbers we've seen here before, but they're worth mentioning again:
- His 50 goals led the league and he was third in the NHL in points (98), tied for fifth in power play goals (14) and shorthanded goals (4).
- His 11 game-winning goals co-led the league (with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin).
- He led the with 21 third period goals (no other player had more than 18) and with 23 third period/overtime goals.
For the Ducks organization, it's pretty history-making, since Perry becomes just the third player in club history to be named a Hart finalist, after Teemu Selanne in 1997-98 and Paul Kariya in 1996-97. Selanne finished third in the voting and Kariya finished second.
The only Southern California-based player to win the Hart is somebody named Wayne Gretzky, for the Kings in 1988-89. “To be in that category in that group of guys is pretty tremendous,” Perry said. “You’ve got the best player ever and then you’ve go the best goal scorer probably ever in Teemu. To be in that category says a lot.”
When the winner is announced June 22 at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas, I say it should be Perry's name that is called.
(Come on, who did you think I was going to pick?)
Perry was interviewed by a throng in the hallway at Honda Center this afternoon. Here's the video below, and here's audio from a radio interview he did today with KNX's Ted Sobel.
Updated April 26 at 2:56 p.m.
Unless there is the smell of stale champagne, and unless the Stanley Cup is somewhere nearby, this is always the most depressing day of the year at Honda Center.
It's exit interview day, kind of like the last day of school, but much less exciting. In fact, the complete opposite. We won't see these guys for the rest of the spring and most of the summer, and that ... kinda sucks.
Here's what today entails: Players meet with the coaches and the GM and spend some time with media to reflect on the season and look ahead at what's to come. Somewhere in between all of that, they work with our Community Relations staff to autograph oodles of pucks, jerseys, photos, etc. -- all of it set up on long tables in the hallway outside the locker rooms.
And it's no surprise, the guy who spent the most time with the media, the guy who had the most stuff to autograph, was No. 8.
Teemu was his relaxed self in a beige surfer's polo shirt and plaid shorts, and it was hard to perish the thought this might be the last time we see him in these hallways -- at least until he holds a press conference that we all hope never happens.
At one point while Teemu was scribbling away on some pucks with the Sharpie, one of the few moments when no one else was around him, I walked up and put my hand on his shoulder. "I know this won't make much of a difference," I said, "but I'd kick myself if I didn't at least say this: Please come back next year."
He laughed and just said, "I promise to think about it."
While surrounded by about a dozen media members, he was asked yet again about his future plans. "I honestly don’t know," he said, bordering on exasperation. "I shouldn’t even answer that question anymore. I’ll let you know when I know something. Actually, I think it’s funny almost how every year it’s the same. Everybody keeps asking. I have to say don’t ask because I don’t know. It’s the same question all the time, so it’s getting a little old. I’m repeating stuff, but you have to wait and see how you feel. At this age, you have to be 100 percent sure you are ready to put yourself in this situation again. It takes so much more dedication now than when I was younger. This is no way you can do anything at 50 or 75 percent. You have to go all the way. To be honest, I don’t have to rush with it. That is a good thing."
(There was of course much more from Teemu, and we have a full trancript here.)
Said Bob Murray, "He's too good to quit. C'mon, he's too good. And I think he's still having fun. He's got to go talk with his family ... I'll do everything in my power to keep him here." Saku Koivu said of his linemate and countrymate, "I think he had too much fun and enjoyed it too much this year to walk away."
Koivu also had some poignant things to say about the faceoff he lost in the Anaheim end late in Game 5, which led seconds later to Shea Weber's backbreaking tying goal. “I’ve thought about that particular play already, I don’t know, 20-30 times,” Koivu said. “What could I have done differently on that faceoff? Same goes for Teemu and Todd and everybody who was on the ice, for that matter.
“It just goes to show how the little details, and how close the series can be, and by winning that one faceoff and winning Game 5, who knows where we are right now? That’s something that I hope everybody on this team, when they spend their summers and get ready for next season, that they think about it,” he said. “How much more you have to do, or how little more you have to do, to win the series.
“It might be that one penalty or that one backcheck that’s going to make a difference. Or that one faceoff. That obviously comes by experience. You learn by losing this series, and then you have to get that much better the next year.”
Another traditional element of this day is usually the relevation of lingering injuries, something previously kept under wraps during the season. Murray revealed that both Toni Lydman and Matt Beleskey are having surgeries soon on their shoulders. And Lubomir Visnovsky confirmed that he was bothered by pain in both shoulders during the playoffs, took cortisone shots before every game and played at about "50 percent." He did not know if surgery was imminent, but said, "I can’t hold anything. I can’t hold my son in my hands right now. It’s painful."
Right around lunchtime, when all the meetings were had, all the sound bites were collected and all the items were autographed, the players eventually headed out of Honda Center. It's funny, but usually after a practice or morning skate, these guys can't wait to get out of here, get in their cars and get home. Today, it was different. Today, they kind of shuffled, standing around holding their team photos and other belongings, saying their goodbyes until there was nothing else to do but get on with their offseasons.
Some of these guys we'll see from time to time in here during the summer, maybe getting in a workout or picking up some mail. Others we won't see again until training camp. One of them in particular, we hope to see a whole lot come the fall.
Either way, it's a long and (dare we say) cruel summer. And it started this afternoon, much earlier than we would have hoped.
Updated April 25 at 10:43 a.m.
In the post-mortem of the Ducks being eliminated from the postseason in Nashville, thoughts of what might have been inevitably creep into the mind.
What if Saku Koivu won that faceoff in the Anaheim end with under a minute to play in Game 5? What if Shea Weber's shot a few seconds later flew over the crossbar? What if Jerred Smithson didn't sneak backdoor early in overtime that very same night? What if Teemu Selanne's shot that rang the post in the middle of the third in Game 6 was a couple inches to the left? What it Brandon McMillan could have reached out a little more for that Matt Beleskey feed with about five minutes left in the game, with a wide-open net looming in front of him? What if they didn't call that agonizing interference penalty on Koivu with 38 seconds left and the Ducks desperately trying to tie the game? What if the Ducks had found a way to force a Game 7 in Anaheim? It maddening that we'll never know.
On a broader scale, what if Lubomir Visnovsky had been healthy in the series, instead of playing with what is reportedly two bad shoulders? What if the Ducks weren't forced to play Games 3 and 4 without Bobby Ryan? And as good as Ray Emery was down the stretch and in this series, what if Jonas Hiller had been able to play?
In the course of a hockey game, and especially in the course of a playoff series, you can ponder about a thousand different what-ifs -- enough to drive you crazy. Bottom line, a postseason that looked so promising for the Anaheim Ducks came to an abrupt end in Nashville to a very good Predators team that made its own history by advancing.
In the end, the Ducks simply gave up too many goals to win that series, an average of just under four per game to a Nashville team that was 23rd in goal-scoring during the regular season. "You cannot give up four goals and expect to win consistently," Randy Carlyle said. "And I thought we provided enough offense in the series but we didn't provide enough defense."
With no more hockey left to play, our thoughts about this team unavoidably turn to next season, but right now it just feels too soon to think about that. (It also feels too soon, at least for me, to watch the rest of these playoffs right now. I won't recycle the old "watching your girlfriend make out with another guy" analogy.)
While we're focused on what these Ducks didn't do over the past couple of weeks, we should be grateful what they did do to get there. A team that was picked by many before the season to miss the playoffs, instead made a late-season surge into the fourth spot in a competitive West. A defense that looked shaky at the start of the year, came together and got a career year out of Visnovsky, an outstanding campaign from Toni Lydman and the development of young guys like Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa. Corey Perry had an incredible season in which he scored 50 goals and became a candidate for the Hart Trophy. Hiller was having an All-Star year before going down with that frustrating vertigo, but guys like Emery and Ellis came in to give the Ducks a chance to win every night. Meanwhile, this team gave us thrilling moment after thrilling moment all year long, winning nine games in overtime and giving us eye candy like this goal from Bobby Ryan just a few nights ago.
And, of course, there is Teemu, who had the kind of season that no 40-year-old winger should be allowed to have. Again, it's too soon to speculate whether Selanne will come back for (at least) another year, but better to enjoy the one he just had. Nobody has had more goals in the first round than Selanne's six, the last of which he scored on a backhand to open the scoring last night.
"Nobody tried harder, nobody cared more, nobody did more in this series than Teemu Selanne, and it's an emotional time for him right now because of what happened," Carlyle said. "There is always that looming, `Is this the last one,' and I'm sure he doesn't want to go out feeling the way he does right now."
Selanne will be among the Ducks coming into Honda Center tomorrow morning for exit interviews with coaches and media sessions. They will be asked to look ahead to next season, but mostly they'll be asked to reflect on the one that just ended.
I think right about now, that seems most appropriate.
Updated April 24 at 11:34 a.m.
We're mere hours away from a Game 6 in which the Ducks will be playing for their playoff lives, but I'm not sure the shock has worn off from what went down Friday night.
We all know what happened, so there's no sense in rehashing it. No sense in remembering how the Ducks were 35 seconds away from taking control of this series before Shea Weber broke our hearts. No reason to evoke the sight of the Predators celebrating a Jerred Smithson goal 1:57 into overtime, while 17,000 Ducks fans watched in stunned silence from the stands, while 20 Ducks did the same from the bench.
With everything else that's so stomach-churning about that image, there is just no way we can let that be our last memory at Honda Center from this breathtaking season. We'd rather remember the good stuff, like Bobby Ryan's astonishing goal early in the third period that gave the Ducks the lead. Or yet another awe-inspiring play from Teemu Selanne, who threw the puck on net while lying on the ice, setting up the Jason Blake rebound goal that gave Anaheim another lead, one which we all prayed they wouldn't lose.
We wish that could have been the lasting picture from Game 5, but it didn't work out that way. That's why we need this win tonight in Nashville, and we need a Game 7 back in Anaheim. No way all of this can end that way. No way that can be Teemu Selanne's last home game.
Selanne himself sat in a chair at the Ducks' hotel yesterday and reflected on what's at stake for this team. "I thought we were going to find a way to win last night's game," he told the OC Register. "You've got to play 60 minutes. That's the thing. That's why we love this game. You never know what's going to happen.
"There's a lot of surprises, a lot of disappointments and a lot of happiness. They're all part of this game."
Selanne laughed when he said the Ducks do everything "the hard way," and it's true. Countless times this season, the Ducks have won games by gripping onto one-goal leads in the tense final minutes. Nine times they won games in overtime. They've played almost every game since February without their All-Star goalie. Now they have to do something neither team has done in this series -- win two games in a row.
But first thing's first -- first they have to find a way to win a Game 6 in what promises to be a raucous Bridgestone Arena.
"I still have a lot of belief in this team," Selanne said. "It was so close (Friday). That's why this game is a beauty. Sunday is going to be a new opportunity. There's a lot of fight in this room."
"Hopefully," he added, "there's a happy ending."
There just has to be.
- - -
If you're not already yearning for a Game 7, this will get you there (props to Ducks fan Bucky for putting htis together):
Updated April 22 at 2:40 p.m.
Whenever I call my dad in the hours after a Ducks game, I never get a "Hello?" or other standard phone greeting. It's always something like, "Big win" or "Was that fun or what?" or "Teemuuuuuuuuu!"
I dialed his number this morning, and when he picked up, it was just this simple and stern greeting:
Gameday indeed, a huge day for both the Ducks and Predators, both of whom are looking to get an edge on this series in a pivotal Game 5 at Honda Center. And just like in the days between Games 3 and 4, the hostility between the two teams got amped up off the ice. Randy Carlyle didn't take too kindly to the hearing that was called for Jarkko Ruutu, who will be suspended for tonight's game for what was deemed a late hit on Martin Erat in Game 4. And Nashville coach Barry Trotz didn't take too kindly to Carlyle's not taking too kindly.
While the Ducks are upset with the suspension, the Preds are upset that Erat will miss at least tonight's game with an "upper-body injury" related to the hit.
Of Ruutu, Carlyle said, "We're missing a big body that kills penalties, aggressive on the forecheck and basically a good team guy. Whether he plays, as somebody has quoted, five minutes, six minutes or seven minutes, we've asked him to give us the best contribution."
Ruutu himself stayed fairly quiet on the ruling, telling reporters, "I don’t think it really matters what I think. It’s a team game. When one guy is out, another one is in.”
One guy that is finally in for Anaheim is Bobby Ryan, back tonight after serving his two-game suspension for the stomping incident in Game 2. Ryan, talked with reporters yesterday and was asked if he'd be energized after missing the last two games. "I’ve had some rest, yeah," he laughed. "I’ve been able to relax a little bit and support the guys. Practices have been a little tougher for me than they normally are this time of year. I’ll certainly have a little fire lit under me tomorrow."
Asked if the punishment would alter his style of play, Ryan said, "Not at all. I’ve obviously never had anything like this before. I’ve never been called a dirty player or malicious player or anything like that. I won’t change a thing, absolutely not."
Outsiders will say the Ducks have the momentum in this series coming off their decisive 6-3 win in Game 4 in Nashville, but with two days and a change in venue in between games, momentum can be a tad overrated. Where it can come into play is tonight, another game in which striking first will mean a whole lot. In each of the first four games in this series, the team to score first has also scored second.
It's sure to be a raucous Honda Center this evening for a Game 5 that could very well be the decider of the fate of this series. If you're lucky enough to be in the building, make sure to get here early (traffic is heavy because of Angels starting at 7:05 too). That way, you can take in all this night has to offer -- The Playoff Spot, the goosebump-inducing opening montage, sound of the crowd when the Ducks first hit the ice, even David Archuleta singing the national anthem. Frankly, I can hardly wait for all of it.
After all, it's gameday.
Updated April 21 at 10:24 a.m.
Of Corey Perry's 52 goals this season, 24 have come in the third period or overtime (tops in the NHL) and 27 have either tied the score or put the Ducks ahead.
But none of those goals was bigger than the one he scored last night in Nashville.
With the Ducks facing a nail-biting third period -- one which began with the Predators on the power play -- Perry provided a serious tension release by turning the tables with a shorthanded goal 1:17 into the period to give the Ducks a lead they never relinquished. In fact, that goal opened the floodgates for the Ducks, who scored two more in ultimately cruising to a 6-3 victory to even this series at two games apiece.
While Perry's backhand flip was a thing of beauty, it may not have happened without the work of Brandon McMillan, who had a monster game while filling Bobby Ryan's spot on the top line. After Perry picked off the puck right near the Stanley Cup Playoffs logo in the Anaheim end, he nudged it ahead to McMillan at center ice. McMillan repaid the favor with an on-the-move drop pass back to Perry, then provided a heck of a screen that allowed Perry's backhand to flutter past a blinded Pekka Rinne. Even Perry said, "You have to look at what McMillan did, driving the middle lane, going to the net and taking (Shea) Weber with him."
There is nothing like a shorthander to completely flip the momentum of a hockey game, and that's exactly what happened in this one last night. A few minutes after Perry's goal, linemate Ryan Getzlaf made it 5-3 Anaheim on a snipe from the left faceoff dot. Getzlaf actually passed up a potential shot, then held the puck while circling under the extended goal line and back to the circle. He then got little pressure when Mike Fisher lent his stick to Kevin Klein, and had plenty of room to snap one off the inside of the post. (How many of us yelled this during that sequence?: Shoot it, Getzy!!! Why doesn't he ... he ... YEAH!!!")
Todd Marchant reached his 586th awesome quote of the year with this one about Getzlaf and Perry: "These guys are world-class players and some of the best around. They're great teammates. In big games, they step up. In crucial situations, they step up. And that's what being a winner is all about."
Less than two minutes after Getzy's goal, McMillan came through again, getting the puck from Marchant at the red line and compeltely undressing Cody Franson before rifling a wrist shot past Rinne stick side. That gave the Ducks a comfy three-goal lead and, almost as meaningful, chased Rinne to the bench for backup Anders Lindback.
That was a welcome sight for Ducks fans who have seen and read some serious love for Rinne ever since the days leading up to this series. Turns out, the Ducks have a pretty good goalie on the other side of the rink, though Ray Emery wasn't all that busy when the game mattered most. A Ducks defense that had a rough Game 3 had a new look for Game 4, with the insertion of shot-blockers Andy Sutton and Andreas Lilja to give Anaheim seven Ds. That group helped hold the Predators to just six shots in the second period and an eye-opening three in the third. The Ducks had 20 blocked shots in the game.
As big as the top-liner goals in the third were, they shouldn't diminish the importance of the first three Ducks strikes, including Cam Fowler's blistered slap shot on the PP in the first and Saku Koivu's punched-in rebound 33 seconds later. Those two goals were the fourth time in four games in this series that the team to score first has also scored second. And after Nashville came back to tie the game 2-2, Teemu Selanne countered with one of his trademark redirects from the slot to get the lead back. That goal was Selanne's fifth of the playoffs, which leads all NHLers. (He's 40, by the way. You hear me? 40.)
The six goals for the Ducks tied a club playoff record, previously set May 25, 2006 at Edmonton in Game 4 of the Western Conference FInal and a little something called Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final vs. Ottawa on (say it with me now) June 6, 2007.
Now, a deadlocked and increasingly feisty series moves to Anaheim, where the Ducks get Ryan back after serving that two-game suspension and the Predators have reportedly traveled without Martin Erat, who took a hit from Jarkko Ruutu early in the second and did not return.
He'll likely miss what promises to be an electric and hard-hitting Game 5 here at Honda Center tomorrow night.
"This series has been very physical and you guys have witnessed it," said Randy Carlyle last night. "There's not a lot room out there and it's a man's game out there."
Updated April 20 at 1:37 p.m.
We're still hours away from the start of Game 4, and already it seems like an eternity since Game 3.
Long enough for Teemu Selanne to go from visibly enraged to calmer and focused on the task at hand.
Long enough for Jonas Hiller to be sent back to Anaheim with recurring vertigo symptoms.
Long enough for the Ducks and Predators to build up some serious animosity, much of it generated during Anaheim's day off from practice.
We won't get into that here, but we will get into Selanne, whose angry comments to the media following that 4-3 loss in Game 3 were apparently like a bedtime story compared to how he gave it to his Ducks teammates in the locker room.
"You guys only heard a little of it," Corey Perry said Monday of Selanne's postgame tirade. "He said a lot more before that. He was pretty emotional.
“It could be his last playoffs. He really wants to win. And I think he showed that last night.”
Added Randy Carlyle, "I think he spoke from his heart. And that’s how he felt. He’s earned that right to speak.”
He had indeed, and one can only hope it had an effect on the Ducks, who despite a night in which they turned the puck over frequently and only fired 16 shots on net, still came within a whisper of tying that game up again late in the third.
“We were talking before the series that one little thing can turn the whole series around,” said Selanne on Monday. "One bad penalty, one bad something, it’s going to cost pretty much the whole series. The urgency and how critical times are right now, you can’t have any nights off. I felt like last night, we didn’t … I hate to say that but it looked like we didn’t want it. As a professional athlete, that’s the worst thing you can really say.”
But knowing full well the Ducks can completely turn the momentum of this series around in Game 4, Selanne added, "It's a new day and there are new opportunities. Today's the day for positive." (You could almost see animated bluebirds singing and flying around his shoulders as he said that.)
Positive is what the Ducks can do in this series with a much-needed win in Game 4 (with two of the next three coming in Anaheim). Negative is the energy you'll undoubtedly see between these two teams tonight at Bridgestone Arena.
"You have to develop a hatred for them," Carlyle said. "That's what happens when you're pushing against the same guy face to face in confrontational situations. You don't like him."
And then there was this: "We hate everybody we play in the playoffs."
Keep an eye tonight on the team that strikes first, because in all three games of this series, the team that scored the first goal jumped out to a 2-0 lead and went on to win.
The Ducks will try to do it without Bobby Ryan, serving the second game of his two-game suspension for the "stomp" that occurred in Game 2. That missing piece and an unacceptable loss in Game 3 had Selanne harking back on some Ducks postseason history. In the 2007 conference final against Detroit, the Ducks were crushed 5-0 in Game 3, then reeled off three straight wins to take the series. "We had just lost a game, 5-0, and Chris Pronger was suspended," Selanne said. "We found a way to win."
Updated April 18 at 10:37 a.m.
Rule of thumb: If Teemu Selanne is angry, something's not going right.
And Teemu was steaming in the wake of a disappointing 4-3 Ducks loss to the Predators in yesterday's Game 3 in Nashville. "We had no business in this game," Selanne said of a loss that put the Ducks behind 2-1 in the series. "No business. They wanted it more. They won the battles. We were lucky to even be in the game. Very disappointed."
The Ducks were outshot 37-16 in the game and made a number of critical mistakes in their own end that led to Nashville goals. Still, thanks in great part to the work of Selanne, they were deadlocked with the Predators until Mike Fisher scored with 9:39 left and Anaheim never did find an answer.
"That's not the way how we should play," Selanne said. "That's embarrassing at this level. I hope everybody's going to be pissed off about it and learn something about this."
Anaheim trailed 2-0 on goals by Martin Erat and Jordin Tootoo and had just five shots on net late into the second period when Selanne himself did something about it. The Ducks' offensive attack was already depleted with the loss of Bobby Ryan for two games, and they had just lost Ryan Getzlaf for five minutes after a fight with Fisher (which prompted yet another cut to Fisher's wife Carrie Underwood on the telecast). But Selanne got them back in the game just-like-that with two goals in a span of 30 seconds.
“That was a big thing,” Selanne said of the Getzlaf fight. “That changed the momentum. Leaders have to do that sometimes.”
Corey Perry set the first goal up by rudely taking the puck away from Ryan Suter and feeding Selanne in front from the corner for the one-timer. And Selanne's reaction after that goal was not one of celebration so much as, "Okay, that's one. Let's get more."
He would do just that not long afterward, as Perry's shot from the point caromed off the back wall and Selanne banged it into the open net. All of a sudden, a Ducks team that couldn't seem to get anything going for almost a full two periods, had tied it up.
And they came oh so close to taking their first lead early in the third, when Cam Fowler picked off a Jonathon Blum clearing attempt, beautifully slalomed around Blum to get one-on-one with Pekka Rinne, and Rinne made a huge blocker save to deny the kid. (Had that one gotten through, the roof would have come off ... well, my house.)
Instead, Nashville went back up in front when a Suter pass somehow got through a crowd to Legwand for the doorstep goal. And yet, Anaheim tied it once again on a dirty goal in which a falling Matt Beleskey got the puck with his skate, and it deflected off Cody Franson into the net.
A few minutes later, Fisher got the eventual game-winner after Francois Beauchemin fanned trying to rim the puck along the back wall, one of several miscues by the Ducks in that end of the rink. Sergei Kostitsyn picked up a puck he wasn't meant to have, and sent it across to Fisher for the dagger.
Anaheim's attempts to get the equalizer one more time took a serious hit when Saku Koivu was whistled for hooking with 2:20 left. The Ducks had to send Ray Emery to the bench just to get to even strength and couldn't get that elusive tying strike.
Emery, incidentally, kept the Ducks in the game (33 saves), and of the four Nashville goals he gave up, virtually all of them came from right on the doorstep. They also came off of Anaheim mistakes you just can't make in a series this tight. "We committed some atrocious turnovers in the hockey game in the defensive zone," Randy Carlyle said. "If we don't play better defensively than we played tonight, then I don't think that we can give ourselves much of a chance."
And as much of a kick in the stomach as last night's game was, if the Ducks can bounce back in Game 4 (and you've got to believe they will), the prospect of a 2-2 series heading back to Anaheim is pretty enticing.
The Ducks don't practice today, and because of Lady Gaga, they have to wait an agonizing three days before they can try to bounce back in Game 4. There's a sentence you don't see too often, but Gaga is playing Bridgestone Arena tomorrow night, pushing Game 4 to Wednesday.
There is one slight positive to waiting that long for Game 4. Five times over the last month-and-a-half of the regular season, the Ducks played a Sunday game and had to wait two days before resuming play on Wednesday. They won all five times.
Said Selanne this morning while meeting with reporters on the non-practice day, "We want to stay positive, and we are positive, but you have to be honest. You have to face the facts and learn and be better. This team is way too good to play like we played last night.
"I’m expecting that Wednesday we’re going to play our best game of this series.”
Updated April 15 at 4:08 p.m.
You can hear nothing but the buzz of the house lights in the arena's lower bowl, every seatback in the house once again covered with orange towels that hours from now will be twirled in the air by screaming fans. Tonight's towels have a slightly different design to them than in Game 1, an inadvertant symbolism for the Ducks, as they look for something better than what they showed two nights ago in the series opener.
Tonight's Game 2 is all about the goalies. In the Ducks' net, the talk revolved around who's going to get the nod between Game 1 starter Dan Ellis and Game 1 finisher Ray Emery. At the other end of the rink, it's about whether Anaheim can figure out big Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne, who stifled the Ducks in Game 1. Anaheim only managed a third period 5-on-3 goal against Rinne on Wednesday night, though Corey Perry (scoreless on five shots) did his best to get to Rinne. Perry, who has run a goalie or two in his day, had a couple of face-to-face moments with the Finn on Wednesday night, notably at the end of the second when the two had to be separated.
“It’s something that you have to do,” Perry said yesterday. “Obviously, he’s their best player or one of the best players anyways. He’s the reason why they’re here.
“You want to win that battle. It’s a battle of you against him. You take a lot of pride in that.”
Back to the Ducks' goalies, Emery was inserted in relief of Ellis near the beginning of the third period and looked mobile enough stopping all six shots he faced. Emery, who wasn't talked to by media this morning, said yesterday of his lower body injury, "I’ve been getting better. I felt like I could contribute. That’s why I was backing up. I’m not sure what’s going to happen. My body feels good enough to get out there and practice and I felt good last night in the game. It’s day by day. Right now it feels good.”
We'll know who the Game 2 starter is no sooner than when the Ducks step into the ice for warmups tonight (check the Ducks Twitter to find out along with us if you're not in the building.)
If Emery gets the nod, it will be his first playoff start since, ironically enough, he and the Senators lost Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final here on (say it with me now) June 6, 2007. “It was special and something that I miss doing,” Emery said of playoff hockey. “Playoffs are a whole different thing. That’s what I really, really love about the game. It’s been a long time. “It’s something I’m hoping to get back into, because it’s awesome. It’s my thing.”
Ours too. Game 2 can't get here soon enough.
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I had a couple people send me this obscure video of Teemu Selanne acting in what is either a short film or a long commercial for a Finnish product called Maksuturva. Absolutely priceless, especially the part where he scoops the vegetables off his plate. I also like the fact that "Let's play hockey" in pronounced in Finnish, "Les play hohkey." Enjoy.
Updated April 14 at 11:28 a.m.
If it was at all difficult to capture the sentiment last night after a disappointing start to the playoffs for the Ducks, it came in a brief email from a co-worker/friend in the aftermath of last night's Game 1.
"Well," the email said, "that didn't go as planned."
That pretty much sums up the feeling of anxiously looking forward to the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, then being left with a disheartening 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Nashville Predators in our own building. Everything going into that game was great -- The Playoff Spot outside Honda Center, the opening video montages, the enthusiasm of the crowd both before the game and in a hard-hitting first couple of periods. The result, on the other hand, not so great. (The good news: We can count on that same passion tomorrow night in a critical Game 2.)
We already knew the Predators D would be tough. We knew Pekka Rinne would be stingy. But it's one thing to predict it, and another to experience it. The Ducks not getting a goal until Teemu Selanne struck on a 5-on-3 with 8:36 left in the game and Anaheim already down 4-0 -- that emphasized it pretty well.
There were a couple moments you could point to last night that turned what could have been a tight opener to this series into a game that got away from the Ducks. Selanne had a chance to tie the game about 11 minutes into the first period, but Rinne robbed him with a sick skate save from point blank (50 seconds into this clip, and I still think Nashville's play-by-play guy sounds like Mr. Lebowski).
The Ducks were still very much in the game after Steve Sullivan tapped in his own rebound on a partial breakaway with 4:44 left, but that goal seemed to take some air out of Anaheim's balloon. Less than three minutes later, Mike Fisher (a.k.a. Carrie Underwood's Husband) whipped a wrist shot past Dan Ellis from the left faceoff dot and suddenly it was a 3-0 deficit that is just too much to overcome against that defense and that goaltender.
“He’s an athletic guy,” said Ryan Getzlaf of Rinne. “He’s not just big in there. He uses his arms really well. He has the ability to go post-to-post. We got to find ways to move him around and get in front of him. “We know we’re not going to blow anybody out of the water. We got Pekka Rinne in the net, and he’s one of the best goalies in the league. And they’re one of the tightest teams in the league.”
Things got away from the Ducks even more when Fisher got another goal less than a minute into the third and Ellis was pulled for Ray Emery, saved all six shots he saw in relief. The fact that Emery looked healthy enough to play almost that whole period will certainly ramp up the questions for Randy Carlyle as to who will be the Game 2 starter.
That Game 2 can't come soon enough for the Ducks, who stressed last night they were moving on from Game 1 as best as possible.
“You don’t expect to have a game like this,” said Corey Perry, who saw all five of his shots die in Rinne's grasp. “But that’s why there are seven games in a series.
“I don’t think anything we did out there was real positive. We just didn’t have it tonight. It’s one of those things. You move on. You put this one away.”
I think we're all working on doing just that. Game 2 is tomorrow night.
- - -
Despite the buzz of the playoffs, it's pretty somber around the Ducks offices this week. We were shocked to find out Monday that our longtime and beloved receptionist Annabel Findley passed away on Saturday.
Annabel was the first person we'd all see when we came into work in the morning, and she was not only a friendly face but a huge Ducks fan. I'd walk by her desk and one of us would say something to the effect of "How about that game last night?" or maybe just throw a fist in the air if the Ducks had won. If things were going bad for the team, sometimes just a shake of the head from one or both of us would say everything. She would have probably done that as I walked in this morning, but I know she'd follow up with something like, "Don't worry, we'll come back" (and I would be sure she was right).
She was an avid reader of this blog, frequently complimenting me on something I wrote that made her laugh, or offering an "I'm reading it right now!" (In fact, if I recall, that was one of the last things she said to me.)
In a way, Annabel was the voice of the Ducks. Chances are, if you ever called our offices, you talked to her. You may have seen her in the popular Ryan Getzlaf vs. Bobby Ryan Olympic video (the part where she says, "Hi, boys" and they both casually harmonize, "Hi, Annabel" before they get in the elevator), or in the George Parros laundromat Ducks Dedication promo, where she's reading the magazine and ignoring big George. (I know she got the biggest kick out of being in that video every time it was shown on TV or in Honda Center.)
I'm almost certain that one of the last things Annabel did in her life was see the Ducks win last Friday night to get into the playoffs (she was in the stands). I know that absolutely delighted her.
Annabel is sorely missed around here and I can't even bear the thought of not seeing her face behind that big desk every morning. Or the smile on her face when I would sneak out of here in the afternoon, jokingly holding my finger over my lips. We've all been thinking about her the past few days, and every time the Ducks do something great from now on, I'll think about her again.
Updated April 13 at 1:58 p.m.
There's a certain buzz around this time of year, when you can just feel it in the air -- it's playoff time.
Outside Honda Center, you've got giant reminders like this one (at right), or the tents going up to host fans before the game in The Playoff Spot. Outside the entrance to the arena, there are more fans milling around for autographs than normal. Inside, there are three times as much media milling around for that perfect sound bite.
As the Ducks go through their morning skate, they're surrounded by a sea of bright orange, every last one of the 17,174 seats at Honda Center having these towels carefully laid over them, just waiting to be feverishly waved in the air a little more than five hours from now. People around the Ducks offices are doing creative things with those towels, like this.
Playoff logos are printed everywhere, from window clings to tickets to t-shirts. Let's Go Ducks stickers are in each staff member's mailbox, and word comes down from our video guys that the opening montage before tonight's game will blow everyone away.
You find yourself counting down the hours to puck drop like never before.
The focus, more than almost any other time during the season, is on the opponent, a Nashville Predators team that by no means is a hated rival of Anaheim. But by the end of this series, they just might be. (That possibility is one of the 800 things that makes the playoffs so great.)
While the Preds did beat the Ducks in three out of four meetings this year, two of those were in the second of a back-to-back for the Ducks. One of those games came in the second game of the year and another was a comeback attempt by Jonas Hiller last month. Hiller gave up three early goals in that game before being replaced by Dan Ellis, and the Ducks nearly came back before getting edged 5-4.
Ellis is expected to be in net for the Ducks tonight, as Ray Emery is slow to recover from his lower body ailment. Ellis, of course, had some good years in Nashville before Pekka Rinne took over the starting spot and Ellis was let go to Tampa Bay. As much as anybody, Ellis is well aware that in six playoff appearances (all coming in the last seven seasons), the Preds have never advanced past the first round.
“Eventually you’ve got to beat that curse,” Ellis said. ”You just want to make sure that you’re not the team that’s allowing them to do that. We’ve got to be prepared for a team that’s going to be desperate. Their urgency level, their desire to get through that first round is going to be higher than ever.”
Nashville will be trying to do it the way they've done it the whole year, with defense and goaltending. Pekka Rinne has gone from a guy whose name sounds like a popular dish at Olive Garden to perhaps the Western Conference's most underrated goalie. He was near the top of the league in goals-against average (2.12) and save percentage (.930) during the regular season, and a big reason Nashville finished fifth in the West. Ryan Getzlaf, when asked what it would take to beat Nashville tonight and in this series, opened with a simple, "Beating Pekka.”
He later added, "We’re playing against a tremendous goaltender who’s played really well all season long. “Obviously we’re looking to that challenge of getting lots of pucks at him and working through their D."
That D is led by one of the top blue line tandems in the league in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, which the Ducks will try to combat with perhaps the league's top forward line in Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. The Preds, on the other hand, don't produce a whole lot on the offensive end: Corey Perry had 50 goals this season. Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn led the Predators with 50 points.
As much as needing to get off to a good start might seem a cliche, it takes on some serious importance in this series with the way the Preds like to get out to an early lead and just sit back on it. In fact, in the three victories over the Ducks this season, they did exactly that. "Their record shows they can do that," said Perry. "We as a whole just have to play the same way. Just be patient. Our opportunities are going to come. You just can’t keep forcing things.”
While the Ducks are preaching patience on the ice tonight, it's hard to hold back the anxiousness counting down the hours till we drop the puck for Game 1:
"It's playoff time," Ellis said. "It's the best time of the year."
It's hard to explain playoff time -- it's just a feeling. And it's one we're hoping lasts a very long time around here.
We've felt what that feels like before, and you better believe we want it all over again.
Updated April 11 at 2:58 p.m.
Two days later and it's still hard to believe what the Ducks did. Early Friday night, we didn't even know if this team was in the playoffs. By late Saturday, they had home ice. One night after the clinching a playoff berth with a win over the Kings at Honda Center, Anaheim did it again at Staples Center, catapulting from seventh in the Western Conference to fourth and ensuring they will start the postseason at Honda Center.
To do it, the Ducks not only had to work for a 3-1 victory over L.A. (more on that later), but they had to rely on two other games going their way that night. And while you can seemingly count on one hand the number of times the out-of-town scoreboard has been friendly to the Ducks, somehow both games worked out for them. Just before the puck dropped at Staples, the Predators lost 2-0 to the Blues, and while the Ducks were holding a two-goal lead over the Kings, Phoenix went down in San Jose. (Watching that game on a TV monitor while simultaneously looking down at the ice at Ducks-Kings easily took a year off my life.)
Of course, the Kings were playing for that same coveted fourth-place spot, but the Ducks -- and especially Dan Ellis -- were too much for them. Ellis, starting in net for the second straight night, was incredible with a season-high 43 saves, including this beauty to deny Dustin Brown on a shorthanded breakaway in the second, which he followed up with another stop an instant later on Drew Doughty.
That was the catalyst for a monster momentum change in the game, because seconds later Francois Beauchemin blistered a slap shot from the left wing under Jonathan Quick to give the Ducks a comfy 3-0 lead.
The Kings did manage to get one back on a deflection by Ryan Smyth, their first power play goal in seven games and their first in six opportunities on Saturday. But that was all the Ducks would allow the rest of the way, as neither team lit the lamp in the third. That's not to say, however, that the final 20 minutes didn't pack some excitement.
With a little more than three minutes left in the game, Teemu Selanne was driven into the glass by Jack Johnson but continued to hold the puck against the wall, getting his helmet later ripped off his head on a cross check by Brad Richardson. That inevitably sparked some pushing and shoving in the corner. As things appeared ready to let up, Sheldon Brookbank and Kyle Clifford started blasting on each other, with Brookbank taking some early punishment before raining blows on Clifford and opening up a cut on his face.
As that bout continued, Selanne had jaws dropping throughout the building as he started trading punches with Richardson. Both guys landed some shots to the head before officials pulled them apart. Take a look:
"You don’t see that very often,” said Selanne, echoing what everyone else was saying about the fight. “When you feel that somebody tried to hurt you, you have to do some action out there. I had to do what I had to do.
"I can look after myself. Usually you don’t want to hurt your hand and stuff, but I was pretty mad. I know when somebody’s trying to hurt me. That shouldn’t be the case in this league.”
Selanne also focused on something else that was pretty improbable about Saturday night, the fact the Ducks leapfrogged three teams (including the Kings) to nab that fourth spot.
“Two days ago, we didn’t even know we were going to make the playoffs,” he said. “Two days later you’re in fourth place. That is amazing. It just shows how tight it is. You have to believe. That’s what it’s all about.”
(So tight, in fact, that Dallas came up just short in its bid to win their final five games and lost in Minnesota, getting edged for the eighth spot by Chicago on Sunday. The Blackhawks, by the way, could have played Anaheim in the first round had they not lost to the Red Wings on Sunday.)
"We wanted to have the home ice advantage and we got it. We did what we had to do. We've been fighting for three months just to try and get into the playoffs. Last night we clinched that and all of a sudden we had an opportunity for home ice. This is huge."
So we're just two nights away from the Ducks opening the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Honda Center against the Nashville Predators. (Local TV listings for that series, by the way, will be announced soon.). The Preds are in the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven seasons, but have never made it past the first round. They did beat the Ducks three out of four times this season, but that means very little once you get into this time of year, in a postseason the Ducks enter on a serious roll.
"I don't believe you can just go into the playoffs and turn the switch on," Selanne said today following practice. "You have to build momentum going into the playoffs and I like the situation we're in right now."
Updated April 9 at 1:46 p.m.
As it turned out, there was one guy who made absolutely sure Teemu Selanne wasn't playing his last game at Honda Center.
Teemu Selanne himself.
And really, after all this time, after seeing this guy blow our minds time and time again, were any of us surprised?
Selanne, whose birth certificate says he's 40 but nothing else does, had two huge goals in a tight 2-1 victory over the Kings that finally (finally) clinched a playoff spot for the Ducks.
The first came at a critical time halfway through the second, as the Ducks trailed 1-0 and weren't able to get much space thanks to a stifling Kings defense. A Luca Sbisa shot from the high point caromed hard of Jonathan Quick, and Selanne picked up the loose puck and roofed it far side. (Jason Blake could easily have been called for boarding Selanne on the jubilant celebration.)
Then there was the eventual game-winner that, even though Selanne finished it, was really more about Saku Koivu. After taking in the puck at center ice on the rush, Koivu got knocked off balance by Matt Greene, and still was able to shuttle a pass to Selanne, who dumped it into the open net.
That goal came 5:54 into the third, meaning there were still 14 minutes of (at least from my perspective) looking at the ice, then looking at the clock. Looking at the ice, then looking at the clock. Looking at the ice, then looking at the clock (is it just me or is this clock moving really slow??).
That was never more the case than in the final minute, when the Kings sent Quick to the bench, and the Ducks missed chances at the empty net no less than three times. Perry was one-on-one with Drew Doughty and Doughty blocked his shot, then seconds later Perry missed the net wide from around the blue line. Getzlaf later did the same, but his came with just a couple of ticks left on the clock, and by then it didn't matter. It was over, and after an agonizing wait of one year and 81 games, the Ducks were finally back in the playoffs. And the feeling when that final horn went off wasn't necessarily elation or glee or amazement. It was more like relief.
Soon afterward, t was a pretty cool moment when Selanne skated out on the Honda Center ice after being named the game's No. 1 star, delivering a signed stick to a blonde hanging on the railing over the Zamboni tunnel as loud chants of "One more year!" rang through the building. (To heck with one more year, how about five?) Here's a pretty cool look at some of that courtesy of our staffer Neil:
On the telecast, as Selanne was skating over for the customary interview with Kent French that's also carried in the arena, Brian Hayward simply said, "He is something. And they love him here." Frenchie paused while the chants continued, as Selanne couldn't contain his smile while looking up into the stands. "Our team deserved a playoff spot and our fans deserved it," he said into the mic. "I'm so happy right now." And of the Ducks able to stick it out nearly to the end, he said, "We believe every night, even when we're down," Selanne said.
"Good things happen," he added, "when you believe."
Later in the locker room, Selanne was reminded this is the first time the Ducks and Kings have ever been in the playoffs at the same time. And the Flash, ever the ambassador, said, "I’m proud of both teams. We need this. For hockey here in Southern California, this is going to be a huge boost."
So with last night's clinching win, tonight's game in LA, the second of the back-to-back with the Kings takes on a whole other meaning. Instead of fighting to get in the playoff, the Ducks are now playing for a higher seed. And in one last reminder of how wacky the West is this season, the Ducks can actually get as high as fourth with a win over the Kings tonight and open the first round at home. But that would mean Nashville would have to lose at St. Louis and Phoenix would have to lose at San Jose. (Of course, things like that have never gone the Ducks' way this season, so why should it start now?)
If that did happen, however, that would mean the Ducks, Preds and Coyotes would all be tied at 99 points (and so would the Kings if we go into overtime tonight and they get a point.) But the Ducks would own the tiebreaker on all of them by virtue of having 43 ROWs (regulation or overtime wins). As a matter of fact, the Ducks have more ROWs that every team in the Western Conference except Vancouver, so that tiebreaker introduced this year is working out quite nicely.
So while tonight's regular season finale in LA could certainly have had more meaning -- with Anaheim's playoff fate on the line -- I think we're all glad it doesn't. (I'll be up there, by the way, doing a live game log again.) Nevertheless, it still packs the intensity of both teams fighting for position in this tournament, and the Ducks having the chance to overtake their bitter rivals right at the finish line. I, for one, wouldn't mind seeing that happen.
Updated April 8 at 12:58 p.m.
There is a Ducks pocket schedule thumbtacked to the wall in my office, just to the left of my computer monitor, that I have probably looked at, oh, 10,000 times since September. Many of those times, my eyes have wandered to the two boxes on the bottom right -- April 8 and 9, a home game against the Kings and a road game against them the very next day to end the season.
For the last few months, or maybe as far back as when the schedule was released in the summer, I've wondered if those games would have the extra intensity of playoff determination built into them. And I'll admit, there was a part of me that hoped there wouldn't be.
Sure, there is something to look forward to in two rivalry games that are already traditionally intense, and now will be dialed up about 10 notches with Anaheim's playoff life on the line. But right now, my stomach is tied up in knots, getting a little tighter with each hour as we get closer to gametime, and I can anticipate it getting much worse by the time the puck drops at 7:08 Pacific time tonight. (Remaining before throw-up time: ).
It's not exactly a good feeling, and something not felt by fans of the teams that clinched days ago. That of course includes the Kings, who punched their ticket on Wednesday night with a shootout win over Phoenix. The Ducks could have gotten in last night if Dallas had lost at home to Colorado (but of course they didn't) and can also do so without winning tonight, if the Stars lose in Colorado.
But again, we've learned too much from this season to think that's going to happen. So this is the gut-twisting scenario we're facing over the next two nights, with the Ducks needing two total points to lock up a postseason berth. In other words, win tonight and they're in.
And here's something interesting: If the Ducks do get in, it's not only the first time the Ducks and Kings have made the postseason at the same time. But that would mean the playoffs would have more California-based teams (Ducks, Kings and Sharks) than Canada-based teams (Canucks and Canadiens). Crazy.
"Wow. I didn't realize that," Bobby Ryan said when told of that yesterday by Helene Elliott of the LA Times. "That's actually an incredible stat. That just shows Southern California — I guess all of California —is the place to be right now."
BR was right about Southern California, especially over these next two nights. And despite the fact the Kings have already joined the dance, they have something to play for tonight, in addition to wanting to play spoilers to their bitter rivals. LA, currently in fourth place, would like to hold on to that position to get home ice for the first round. Ironically enough, the Ducks could conceivably spring into the fourth spot with wins in both of these games.
As if this one tonight wasn't intriguing enough, there's more. Ray Emery, who came out of Wednesday night's win over San Jose in the second period with what is only being described as a lower body injury, is listed as questionable by Randy Carlyle. Emery's status will be a game-time decision, according to Carlyle, who also noted that "all three goalies will be available tonight," meaning that includes Jonas Hiller. Dan Ellis, by the way, was wearing a Boston Red Sox t-shirt today, possibly a good omen because the Sox finally won their first game this afternoon.
Emery, who didn't take part in an optional skate this morning, said yesterday that he didn't think the injury was related to the hip surgery that kept him out for close to a year. "It’s a thing where I’m trying to be cautious because I’m wary of things I had in the past and I want to be able to contribute when I’m in there for a long period of time. So it’s more me being cautious.”
Emery, who was replaced by Dan Ellis in that game, was told that Carlyle had mentioned putting George Parros in as an emergency goalie had Ellis gotten hurt. Emery laughed and said, “I think I could have got back in there last night."
The Ducks aren't going to get any injury sympathy from LA, which lost top two scorers Anze Kopitar (torn ankle ligaments) and Justin Williams (shoulder) for the season.
And then there's this: I hate to even type these words, but there is the possibility that tonight could be Teemu Selanne's last game at Honda Center. Jeff Miller covers that in today's OC Register (I dare you not to get choked up reading the "One more year!" part), quoting Selanne as saying, “It feels weird that there’s a chance. It’s tough to think about it like that. But still, it’s reality, you know?”
After taking part in the optional skate this morning, Selanne was asked about it afterward. "Obviously I've thought about it, but it's not my focus right now," he said. "We have a huge game tonight and another one tomorrow, so that's what I'm really thinking about.
"But in reality," he said, "it could be."
(Hear that? That's the sound of Ducks fans shrieking.)
Of these next two games, Selanne said, "We know the situation and so the last two games are going to be huge. It's like a mini-playoffs against them. It's going to be fun."
Ryan took the same approach, saying, "If there's any games to get ready for playoffs it's certainly against the Kings. They bring out the best in us and we think we do likewise for them. It's going to be a fun weekend."
"Fun"? FUN??? This is what fun feels like???
The night started with a great dinner in a dining room of the casino's The Pines restaurant, which included both Ducks and Kings alums and staff, and inevitably made me think of this Sugar Ray Leonard commercial. Unfortunately, the extent of the dinner made us just a couple minutes late to the poker tables, and the rest of the players at my assigned table were already seated when I arrived. As I took my seat, the female dealer asked me if I was "the celebrity at the table" since they were apparently promised one. And now I'll forever have the memory of what seven poker players all looking disappointed at the same time looks like.
Soon after, I was the disappointed one when I was knocked out of the tournament after about 40 minutes. Though I want to point out I was probably the third or fourth person at the table to get eliminated and I did manage to win one hand (artfully acting like it was no big deal).
The photo at right is of Ducks alums JF Jomphe and Sean Pronger (both great guys, by the way) with Wild Wing, who did not play in the tournament. But Kings mascot Bailey actually did, producing one of the funnier images of the night. I'm probably not supposed to tell this, but he walked by me later in the night and I actually said, "You got knocked out?" and he whispered, "Yeah. Worst beat ever."
The final table included three Ducks fans and seven Kings fans, with Ducks fan Robert from Hesperia taking the final pot. He won $3,500 for his efforts and some prizes and admirably donated $500 of his winnings to the Anaheim Ducks Foundation. He also had a good story to tell about his journey to the final table. Earlier in the tournament, he was going against a few Kings fans and was forced to go all in to stay in a hand. He peaked at his hole cards and saw a pair of 9s. "I thought, It's 99, Wayne Gretzky's number, and I'm going against Kings fans. I've got to play it," he said. He ended up with a third 9 on the flop and took the pot, and the rest is history.
Updated April 7 at 10:48 a.m.
Of the myriad reasons we're desperately hoping the Ducks clinch a spot in the postseason, we were reminded of yet another one last night:
Honda Center has become a pretty fun place to be these days, and there's no way we want to see that end anytime soon.
The thought came to mind as chants of "M-V-P! M-V-P!" rang through the building after each of Corey Perry's three goals during an incredibly satisfying 6-2 rout of the rival Sharks. And those chants rose up one final time as Perry was interviewed by Kent French after being named the game's No. 1 star, his answers drowned out by the roaring crowd. (Here's how you know how powerful those moments were. I watched Perry's goals again this morning on the DVR and actually got goosebumps hearing the chants again.)
Perry's triple gave him 50 goals on the year, the highest total for a Duck since Teemu Selanne had 52 in 1997-98. That and the rest of his incredible last month has prompted Hart Trophy chatter by more than just those fans in the building last night. "If this guy doesn't win the MVP, it's a crime," said Selanne after the game. "This guy has been so rock solid the whole season. Obviously this is a great league. There are so many great players in this league who also deserve to be MVP. But c’mon, let’s face the facts. This guy has been a warrior who has carried this team. The way how he has done it is unbelievable.”
It's gotten to the point where every time Perry touches the puck, you think he's going to do something incredible with it. And he validated that feeling on a number of occasions last night.
The first was 12:58 into the opening period when he completely undressed Sharks d-man Marc-Edouard Vlasic with a drag to the backhand before flipping it past Antero Niittymaki. Then there was the move 6:46 into the second, where he emerged from behind the net, somehow slipped between two teal defenders and sent the puck through while falling to one knee. But it was the work he did without the puck that set up the magical third one. Watch here how Perry parks in front of the net on the 5-on-3 and uses his body to shoo Jason Demers off his back like a housefly. That allowed Selanne to make the feed in front that Perry expectedly tapped between the wickets of the Sharks goaltender. (The Ducks were a phenomenal 4 of 6 on the power play last night.)
Here's all three Perry goals put together:
The Sharks, who somehow managed to hold Perry shotless last Saturday night in San Jose, had no answer for him last night. And their frustration with Perry was on display when Dany Heatley cross-checked him in the face following a near-goal in the second, earning a four-minute major that justifiably led to Perry's third goal.
That one sparked a ferocious celebration in which Perry sprinted to the corner of the rink and jumped into Selanne's arms (ironic that one of the more reserved Ducks typically has one of the most animated and gleeful goal celebrations). While that was going on, the close to 16,000 fans in Honda Center went bonkers, pelting the ice with ballcaps yet again (My dad, unfortunately, was out of town for this one). It was the third hat trick this season for Perry, who had none coming into this season, and the seventh for the Ducks (a new club record).
“Fifty is a huge number,” Perry said in a rare moment of talking about himself, while also using his favorite word -- huge. “Everybody talks about it. There’s not a whole lot of people that get to do that and be in that category.” But of the Hart talk, Perry reminded, "I've said all along that getting to the playoffs is more important than winning an award."
Anaheim got a little bit closer with that emphatic and important victory over the Sharks, unquestionably the hottest team in the league entering last night. San Jose had won 26 of 34 coming in, including a 6-1 hammering of the Kings two nights prior that clinched the Pacific Division title. Anaheim's win last night put the Ducks on the brink of punching their playoff ticket, as they regained the hold on seventh place they had briefly lost when Chicago beat St. Louis earlier in the evening. The Ducks and Blackhawks each have 95 points, but Anaheim owns the tiebreaker by virtue of having four more ROWs (regulation or overtime wins).
So the Ducks can clinch a playoff berth one of two ways: a combination of 2 points gained by Anaheim or lost by Dallas OR
a combination of 4 points gained by Anaheim or lost by Chicago. (Calgary was officially eliminated when the Ducks won last night.)
Dallas plays tonight at home against Colorado, the first of a back-to-back with the 14th-place Avs. Anaheim clinches a playof berth if Dallas loses in regulation tonight. But if this Ducks season has taught us anything, there is no way we can expect that to happen. Instead, the Ducks will probably have to get it done tomorrow night in Game 81, at home against the Kings.
And if that's the case, it promises to be yet another unforgettable night at Honda Center.
Updated April 6 at 11:52 a.m.
Randy Carlyle was asked yesterday about the possibility of the Ducks getting help in their playoff pursuit from other teams around the league.
"As soon as you count on that," he said, "you're done."
Indeed, last night brought another slate of games involving Western Conference playoff-chasers that didn't go all that greatly for Anaheim. Granted, the Blackhawks lost early in overtime in front of raucous Canadiens fans in Montreal, but they still picked up a point. That pulled the Hawks into a virtual tie with the Ducks at 93 points, but Anaheim owns the tiebreaker with four more ROWs (regulation or overtime wins).
But the other game we really needed to go the Ducks' way ... didn't, as the Stars took down the Blue Jackets 3-0. (The game was a little closer than that since the Stars got two empty-netters in the final minute -- but really, does it matter?) That win kept the Stars' playoff hopes alive, as they have three games left, all against non-playoff teams.
Meanwhile, Nashville pulled another two points ahead of the Ducks (now four in front) in a 6-3 win over Atlanta that was 5-0 early in the third.
So, just another blunt reminder that if the Ducks want to do this, they pretty much have to do it themselves over these crucial final three regular season contests. That starts tonight in a monumental game with the Sharks.
This one has enough intrigue built into it, even without the subplot that evolved when San Jose heavyweight Douglas Murray knocked Lubomir Visnovsky out of the game in a 4-2 Sharks win on Saturday night. Visnovsky was able to return and score a goal Sunday against the Stars, but the Ducks were still seething. And to add a little more heat, there was some chirping about George Parros going after Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic soon after the Murray hit.
The Ducks insist, however, that retaliation is not their primary concern tonight. “It’s in the back of your mind, obviously,” Ryan Getzlaf said. “But the two points are the most important thing for our group right now. The two points are our focus.”
It goes without saying that it won't be easy against a Sharks team that has won 26 of its past 34 games. They're also one of the few teams to stop Corey Perry, who has no shots in the past two matchups and no goals in the last three. At the same time, Perry does have 11 goals in his last nine games. We're also hearing this morning that Antero Niittymaki will start in net tonight, his first start since January 13 (a rare Sharks loss, 5-2 to Edmonton). Winger Ryan Clowe, who left after only three shifts with an unspecified injury Monday night vs. the Kings, is out.
To add to the intensity, the Ducks will be playing in front of a home crowd that not only has ill will toward the men of teal, but still remembers feeling robbed of at least a point in this building three nights ago.
It will be a long seven hours to wait for this one tonight, a game that will have a major impact on whether the Ducks keep playing beyond these final three games. If they do, there's a good chance tonight might not be the last time we see the Sharks this month. If you can get here, tickets are still available.
The charitable buy-in is $25, which includes a commemorative t-shirt and an after party that starts at 10 p.m. (I imagine I'll be the first one there as soon as I dump all my money.)
There is still time to sign up, but the deadline is midnight tonight. Click here for more information and to register.
Gotta love the guy.
Updated April 5 at 2:12 p.m.
Not getting that much-needed win in regulation against Dallas two nights ago meant a lot of things -- but mostly it meant these last three games are likely going to be very tense. But then again, that's the 2010-11 Ducks, a team that despite its run of success in March, has never made things easy.
So we all should have seen it coming that Wednesday vs. San Jose and then back-to-back against LA on Friday and Saturday would be white-knuckle time. And we'll get a better idea of just how well the Ducks need to do in those games after tonight.
We all need to be huge Canadiens and Blue Jackets fans tonight, as the Habs are playing host to the Blackhawks and Columbus plays at Dallas. Chicago, in eighth place with 92 points, is one behind the Ducks. Dallas is another three points behind the Hawks, and likely needing to win each of its final four games to get into the postseason. That feat is made a little easier by the fact that all four of those games come against teams out of playoff position. That includes Columbus tonight (which is missing an injured Rick Nash), then Colorado (without Paul Stastny, who is done for the season) back-to-back on Thursday and Friday, then Minnesota to end the regular season Sunday. Here's today's updated Playoff Race, to paint you a picture. (And by the way, you can pay $19.95 for a day pass to watch any out-of-market game online on NHL Gamecenter Live, something that might prove to be a good investment over the next few days.)
If Dallas wins all four of those games, we're probably looking at the Ducks needing four points in their final three games to get into the dance. If Dallas manages to lose, let's say, tonight, the Ducks can clinch a berth with a win (any win, be it regulation or OT) tomorrow night against the teal.
The Ducks remain two points behind sixth-place Nashville, which takes on Atlanta tonight with the Preds looking to clinch a playoff spot for the sixth time in the past eight seasons. (That's got to be the quietest sixth-playoff-berth-in-the-last-eight-seasons in all of sports right now, no?)
Anaheim is also just three points behind the fifth-place Kings, who lost 6-1 last night in San Jose thanks in part to four SJ goals in the second. The result of that game left me with one of those I'm not sure how to feel moments -- like when I found out Ryan Reynolds and Scarlett Johansson split up. One on hand, you have the rival Kings -- a team the Ducks would like to catch and pass right now. On same hand (yeah, that's right), you have yet another in-your-face reminder of how good the Sharks are right now (outscoring folks 43-18 over the past nine games). And oh, did we mention, they're in our building tomorrow night?
We'll have more tomorrow on that revenge game, which looms large for Anaheim no matter what happens around the league this evening. For now, pull your Tomas Plekanec or Fedor Tyutin jerseys out of the closet. Or at least throw something navy on -- because we're all Habs and Jackets fans tonight.
Updated April 4 at 10:39 a.m.
To have the euphoria of a late game-tying goal crushed by the sight of a referee emphatically waving his arms is devastating.
To have it happen twice in a span of a minute and a half is downright cruel and unusual.
But that's what Ducks fans endured last night in a 4-3 loss to Dallas, as not one, but two, apparent goals in the final moments were disallowed. Each were resoundingly waved off by referee Brad Meier as soon as they went in the net.
The first came with 2:04 left in the game, as Teemu Selanne did what Teemu Selanne does time and again, redirecting a Francois Beauchemin slap shot into the back of the Dallas net. But Meier immediately waved the goal off, ruling that Saku Koivu interfered with goalie Kari Lehtonen a second or two before the puck went past him. Replays showed that Koivu did get his feet tangled briefly with Lehtonen at the top of the crease, which is a shame because it also showed that Selanne's shot may have gotten past him anyway. (The look of utter shock on Selanne's face pretty much expressed what we were all feeling.)
Ducks fans went from elated to horrified in a matter of seconds, and they had that exact same emotional swing a few minutes later (75 seconds in hockey time). This time Corey Perry caught the puck out of the air in front of the net and dropped it at his feet, where it skittered to Bobby Ryan, who chipped it off Lehtonen and under the crossbar with 48.9 left. Again, booming roar as the Ducks celebrate. Again, anguish as its waved off.
Meier ruled that since nobody touched the puck after Perry laid it down with his hand, it was considered a hand pass and thus the play was dead as soon as Ryan touched it. It's a tough call to make, especially since slow-motion replays may or may not show that the puck hit Perry's skate before it slid in Ryan's direction. Rule 79.1 of the NHL rulebook says, A player shall be permitted to stop or “bat” a puck in the air with his open hand, or push it along the ice with his hand, and the play shall not be stopped unless, in the opinion of the Referee, he has directed the puck to a teammate.
Watching both no-goals again isn't easy, especially when you hear the thunderous roar from Ducks fans after each of them, knowing both were annulled. But here you go anyway, with explanations from Randy Carlyle:
Right calls or not, they were devastating to the Ducks and the 16,000+ raucous fans in the building. But since it's the Ducks, there was still a feeling they would get that that tying goal in the last minute anyway -- and they nearly did. With Anaheim still skating 6-on-4 after a Dallas penalty and a pulled Ray Emery, Perry twice nearly punched in that elusive tying goal. With 25 seconds left, he swatted at a loose puck a couple of times but couldn't get it past Lehtonen (who couldn't locate it). Then with two seconds left, he redirected a Ryan pass just wide of the right post. (It was Perry who helped make it a game in the first place with a brilliant shorthanded goal late in the second, his club-record fourth shorty of the year and NHL-leading 47th overall.
To realize that was Anaheim's last goal of the night is hard to fathom, after all that went on in the final minutes. And when that horn finally sounded with the score still Stars 4, Ducks 3, there was that Wait, did we really lose? feeling in the building. And that one stung a little more than most, since a regulation win would have clinched a playoff spot for the Ducks (not to mention the Kings and Coyotes). That was despite the loss the night before in San Jose, when the Ducks jumped out to a 2-0 lead but couldn't hold it against a Sharks team that's unquestionably the hottest in the league right now. (Last night was the first time since February 23 and 25 the Ducks actually lost two in a row.)
That's the same Sharks team Anaheim faces in two nights here at home to start off what could be a tense final three games for the Ducks. We'll get into that tomorrow, as we examine how what Dallas does in its final four games impacts Anaheim's playoff chances. For now, Carlyle wanted his troops to think about anything but hockey.
"We’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster here for the last three weeks," he said. "Tomorrow is a day where you don’t do anything. That is what I told them. Don’t play golf, don’t do anything, just forget about what is going on. Your mind and body need a rest to settle down. We’re going to have to reenergize ourselves starting on Tuesday morning for Wednesday night’s game."
Updated April 1 at 2:17 p.m.
The following blog post will be incredibly entertaining and insightful.
Back to reality, with the Ducks not playing until they face a big one tomorrow night in San Jose, all we could do last night was some more scoreboard watching. And it was a pretty decent night for the Ducks -- not flawless, but decent.
The bad: Nashville's expected victory over the 14th-place Avs (by a score of 3-2) gave the Predators their sixth-place spot back and moved the Ducks back down to seventh. Although, until tomorrow night, the Ducks have a game in hand on the Preds. Nashville has a pretty friendly four games remaining, three of them at home. They take on Detroit tomorrow, but after that it's Atlanta, Columbus and St. Louis -- all three of which are non-playoff teams. (Check out the rest of the playoff race here.)
The good and mildy bad: San Jose clinched a playoff berth and moved to second place in the West with a 6-0 win over Dallas. It's mildly bad because had the Sharks lost, the Ducks could have gotten to within two points of them for the Pacific lead with a win in San Jose tomorrow night. It's good because it kept Dallas in ninth place, still six points behind the Ducks with a game in hand. By the way, here's a note I read today that blew me away: Following six-game losing streak, the Sharks had the 12th-best record in the Western Conference and were in last place in the Pacific on January 13. Since then, they have won 24 of 32.
The good: The Canucks took down the Kings last night in Vancouver 3-1 (with the Kings getting outshot 16-0 in the third), meaning the Ducks could leapfrog LA with a win tomorrow night. The Kings play in Dallas tomorrow in a 1 p.m. afternoon game. Also by virtue of that Canucks win, they clinched the Presidents' Trophy for best record in the NHL. That inevitably prompted this fact: No Presidents' Trophy winner has won the Stanley Cup since the Wings in 2002. (You may remember the Sharks clinched it in 2009, and I'm trying to remember what happened to them in the playoffs that year.)
Tonight the Blackhawks play at Columbus, with a win moving Chicago to within a point of Anaheim. Phoenix faces Colorado at home (getting the Avs on the second of a back-to-back), with a win moving the fourth-place Coyotes to within two points of San Jose for the Pacific lead.
Bobby Ryan, who's still getting treatment on a stiff knee after that late hit from Mark Giordano at the end of Wednesday night's win in Calgary, took part in a partial practice today in San Jose. Afterward, he reported, “It’s a little tight, a little bruise, but that’s about it. I’ll try and get better for tomorrow. Tomorrow is a good day for a morning skate. It’s not a real hard practice. It’s one of those things where you can really do what you please to get it ready. That’s what I’ll do, and be optimistic about it.” Here's a report from Dan Wood on Ryan, who's listed as questionable (but then again, aren't we all?). There was no fine or suspension for Giordano on the play, according to Eric Stephens of the OC Register.
By the way, tickets for Ducks home games for the first round of the playoffs go on sale tomorrow at noon. But you can get in on a special presale by "Like"ing the Anaheim Ducks on Facebook.
Kind of makes me want to leave here and hit the beach right now. Or at least go get some fish tacos at Wahoo's.