By Adam Brady
ANAHEIM – After cruising all season long in their own building, it took a heartbreaking finish to hand the Ducks their first defeat at Honda Center.
With Anaheim looking to be on the verge of an NHL-best ninth straight home win, Jaromir Jagr broke the Ducks’ hearts with a late goal in regulation, and a major miscue proved costly in overtime in a 4-3 defeat to the visiting Devils.
With just over a minute left in regulation, New Jersey sent goalie Martin Brodeur to the bench for an extra attacker, and it paid off. Patrik Elias flipped the puck in front from behind the net, and the 41-year-old Jagr punched it through to crush the home crowd and send the game into OT.
Then a couple minutes into overtime, with the Ducks scrambling in their own end, Ben Lovejoy attempted to sweep the puck out of the crease, only to have it tragically deflect off Corey Perry into the Anaheim net.
"It’s even tougher to swallow that we’re on a losing streak right now," said a forlorn Lovejoy. "Up 3-2 with very little time left, they get a late goal. We were still trying to win that game. They came back on an odd-man rush, Jonas [Hiller] made the save, and I tried to clear it into the corner, but fired it off of Corey's shin pad."
Lovejoy called it, "an incredibly unfortunate ending. That's a game we need."
The Ducks had been the only NHL team to remain undefeated this season, and missed a chance to return to the top spot in the NHL standings with a fifth straight defeat (0-3-2 in that stretch).
"It’s not losing games that bug you so much, it’s the way you lose them," said Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, who had the go-ahead goal in the second period. "We played a good, hard hockey team and played a pretty solid game. We had lapses throughout the game like anybody else, but when you have it on your stick with a minute left in the game, we’ve got to be able to close it out."
The Ducks had gone without a shot in the third for the first 13:27 of the period, during which New Jersey outshot them 11-0, and they were finally bitten by it late in the period. Still, the Ducks had a chance to win it in overtime on a couple of scoring chances, including a wide open net in front of Mathieu Perreault, but he couldn't cash in.
"The way it was going, we missed two total open nets, and a minute before, Perreault missed the net," said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. "You knew something negative was going to happen."
Anaheim looked sharp for the first 40 minutes, scoring three times (including a couple of power-play goals) and giving up two to New Jersey during a controversial four-minute power play.
The Ducks opened the scoring 8:29 into the game, when Hampus Lindholm made a beautiful blind pass to Matt Beleskey, who snapped a shot inside the far post for his first point of the season. Beleskey missed 19 games with an upper-body injury.
A questionable call later in the period led to New Jersey scoring twice to take the lead, as Teemu Selanne was called for a high-stick on Andy Greene, when replays clearly showed Greene was hit by teammate Marek Zidlicky’s blade. New Jersey took full advantage of the resulting double-minor, getting goals from Zidlicky at 15:44 and Eric Gelinas at 17:10.
The Ducks got their payback early in the second, on a 5-on-3 that resulted from penalties on Gelinas (high-sticking) and Peter Harrold (hooking). Anaheim pounced early in the two-man advantage, as a Cam Fowler point shot hit off Dustin Penner’s skate to Nick Bonino, who poked it in from just right of the net.
Penner played a role in Anaheim’s go-ahead goal, also on the power play, with 4:20 left in the period. His no-look, between-the-legs pass intended for Perry got all the way to the high slot, where Getzlaf hammered it into the top right corner with Perry screening goalie Brodeur.
That was the last time the Ducks would threaten, though it appeared they would escape before Jagr’s late dagger. It didn't help that Anaheim played the last period and a half without top defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who left in the second with an upper-body injury.
"Right now it’s day-to-day," Boudreau said. "To lose him for any time is a big thing. Hopefully we’ll wake up tomorrow and he’ll be better."
The Ducks look to get back to their winning ways Friday night at Honda Center vs. Tampa Bay, on a night when the team will honor recent Hall-of-Fame inductee Scott Niedermayer.