By Adam Brady
ANAHEIM – The once-mighty Ducks have looked anything but as of late.
Anaheim’s 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning before a sellout crowd at Honda Center was a fifth defeat in the last six games and a far cry from the team that has sat at or near the top of the NHL standings for most of the season.
Tonight, they lost control of the game in a second period in which they only managed five shots while the Lightning scored four unanswered. That was enough to complete a season sweep over Anaheim, coupled with the Lightning’s 5-3 win in Tampa Bay 10 days ago.
The Ducks, as they have been for much of the season, were missing some key components. Winger Matt Beleskey missed the first game in what is expected to be an absence of two to four weeks with an upper-body injury, while defenseman Sami Vatanen is out four to six weeks with a lower-body ailment. Meanwhile, fellow blueliner Hampus Lindholm was also held out with an unspecific injury.
"We’re trying to figure it out," said Ducks winger Corer Perry. "We’re not making excuses for ourselves. We know what’s going on. We know we have to be better. We’re trying to figure it out in here as a group. Everybody has to do the little things, and the bigger things are going to happen."
Added defenseman Ben Lovejoy, "We're not sitting here saying 'We played well, why did we lose?' We need to play better. Period. This isn’t a case of other teams coming in and beating us. When we’re playing the right way, our style, nobody is going to beat us. We’re not there right now. We need to get better."
The Ducks actually had the first lead in this one, getting on top 4:17 into the game after goalie Ben Bishop kicked away a Rickard Rakell shot and Patrick Maroon chopped away at the rebound before forcing it over the stripe.
Unfortunately, that was the last time Anaheim found the net, as things changed drastically after the first period horn. The Lightning first struck 4 1/2 minutes into the second when Brian Boyle’s shot from near the left wing half wall was deflected through nicely by Anton Stralman.
They cashed in again less than a minute later when Ondrej Palat pounced on a fat rebound and slid the puck across to Tyler Johnson for the one-timer into a yawning net.
"I don’t think anybody is very happy with what’s going on," said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. "It’s up to us. We can’t hang our heads because every other team wants to win, too. We have to pull ourselves out of this. When we do, we’ll be a better team. We’d certainly like to see it sooner rather than later."
Tampa went up 3-1 with just under two minutes left when goalie John Gibson rolled onto his back on top of the puck in the crease, where it was poked it out from underneath him and slid over the goal line.
The Lightning got yet another with 20.4 seconds left as the Ducks defense lost track of Steven Stamkos, who slammed home an Alex Killorn pass for his 31st of the year.
"We got back on our heels," Perry said. "In the first period, we were getting the puck deep, we were physical, and we were on them. They’re a fast-skating club. When you give them no time and space, they can’t skate around you. The first period was the way we wanted to play tonight. I don’t know what happened in the second period."
Anaheim will attempt to get back on track away from the once-friendly confines of Honda Center, as they play at Calgary on Friday and at Edmonton the following night. "It doesn't matter if we play in Timbuktu," Boudreau said. "We've got to play better."
"There are always concerns, but for us, we know we’re a good hockey team," Maroon said. "We just need to take a step back. We have high expectations. We know we’re a good team. When we play at our best level, no one can beat us in this league.
"We play very strong hockey. We’re big and physical, but we’re getting away from that right now. We just need to focus on one game at a time.