ANAHEIM – It wasn’t pretty, but the Ducks will take it. And so, for that matter, will Ray Emery.
The veteran netminder, making his first NHL start in more than a year, recorded 30 saves to help the Ducks to a hard-fought 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues at Honda Center.
"I definitely had butterflies going and was excited to get in there," Emery said. "I don’t control when I play, who I play against or what kind of game. When you get the opportunity, you want to make the most of it."
The victory, on a night where the Ducks weren't at their sharpest, pulled Anaheim into the eighth spot with 81 points. That's the same total as Calgary, but the Ducks get the better of a tiebreaker by virtue of having played two fewer games. It's the first time the Ducks have been in the top 8 this season since February 19. And it was a game the Ducks desperately needed, especially against a 13th-place Blues team that had several recent AHL call-ups on the ice.
"We are in the playoffs right now," said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle. "Our message is now we have to earn the right to stay in. We found a way to win the hockey game tonight."
Jason Blake provided all the offense the Ducks would need with two goals on the night, the latter the game-winner early in the third.
"It’s definitely a good feeling," Blake said. "Every game right now for us is a playoff mentality and you have to be ready to play. I thought Ray played unbelievable tonight and made some great, key saves. It’s been a long time coming for him. He did a great job."
It was the first start and the first victory for Emery since February 1, 2010 with Philadelphia, as he came back from major hip surgery. Emery got help from a Ducks defense that kept the Blues mostly at bay in the final minute when they emptied their net for an extra attacker.
"They buzzed around the net, cycled pucks, threw it and people tried to whack at it," Emery said. "I just had to stay sharp on those little jam plays. Luckily enough, we went into the third with a chance to win. We did a good job of getting one and keeping the lead."
The Ducks took the lead for good on Blake’s second goal of the evening just 1:50 into the third, as he parked in the slot and tipped through a Lubomir Visnovsky slap shot with his back to the net.
Anaheim escaped a lethargic first period scoreless, but went down a goal when former Duck Nathan Oystrick converted on the power play halfway through the second. Oystrick’s original shot from the right wing circle was blocked right back to him, but he buried the second effort.
Oystrick, who played three games with the Ducks last season, was an emergency call-up on Tuesday on Peoria and is currently serving a six-game AHL suspension for leaving the bench to instigate a fight.
The Ducks pulled even less than two minutes after Oystrick's tally, as Blake tried a centering pass on the rush down the right wing and the puck went off the skate of a sliding Roman Polak and underneath goalie Jaroslav Halak.
"Saku was going to the net and I was trying to give it to him," Blake said. "The defenseman slid down, so I just tried to get around him. We got a fortunate bounce."
The Ducks may or may not remain in eighth when they face a critical matchup with the rival Kings on Saturday night in Los Angeles.
"We’ll enjoy this one," Blake said, "but it’s obviously a huge game on Saturday against the Kings. We have to make sure that we do the same things that we did tonight, but even better."
This marks the first time in nearly 11 years that both the Ducks and Kings have been in playoff position this late in the season (defined by games remaining), dating back to Mar. 21, 2000. The latest the two clubs have EVER been in the top eight at the same time was on the aforementioned date, when the Ducks had eight games left (31-29-14, eighth place) and the Kings had nine contests remaining (34-26-13, fifth place) in the 1999-00 season.
The Ducks have won six of their last eight games (6-2-0) and have earned standings points in seven of nine (6-2-1). The club has 12 games remaining on the 2010-11 regular season schedule, including five home games and seven road games. Anaheim next takes on the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on Saturday evening (7:30 p.m.).
By allowing only one goal tonight (30 saves), Ray Emery equaled the fewest goals allowed by a Ducks goaltender making his first Anaheim start. Two other goalies also allowed one goal - Dominic Roussel (Oct. 10, 1998 at Washington, 33-of-34 shots, 1-0 loss) and Jonas Hiller (Sept. 30, 2007 vs. Los Angeles in London, 22-of-23 shots, 4-1 win).
With an assist on Jason Blake’s second goal, Lubomir Visnovsky has moved to a share of the NHL lead in scoring among defensemen (14-43=57). His 43 assists in 2010-11 rank second among league blueliners. Visnovsky has extended his point streak to four games (2-4=6) and has earned 5-6=11 points over the last seven games. On pace for a 67-point season (would tie career high set in 2005-06), Visnovsky is attempting to become just the second player in Ducks history to lead NHL defensemen in regular season scoring (also Scott Niedermayer, 2006-07).
With an assist tonight, Teemu Selanne is now tied with Dale Hunter for 51st in all-time assists (627-697=1,324 career points). He has 1-6=7 points in the last seven games, 7-16=23 in 20 and 16-38=54 points in 50 games. Selanne is on pace for a 77-point season, which would account for his highest point total since 2006-07 (94).
Tonight marked Jason Blake’s second multi-goal game of the season (2-0=2) and 23rd of his career. He also had two goals on Dec. 31, 2010 vs. Philadelphia.
Saku Koivu has points in three of the last four games (1-3=4), including an assist tonight. He also has 3-10=13 points in his last 14 contests.
Tonight’s attendance was 12,604.
20:00 - END OF GAME - Ducks shut it down in the final minute with St. Louis on the 6 on 5 and hang on to win 2-1, as the Ducks pull into eighth.
19:02 - Timeout Ducks with 57.1 left.
19:02 - Emery dives on a loose puck to freeze it and Visnovsky nudges Backes away aggressively, leading both of them to go after each other and causing a pileup in the corner. No penalties.
18:50 - St. Louis net empty.
18:05 - Sbisa chases the puck down for icing with 1:55 left.
16:58 - Sutton lets go from the straightaway point, but Halak has it.
16:03 - Timeout with 3:57 left. Crunch time.
13:00 - Startin' to get real physical out there. Something could erupt soon.
12:20 - McMillan and Backes shoving behind the net, with Backes getting the last shot in as the puck goes the other way. Winchester gets one in on his former teammate as they go back to the benches.
11:45 - McMillan gets in deep, nearly gets a goal before he's shoved down.
5:45 - Halak very awkwardly saves a heavy Ryan slapshot from just inside the blue line.
5:30 - Ducks sling a few shots on net, Halak is there.
1:50 - ANAHEIM GOAL - JASON BLAKE - Koivu drops the puck back at the point for the guy who makes stuff happen, Visnovsky, who fires a slap shot that Blake knocks down in the slot and it bounces under Halak. Blake goes to a knee for the uppercut fist pump, the first indication that he tipped it, to celebrate his second of the game. It's 2-1 Anaheim.
0:00 - Off and running in a fairly important third period for the Ducks.
2nd Period 20:00 - END OF PERIOD - A second period that goes by in a flash ends at 1-1 on an Oystrick goal for the Blues and a Blake gift for the Ducks.
19:58 - Lydman pass it nicely redirected by Ryan, but a great save by Halak.
By the way, Oystrick, who scored that St. Louis goal, is currently serving a suspension in the AHL for coming off the bench to instigate a fight. He was called up from Peoria yesterday.
18:00 - Ducks overcome a horrible turnover to McDonald at the blue line by eventually catching up and knocking the puck away.
17:40 - Ducks now buzzing around the net, but nothing gets through Halak.
16:30 - Blake is robbed on a rebound try off a Selanne shot.
Kiss Cam is highlighted at the end by an older couple straight making out in their seats. That was a sight.
11:28 - ANAHEIM GOAL - JASON BLAKE - Ducks get a gift as Blake races down right wing looking for Selanne up the middle. His pass hits off the skate of a sliding Polak and gets under Halak. Ugly goal, but one the Ducks badly needed and it's 1-1.
9:54 - ST. LOUIS GOAL (POWER PLAY) - NATHAN OYSTRICK - On the man advantage, former Duck Oystrick (three games in 2009-10 with Anaheim) fires a shot from the right wing circle that's blocked back to him, so he fires again through a Backes screen off the inside of the post. It's 1-0 Blues.
9:39 - ANA Penalty - Lubomir Visnovsky, 2 min. tripping. Visnovsky causes D'Agostini to fall down in the corner. Blues nearly punch one through during the delayed whistle.
7:20 - Ryan takes a scary spill into the wall in the corner, gets right back up.
5:53 - STL Penalty - Carlo Colaiacovo, 2 min. interference. Dude knocks into Sexton as he chases the puck up the wall. Borderline, but similar to the one Sutton got at the end of the first.
4:30 - Emery with a good stop on a point shot with Stewart draped over him.
3:36 - Ducks don't get anything going on that power play.
1:36 - STL Penalty - BJ Crombeen, 2 min. tripping.
0:00 - Here we go in the second.
20:00 - END OF PERIOD - Not a great one for the Ducks, but they escape with a scoreless tie. Blues get 51 seconds of power play time in the upcoming second.
19:59 - Emery with a kick save with two seconds left.
18:51 - ANA Penalty - Andy Sutton, 2 min. interference. Sutton knocks down Porter with the left arm as Porter chases the puck into the corner.
16:50 - Selanne feeds across to Blake on the rush, but it bounces over 33's stick.
16:27 - Ducks spending a ton of time in their own end. Not good.
12:50 - Blues buzzing around the net, but only get off their second shot of the game, which nearly gets through Emery.
7:46 - Ryan's shot from the right wing has Halak looking behind himself, but the puck gets tucked into his pads for the whistle.
6:59 - STL Penalty - Andy McDonald, 2 min. high sticking. McDonald gets Koivu in the visor behind the Anaheim net.
5:28 - Emery smothers a scarily bouncing puck in the crease after a Sutton giveaway.
4:50 - Nice pass to the doorstep from Marchant goes under Ruutu's stick.
4:02 - Visnovsky fires a one-timer into Halak's belly.
0:00 - And we're underway at Honda Center.
7:07 p.m. - Interesting look at Ray Emery's routine as Emily Van Gorder sings the national anthem. Emery moves back and forth on each skate to keep warm, almost looking like the first person in history to dance to the Star Spangled Banner. Then when she hits "O'er the land of the free..." he sprints into his own net, facing the back of it and bows his head under the crossbar.
Ray Emery gets his first start in an NHL game since February 1, 2010