In their attempt to seize one of the final playoff berths in the Western Conference, the Ducks have certainly made for nail-biting moments recently.
|"Even if it wasn't pretty, we know these are the kind of games we have to win," Hiller said. "They are so important." |
Each of their three victories in the last four games has followed a similar script. Anaheim gives up a game-tying goal to the opposition in the final five minutes of regulation, only to recover quickly in either the overtime period or in the shootout. While the games have created plenty of tension, the all-important end result has been six vital points that have kept the Ducks right smack in the middle of the playoff chase. Anaheim (34-31-6) currently sits in 10th place with 74 points, just three shy of both seventh-place Edmonton and eighth-place Nashville.
“It’s great to see,” Corey Perry
said. “We’re in the playoff hunt. We don’t like giving up goals at any point in the game, especially in the last few minutes. When we do that, we dig a little bit deeper and try to get those two points.”
In each of the Ducks’ dramas, it has been a different character playing the role of hero. Against the Canucks on March 11, it was 3-on-3 specialist Scott Niedermayer who beat Roberto Luongo for a goal in overtime to secure a 4-3 win. Teemu Selanne
stepped to the forefront on Wednesday with an overtime power play goal, his team-leading 15th of the season and the 1,200th point of his career, to defeat the Predators 4-3.
Last night it was the trio of Ryan Getzlaf
, Bobby Ryan
and Jonas Hiller
that saved the day in a shootout. After one conversion by the Coyotes from Peter Mueller and two unsuccessful attempts by the Ducks, Anaheim was down to its final shooter. Looking unfazed, Getzlaf calmly deposited a backhand shot past former Duck goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. Ryan scored in the fifth round after several gorgeous dekes to the put the game on the shoulders of Hiller. The Swiss netminder stood tall, providing sweet justice with his denial of Matthew Lombardi (who had tied the game with 2:31 remaining in regulation) to give Anaheim a 3-2 road victory.
“Even if it wasn’t pretty, we know these are the kind of games we have to win,” said Hiller, who is fourth in the league in goals-against average (2.31) and seventh in save percentage (.920). “They are so important.”
|"There are guys in this room that have been there, done it and know what it takes," Perry said. "Guys have found a way to step up their game. That is what we need. We have to keep pushing." |
The next critical adventure for the Ducks takes place back at Honda Center on Sunday in a rematch with those same Coyotes, a team Hiller has seemed to befuddle the last two seasons. Though it’s not known if he’ll get the second straight start, the 27-year-old has a career record of 5-0-1 to go along with a 1.76 goals-against average and .941 save percentage against Phoenix. Hiller has beaten them five straight times including a 29-save shutout (2-0 Ducks win) on Jan. 4, the Coyotes last visit to Orange County.
“I can’t explain why,” said Hiller on his success against Phoenix, who he has only lost to once in a shootout on Nov. 23, 2007, his first career start at Honda Center and Bryzgalov’s first visit to the arena as an opponent. “It’s nothing in particular I would say. I have faced them a lot (six career starts against Phoenix, his most against any team), so that makes it probably a little easier. I know what they do, either if it’s on the power play or what they try to do in our zone. I’m happy it goes that well.”
With 11 games remaining in the regular season, the Ducks know full well that they have little room for error if they are to see the postseason. If these several games recently serve as an example, Anaheim has what it takes to emerge from the fray, even if it takes a compilation of heart-pumping performances.
“There are guys in this room that have been there, done it and know what it takes,” Perry said. “Guys have found a way to step up their game. That is what we need. We have to keep pushing.”
Said Hiller, “We know we have to be ready again on Sunday. That is a must-win to stay in the race for the playoffs. Everybody knows it in here. We want those two points.”Notes:
For the first time since tearing the ACL in his left knee on Nov. 14 against Nashville, Francois Beauchemin
took to the ice with teammates on Friday. The d-man skated and did some shooting alongside 14 other Ducks. Although he is still unable to participate in contact drills, Beauchemin was pleased with his progress from the injury. A timetable for his return is still unknown.
“It wasn’t too bad,” Beauchemin said. “Basically, that is what I have been doing the last five weeks by myself, shooting drills and stuff. The only difference is a little higher tempo trying to keep up with the guys. I’ve been improving and feeling better on the ice every week I would say. I probably started at 55 percent and been adding five percent every week since. Hopefully, I’m going to keep feeling the same way in the next couple of weeks.”