|"Fellas, relax. I've done this 656 times."
It may not have been quite right to say it before, but we can certainly say it now:
The Anaheim Ducks are in the playoff race.
And how have they done it? How have they gotten to within six points of the eighth spot in the West after being 20 back as recently as six weeks ago? With an astonishing 14-2-3 sprint that has culminated with what has to be their most impressive road victory of the season, last night.
The Ducks didn't get into Pittsburgh until the early morning, hours after a heart-stopping 2-1 victory in Minnesota. They had to face a very good Penguins team that hadn't lost at home in the last six and hadn't lost to the Ducks there in 11 years. And Anaheim went down early on a beauty of a first period goal by Jordan Staal
But that hardly discouraged these Ducks, whose defense and the still-scorching Jonas Hiller
gave up nothing else the rest of the way, and Anaheim got all the scoring it needed from their usual suspects. Corey Perry
, at the end of a long shift for him, undressed Zbynek Michalek
before slipping a close-in shot past the previously infallible Marc-Andre Fleury. Then in the third, Matt Beleskey
laboring at the end of a lengthy shift) made a gorgeous backhand pass on the rush to a barely-onside Teemu Selanne
, who beat Fleury with a Selanne-esque backhand inside the near post
. Said broadcaster John Ahlers of Beleskey, "He found enough energy to find The Flash!"
(I like that.)
“He’s in shape because it was about a three-minute shift,” Bruce Boudreau said. “I was yelling at him to get off. He positioned himself well and when he got the puck, he made a fabulous backhand pass.”
Added Beleskey: “I think I started losing oxygen and just blacked out for a while. It was good though.”
And of Selanne, Bruce Boudreau said, "There's a reason he's got a jillion goals in this league." Well, not quite
a jillion, but the 656th of his career tied him for 12th all time with Brendan Shanahan.
Selanne was asked about the fact Boudreau kept him out of much of the victory in Minnesota the night before, including a good part of the third period. “I missed probably three shifts,” he said to the OC Register (check out more on that here
). “That’s nothing. To be honest, I was dead tired for some reason. And it happens. A lot of times when you feel like that, it’s not the greatest place to be.
“This is about team effort. Everybody has done the job. That’s what makes this team special.”
Boudreau was clearly pumped with the win last night, as the TV cameras caught him shaking assistant coach Brad Lauer's hand on the bench, then promptly punching him in the arm (photo at right).
And the Ducks' heart in this one was never better exemplified than in the final seconds, as they nursed a one-goal lead and Toni Lydman
went to a knee to sacrifice his body and block an Evgeni Malkin shot.
"This game was huge for us," Selanne said. "We got here at like 3 in the morning. They came out pretty hard and controlled the first period and then we got into the game. This team is playing with a lot of confidence right now, and even though we got behind we believed we could come back."
That's a world of difference for a Ducks team that once owned the worst road record in the league, but is now a remarkable 7-1-3 in the last 11 games away from home. Their 14-3-3 record since the new year is good for 31 standings points, tops in the NHL with Detroit. Anaheim may not be blowing anyone out lately, but its +20 goal differential since January 1 is also first in the league. The Ducks also returned to .500 (24-24-9) for the first time since October 30.
They're just six points now behind Phoenix in eighth (with the same number of games played now), but can't stop now. They need to keep rolling on this mammoth road trip that continues tomorrow night in New Jersey.
"The morale is high," Bobby Ryan
told ESPN.com. "We're all realizing there could be something special that happens here for us this year."