September hockey isn't typically supposed to feel that way. You're not supposed to have your heart in your throat over the seemingly endless final minute, frantically swiveling your head between the action on the ice and the slowly ticking seconds on the hanging scoreboard clock. But there were a few factors at work last night that made that game feel more like a mid-spring battle for standings points than the sixth game of the preseason.
For starters, with the regular season getting closer, the Canucks iced much of the same team we saw in the Stanley Cup Final last year, with the Sedin twins and Roberto Luongo making their preseason debuts. The Ducks countered with the guys whose jerseys hang in the team stores: RPG, Selanne, Koivu, Visnovsky, Fowler and the rest. And of course, there was Jonas Hiller
, whose every appearance in net is under a watchful eye, and probably will be for a little while this season.
|Hiller was so good last night, he managed to make his spit water change direction in mid-air. |
Hiller looked like his old self out there last night, much like he did in saving all 21 shots last Saturday night in Vancouver. That game, however, came against a Canucks team of mostly youngsters, while this one last night was different. This time it was against the most dangerous Canucks scorers, while playing all 60 minutes and doing it in front of the home fans. Hiller saved 31 of 33 shots, while the two Canucks goals (both in the second period) could hardly be hung on him. The first came when a fluttering puck got knocked past him by a crashing Fowler, the second a Sami Salo slap shot that sailed past the screen of a leaping Alex Burrows just as a 5-on-3 had expired.
Other than that, Hiller was simply Jonas Hiller
, making a series of athletic stops with the leg pads, blocker, trapper and anything else he could get on the puck. There was one particular save with a little over six minutes left in the second that was extra satisfying, as Hiller made that patented glove snatch with flair on a hard Cody Hodgson shot. It's a site we've seen a hundred times over the past couple of seasons, but somehow -- in light of all that Hiller has gone through the past seven months -- this one was extra meaningful.
"I felt pretty good," Hiller said afterward. "It’s great just to feel right, to be out there and get some shots. Everybody was playing good today and we definitely wanted this win at home.
"I feel like I’m really sharp on the puck. I’m going in the right direction. There always room for improvement, but that is what exhibition games are for. That is more the team we are going to face during the season. They had more skilled guys out there."
Of course, the Ducks had to lean on Hiller heavily in those frantic final minutes, when an Andrew Gordon
hooking penalty, followed by a Nate Guenin
boarding minor, followed by the Canucks sending Luongo to the bench, created a 6-on-3 Canucks advantage for a good minute. Hiller made a handful of saves, while guys like Luca Sbisa
and Sheldon Brookbank
each blocked shots. And it wasn't until Devante Smith-Pelly
chipped the puck out of the Anaheim zone, and chased it into Vancouver's zone as the clock wound down to triple-zero, that we could truly exhale.
Through all that, the somehow were able to hold on to that 3-2 lead, one that was built on the heroics of those big names in the lineup. Fowler got the game's first goal when no Canuck came to him in the bottom of the right wing circle, and he walked to the net before trying a centering pass that clicked off Mark Mancari's stick and got past Luongo. A minute later, Bobby Ryan
got his first point of the preseason when he slung a wrist shot between the legs of Andrew Alberts and over the glove of a helpless Luongo.
But while those two Vancouver goals in the second erased the lead, Visnovsky got it back with a move that had to be another site for sore Ducks fans eyes, considering that Visnovsky was hampered last postseason by a shoulder problem. That appeared to be a distant memory as Visnovsky provided yet another tagged one-timer on the power play, this one skittering between Luongo's wickets for the eventual game-winner.
Again, it was a nice win, the third straight for Anaheim after a rough start, but the focus for the Ducks remains more on what the preseason is for -- to get ready for the regular season. The Ducks have a return date with the Kings tomorrow night at Honda Center, then leave Saturday for Europe. Next Tuesday they have an exhibition against Jokerit of the Finnish Elite League next Tuesday and then open in Helsinki against Buffalo a week from tomorrow.
"We’re close," Ryan Getzlaf
said last night. "We have to tighten up in a few areas and that will come with playing together. We’re taking the right steps right now and going in the right direction. We had a tough start to the preseason, but we have things going now. We have to continue that on and continue to build."
This was sent to me on Twitter today
, a very cool (though somewhat lengthy) video tribute to the RPG line, put together by YouTube user rollingdux. A few goosebumpy moments in this one.