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by Staff Writer / Anaheim Ducks

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. This one just says "awesome."

It's Friday, February 24, 2012, and your Anaheim Ducks have been given the day off.

It's more than a well-deserved one, as the team arrived at LAX at 1:30 a.m. (4:30 if you're into that "still on East Coast time" thing) on the heels of a successful marathon road trip. Anaheim flew home with 12 of 16 points in their carry-ons, going 5-1-2 on this 15-day odyssey and firmly planting themselves in the thick of the Western Conference playoff chase.

The final triumph came last night in Carolina, a 3-2 shootout win over the Hurricanes that conjured thoughts of the saying, "I'd rather be lucky than good." The Ducks were certainly both in that game, fighting their way into a hard-earned road victory but escaping on a few occasions thanks to one Jonas Hiller.

As remarkable as Hiller has been on this road trip -- heck, since the turn of the new year -- he may have never been better than he was last night. Among his 30 saves on the night were several that were solid, a few more that were spectacular and at least one that was downright ridiculous.

Late in the second period, with Carolina looking to add to a one-goal lead, Hiller scrambled to get back into position after making a save, and actually was facing the net as Drayson Bowman slung a shot into a seemingly open net. Somehow, Hiller managed to knock it down with the glove, "like a shortstop," as Brian Hayward eloquently put it. Take a look:

"I think the shot hit the glove behind my back or something like that," he said. "I'd even have to see it on the replay. It was a little desperation move there."

At the other end of the rink, the Ducks had a ton of chances, but struggled to get much past Justin Peters, playing just his fifth game of the year but coming off his first NHL shutout Monday night vs. Washington. Anaheim finally got a gargantuan power play goal from (who else?) Corey Perry midway through the third to tie it 2-2, the first PPG in the last 18 opportunities.

In fact, the Ducks had scuffled so much on the power play -- including four other missed chances last night -- that Bruce Boudreau had an interesting reaction when they got that one. "Our power play's been so dismal, I think the third one in the third period, I said, 'Decline it.'" Boudreau said. "And Perry looked at me as if I had two heads and then went out and scored because I think he was (ticked) at me."

That tying goal gave way to a scoreless overtime and a shootout in which Saku Koivu was the only one to convert, undressing Peters with a number of deke moves before sending it home. (Here's a look at the whole shootout.)

Hiller looked incredibly confident in the shootout, easily stoning Brandon Sutter and Jeff Skinner, and getting a little help from the post on Eric Staal's bid.

"I kind of saw we weren't playing our best game tonight and the guys looked a little tired," Hiller said. "That was not too surprising after such a long trip. (Carolina) had a couple of really good chances - odd-man rushes and two-on-ones - and I just didn't want to get scored on."

So he didn't.

And as well as all the Ducks played in this road trip, none were better than Hiller, who gave up just 13 goals in the eight games, and seemed to be at his best when Anaheim needed him most.

The Ducks were able to get to 62 points, four behind the 66 owned by Dallas in the eighth spot in the West. Although, that's a total held by LA and Calgary as well, after the Flames earned one by going to a shootout with Phoenix last night. It's a heck of a position for the Ducks to be in after they were 10 back going into that long-ago first game on this trip -- two weeks ago in Detroit.

But as Boudreau reiterated just before heading to the airport in Raleigh-Durham, they could have been even better. 

"We could have won all eight, you know?" he said. "We outplayed Detroit, we outplayed New Jersey, and I think we outplayed Tampa (Wednesday) night. I was really hoping we could reach 60 points and still be in the hunt. To get more than that was really great."

Great is an understatement, and now the Ducks have today to relish it, then it's back to work tomorrow to get ready for Chicago at Honda Center (hat night and a 4:05 start!) on Sunday. That's the first of three games in four nights (yikes) -- home Sunday vs. the Hawks, in Colorado Monday and home to Buffalo on Wednesday.

So yeah, they've earned a day off today.

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