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Bittersweet Night in Winnipeg

by Staff Writer / Anaheim Ducks

Cannnn ... you feel .... the love ... tonight?

For all the love that rained down on Teemu Selanne from the Winnipeg fans on Saturday -- and the heartfelt appreciation he sent back in return -- there was a moment when Selanne had only a subdued reaction to yet another tribute from his loyal fans.

Selanne had felt the affection of the Winnipeg fans from the moment the Ducks bus arrived at 2:30 in the morning on Saturday, and it continued when he hit the ice for warmups and every time he touched the puck during the game. During the first stoppage in play at MTS Centre, a long Selanne tribute was shown on the video board followed by an emotional ovation from the soldout crowd. Selanne, looking up to watch the video himself from the bench, could only muster a straight-faced wave while holding his mouthpiece between his teeth. Of all the well-deserved praise that has been laid on the always fan-friendly Selanne over his magical career, that muted gesture tells you just as much about him as a player.

After all, his Ducks had gone down 2-0 early to the Jets, and Selanne (unlike the thousands of fans saluting him) was not happy. More than taking the time to reflect, Selanne's focus laid mainly on getting back into that game. The Ducks ultimately did just that, thanks to the work of Selanne himself. His beautifully dumped-in pass bounced right in front of the Winnipeg net to the stick of Niklas Hagman, who punched it through to pull the Ducks within one and bring a smile back to Selanne's face. Corey Perry tied the game with a minute and a half left in the first on an equally great Ryan Getzlaf pass, but two Jets goals in the second and another one early in the third put Anaheim in a hole it couldn't escape.

Selanne earned another assist on a Perry goal midway through the third, but by then it was too late. Afterward, when he was inevitably named the Third Star of the game, the classy Selanne found the strength to acknowledge those fans one more time. He blew kisses and waved as he skated around the ice and finally toward the locker room, his face reflecting a man that had once again worked his tail off but still endured a frustrating defeat.

"Obviously, it was unbelievable," said Selanne once again using his favorite word (and one we typically use when describing him). "Like I said before, I didn't really know what to expect. But these fans showed again that how much they appreciate a hockey player in this town.

"It was something that I could never imagine. It was so special."

Yet Selanne remained focused on a second straight defeat to start this road trip, repeating the line, "It seems to me that every time when we do mistakes, it’s in our own net. Tonight was the same story again. It has been a very frustrating year.”

So Selanne ended up leaving Winnipeg (possibly for the last time) with plenty of affection, but not with what he really wanted -- a much-needed Ducks victory. Now he and his teammates will look for that tonight in Dallas, where the Ducks and eighth-place Stars are the featured game on Versus (5 p.m. Pacific).

The Ducks figure to have Jonas Hiller in net after he got the night off in Winnipeg, and the Stars will counter with rookie Richard Bachman. He's won three of his first four starts in the absence of Kari Lehtonen (groin strain), taking his first defeat while giving up six goals Friday night vs. New Jersey (the same night Scott Niedermayer got his number retired). The Ducks' own groin strain, that suffered by Saku Koivu, will keep him out for tonight's game, as he still hasn't joined the Ducks on this road trip. Koivu is looking to possibly return Thursday at LA.


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To get you in the spirit, take a look at the holiday card the Ducks put together, starring George Parros, Corey Perry and Corey Perry's chewing gum:


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