On Opening Night of their 2017-18 season, the Ducks came back from three goals down to pull off an incredible 5-4 victory over the Arizona Coyotes before a sellout crowd at Honda Center. Corey Perry, looking to erase the memories of a disappointing 2016-17 season, had two goals and an assist on the game-tying goal in the third period,
But it was Rickard Rakell who had the game-winner with just 3 1/2 minutes left to play the role of hero - and to one particular fan inside the arena.
Among the Opening Night festivities at Honda Center was an emotional moment during pregame player introductions, in which this year's "21st Duck" Katie Hawley was introduced on the ice with the players after being led out by Rakell and Perry during an emotional moment in which there was hardly a dry eye in the house. The 17-year-old is a diehard Ducks fan who has been fighting cancer since age nine, defeating it twice and enduring at least a dozen surgeries, two dozen chemotherapy sessions, 30 radiation treatments, 80 scans, and 40 blood transfusions.
She was inspired to keep fighting by favorite player Rakell and met with him before attending a Ducks practice earlier this week. She could be seen on the Prime Ticket telecast yelling, "That was for me!" and pointing excitedly to herself after Rakell's go-ahead goal. It was revealed later that Katie had told Perry and Rakell, "I need you to score," while skating out to center ice with them.
"It's kind of a Cinderella story," Rakell said. "It couldn't have ended in any better way."
The Ducks had to trudge through tonight with several prominent players missing from the Opening Night lineup. Forwards Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves, defenseman Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen and goalie Ryan Miller are each out an extended period of time with various injuries, and captain Ryan Getzlaf was ruled out with a lower-body ailment earlier today.
Having trailed by three goals deep into the second period, the Ducks came all the way back to tie it with 6:15 left, when a Perry pass from near the right wing wall was redirected through by Andrew Cogliano, igniting the sellout crowd. Perry slapped Cogliano on the rear with his stick as Cogliano held his hands aloft.
Video: ARI@ANA: Cogliano jams home perfect feed from Perry
Less than three minutes later, Cogliano played the role of playmaker, feeding Rakell in the right wing circle, allowing Rakell to hammer a one-timer that deflected off Coyotes goalie Louis Domingue's glove and fluttered over the stripe.
Video: ARI@ANA: Rakell puts Ducks ahead on one-timer
The Ducks were able to hold the lead the rest of the way, though the Coyotes had their chances in the Anaheim zone in the waning moments.
Arizona got the night's first goal on the rush 4:44 into the game when Anthony Duclair made a beautiful cross-ice pass to Alex Goligoski, who gave the puck right back for the punch-in.
The Coyotes made it 2-0 near the halfway point of the period when defenseman Josh Manson misplayed the puck in front, leaving goalie John Gibson out of position as Clayton Keller slipped the puck around him.
"That's not the way we wanted to start a hockey game, but at the end of the day they found some bounces and played well in the first half of the game," Perry said. "We didn't do what we wanted to do. The last eight minutes of the second period we started to find our legs and started getting involved emotionally. It carried over into the third period."
Perry got Anaheim right back in it less than a minute after Arizona's second goal when he skated in from the left wing and slung the puck home from the circle. It was a good start to the season for Perry, the former 50-goal scorer who had just 19 last season, and it was the 350th of his career.
Video: ARI@ANA: Perry fires a laser shot past Domingue
Arizona regained the two-goal lead on the power play with 11:40 left in the middle frame when Gibson kick-saved an Oliver Ekman-Larsson shot right to Max Domi, who sent it into the open net.
With just under eight minutes left in the second, Perry ran over Domingue, sparking a brawl behind the Arizona net. Perry was sent to the box, and Gibson was given a 10-minute misconduct for trying to start something with Domingue near the benches.
The Coyotes took advantage with a half-minute left on the power play when Brendan Perlini lifted a wrist shot over Gibson's shoulder to make it 4-1. That appeared to bury the Ducks until they got two quick ones in rapid succession and held Arizona without a goal the rest of the way.
Perry got his revenge and his second goal of the night with 4:37 left, crashing the net and tapping in a nice feed by Rakell into the crease.
Just 31 seconds later, the Ducks got another one when Jakob Silfverberg dropped a pass to Ondrej Kase, who sniped it inside the far post to make it 4-3.
Video: ARI@ANA: Perry, Kase score 31 seconds apart
"We weren't happy with our first period and probably the first five minutes of the second period," said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle. "We found a way to sneak one in. We got the emotions going in the right direction because it was frustration for the better part of the game, specifically early. When we scored the two quick ones, it was a one-goal hockey game."
Neither team lit the lamp until Perry and Cogliano connected 13:45 into the third, setting the stage for the Cogliano-Rakell connection soon afterward. "We had a pretty slow start to this game, but we still had a good feeling after the first period," Rakell said. "We just wanted to restart and focus on the things we could do better. When we got the first goal and second goal, I thought we changed the momentum. It was really nice. We just kept coming."
It was the first time the Ducks overcame a three-goal deficit to win in regulation since March 22, 2006 vs. Colorado (also a 5-4 victory). Of course, the Ducks made history by coming back from down 3-0 with three goals in the final 3:16 of regulation before winning Game 5 of Round 2 against the Oilers in last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"We've been a team that's been resilient in the past," Cogliano said, "and it was good to see that."