ANAHEIM - In a little more than a week and a half with his new team, Patrick Eaves has quickly endeared himself to Anaheim Ducks fans.
The heavily bearded, hard-working, high-scoring Eaves has already scored two goals with Anaheim to give him 23 on the season, and tonight he canned the shootout winner to finish off an impressive Ducks comeback over the Nashville Predators. He also had assists on second-period goals from Nick Ritchie and Rickard Rakell to give him four points (2g/2a) in four games as a Duck.
After eight different Ducks and Preds failed to convert over the first four rounds of the shootout, Eaves beat goalie Pekka Rinne stick side with a wrist shot to nudge the Ducks in front. "I'm usually a later-round shooter. I got called a little earlier tonight and was fortunate it went in."
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle picked Eaves for the fifth round and remarked, "He's the only one that listened to me. Over the pad and under the blocker."
Video: NSH@ANA: Eaves tallies on quick wrister in SO
After Eaves' tally, Ducks goalie Jonathan Bernier made a beauty of a kick save on Nashville's Ryan Johansen, as he was perfect in the shootout to seal the crucial victory for a Ducks team battling for position in the tight Pacific Division.
Video: NSH@ANA: Bernier denies Johansen with pad save in SO
"We stuck with it," said Ryan Getzlaf, who had a first period goal. "Earlier in the year, at these times, we'd let things get away and start taking more penalties. We took our fair share tonight, but we were able to rally and get a couple of bounces. We were able to push through and get ourselves back in the game."
The Ducks found themselves in a 2-0 hole in the first 6:23 in the game, and trailed 3-1 deep into the second, but they fought back to ultimately tie the game with 58 seconds left in the second. Eaves retrieved the puck in the corner and made a beautiful pass to Rakell, cashed it in and celebrated with a ferocious fist pump from his knees.
Video: NSH@ANA: Rakell nets wrist shot that deflects in
The Ducks had a ton of chances to take the lead in the third period, hitting a couple of posts, and in overtime Nashville hit the far pipe on a potential game-winner in the 3-on-3.
Ducks have alternated wins and losses for the last 11 games, and did it again tonight, bouncing back from a disappointing 2-1 loss to middling Vancouver two nights ago. Tonight's win put Anaheim (34-22-10) in a second place tie with Edmonton in the division.
Nashville first went on top 4:26 into the game when Colin Wilson pulled in a pass at the top of the crease and backhanded it past a drawn-out Bernier.
The Preds made it 2-0 not long after that on the power play when Ryan Ellis hammered a one-timer from the left wing circle.
Anaheim got back in the game on a power play of its own later in the period, as Rinne couldn't hold a Sami Vatanen shot and Getzlaf punched in the rebound. That put a dent in a 1-for-35 power play slump for the Ducks coming into the game.
"Once the power play got the goal for us, it was kind of like, 'Now it's going to be a hockey game. We're not out of this thing,'" Carlyle said. "For the last 40 minutes of the game, we played a lot of hockey in their zone and won a lot of battles along the wall. We were physical and played closer to the level that's going to be required as we go down the stretch."
Yet the Ducks suffered a gut punch with 8 1/2 minutes left in the second, when despite being in the middle of a power play, Cam Fowler turned the puck over to Filip Forsberg, who fired a shot past Bernier.
Anaheim got one back two minutes later when Ritchie chipped in a loose puck just outside the crease, as Rinne couldn't locate the puck. It was Ritchie's first goal in the last 17 games.
Rakell's equalizer came less than six minutes after that, giving him a team-leading 27 and five in his last five games.
In order to win two in a row for the first time since January 17 and 19, the Ducks will have to do it on the road, as they play at Chicago on Thursday and at St. Louis on Friday.