ANAHEIM - Already playing exceptional hockey on the cusp of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Ducks tonight vanquished the top team in the Western Conference with relative ease.
Anaheim's 4-0 rout of the conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks inched the Ducks within a whisker of a fifth straight Pacific Division title, though they did guarantee home ice in the First Round. Edmonton beat the Sharks in San Jose late this evening to keep the Ducks from clinching tonight.
Corey Perry, Chris Wagner, Ryan Kesler and Rickard Rakell lit the lamp while John Gibson earned his sixth shutout of the season with a number of dazzling saves among his 37 on the night. The Ducks extended their season-high point streak to 13 games, going 10-0-3 over that stretch, the longest active streak in the NHL.
"We already made the playoffs. That was the only goal this team had," Kesler said. "Everything else is just a bonus. For us, we're playing really good hockey. We continued that tonight."
The Ducks prevailed despite coming into this one banged up. For the near future, they have lost the services of defenseman Cam Fowler, out two to six weeks with a lower-body injury according to Ducks Executive Vice President and General Manager Bob Murray. Fowler was knocked from Tuesday night's 3-1 win over the Flames at Honda Center and had to be helped off the ice after a knee-to-knee collision with Calgary captain Mark Giordano.
Defenseman Hampus Lindholm missed his third straight game with an upper body injury, though fellow blueliner Sami Vatanen returned to the lineup after missing two games with an upper body injury. Center Nate Thompson was ruled out just before puck drop with an upper body injury of his own.
The Hawks, having clinched the top spot in the West, weren't exactly at full strength either, scratching the likes of Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith.
Gibson, playing just his third game since February 20 after battling an injury, said, "I'm just playing my game. I've said it before - I didn't forget how to play. I just got hurt."
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said Gibson, "played outstanding. We left him high and dry in some situations and he made some big stops for us. That's the most encouraging sign on the night. Our penalty killing was good. We didn't give up any goals, but they sure had enough chances."
The Ducks were granted a power play six minutes into the game and took advantage, as Rakell made a brilliant touch pass across the crease to Perry for the easy tap-in. Chicago challenged, claiming the puck had previously cleared the blue line before it was kept in by defenseman Brandon Montour, but the goal was help up after review.
Video: CHI@ANA: Perry caps off pretty passing play for PPG
Anaheim made it 2-0 with 2:52 left in the second period on another nice feed, this one from Ondrej Kase, who hit Wagner in the slot for the wrister past a shuffling Corey Crawford.
Video: CHI@ANA: Kase sets up Wagner from down low
The two-goal lead became three less than five minutes into the third when Andrew Cogliano backhanded a feed from behind the net to Kesler, who deposited the puck top shelf.
Video: CHI@ANA: Kesler nets Cogliano's spinning feed
Rakell's 33rd of the season made it 4-0, as he somehow got the stick blade on a Ryan Getzlaf shot from the high slot, redirecting it past Crawford.
With the game all but decided, Ducks winger Nick Ritchie punched Chicago's Michal Rozsival in the face after a cross check on Perry. Ritchie was handed a five-minute major and a match penalty, meaning he will likely be suspended for Sunday's regular season finale vs. the Kings at Honda Center.