For the fifth consecutive season, the Ducks will embark on a quest for the Stanley Cup. Though it became official by virtue of a Kings loss tonight in Edmonton before their own game ended, the Ducks (42-23-11, 95 points) made it clear early on that a playoff berth was in the cards regardless. Anaheim jumped out to a 2-0 lead just 1:37 into the first period and kept their foot on the gas, cruising to a 4-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks in the opener of a four-game Canadian road trip. The Ducks remain in sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division, two points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers.
Corey Perry and Patrick Eaves scored 1:14 apart in a blistering first period that culminated with Nick Ritchie's 14th goal of the season with 16 seconds remaining. Brandon Montour tacked on his second career NHL goal early in the second period, and Jonathan Bernier made 34 saves to give Anaheim its fifth consecutive victory, push its point streak to eight games (7-0-1) and improve its record to 10-2-1 dating to the end of the club's bye week on March 3. The Ducks closed out the season series with a 3-1-1 mark against the Canucks, while going 14-3-4 over the last 21 head-to-head matchups. With the win, Bernier improved to 10-1-1 in 12 starts since March 3.
The Ducks had to do some line juggling just before puckdrop when it was revealed that captain Ryan Getzlaf would miss the game with a lower-body injury. Getzlaf was coming off Third Star of the Week honors for posting seven points over his last three games.
"It's a big hole to fill," Eaves said, on his linemate's absence. "We found out late he wasn't available. We came together as a group and took more ownership of everything. We played five guys in each zone."
Rookie forward Brock Boeser scored the lone goal for the Canucks, who fell to 30-37-9 (69 points) overall this season. Ryan Miller made 35 saves in the loss.
"We wanted to get off to a good start," said Eaves. "They came into our building a little while ago and played good against us. We didn't forget that. We wanted to get a push from the start and got two early goals. That was huge. We settled in and played our game. We got the goal at the end of the first was huge, too."
The Ducks made their presence known before many of the fans even made it to their seats. After winning the opening faceoff, the Ducks used their forecheck to overpower the Canucks in the far corner. After gaining possession of the puck along the boards, Ritchie made a nice pass into the high slot where Perry was waiting. The veteran right wing made no mistake, snapping a shot over Miller's shoulder for his 16th goal of the season just 23 seconds into the game.
Video: ANA@VAN: Perry roofs a wrist shot after turnover
Less than two minutes later, the Ducks struck again. After receiving a pass from Rickard Rakell above the circles, Eaves walked in on Miller and sent a wrist shot into the top left corner to give the Ducks a 2-0 lead. The goal was his third in his last two games, fifth in his last five, and his seventh tally (and ninth point) in 14 games with the Ducks.
Video: ANA@VAN: Eaves finishes feed from Rakell in slot
"He's come in and fit like a glove," said head coach Randy Carlyle, on Eaves. "He has the luxury of playing with Getzy. When you play with world-class players and you add the skillset and work ethic that he's brought to our club, he's not flashy, but he goes to the right areas and has a knack for scoring goals. It was a great pickup. He's fit seamlessly in our lineup."
The Ducks made it a 3-0 lead in the final minute of the first period when Ritchie, stationed in the high slot, got a tip on Josh Manson's shot from the right point. The assist gave Manson a new career high for assists (11) and points (16) in a season. For Ritchie, the goal gave him two in as many games and also pushed his point streak to three consecutive games (2g/1a).
Video: ANA@VAN: Ritchie deflects Manson's shot into twine
With the Canucks on their heels to begin the second period, the Ducks struck once more, this time off the stick of Montour, who used a quick wrist shot from the right point to beat Miller off a faceoff win by Antoine Vermette. Eaves' screen in front of Miller allowed Montour to pick his spot for his second career NHL goal.
Video: ANA@VAN: Montour rips a slapper through traffic
"We wanted to start on time," said Carlyle. "It was a surprise we weren't going to have Getzlaf, so there was even more emphasis to jump on the opposition as quickly as possible. Any time you can grab a 2-0 lead on the road, and carry that throughout most of the hockey game, things should work out in your favor."
Bernier's shutout bid ended at the 17:26 mark of the third period when Boeser used an ice-skimming wrist shot to sneak through the five hole. It marked the second career NHL goal for the 20-year-old right wing, who scored in his NHL debut on Saturday afternoon in Minnesota.
"We're getting better every day," said Eaves. "Every game we're improving in some area. If we can keep doing that up until playoffs, and through playoffs, you want to keep peaking at the right time. I feel like we're making steps every day."
Anaheim's four-game road trip continues on to Winnipeg for a matchup against the Jets at MTS Centre on Thursday.
Playoff Note: Anaheim is one of six NHL teams and the only Pacific Division club that has qualified for the postseason in the last five consecutive seasons, joining Pittsburgh (11 straight), Chicago (9), New York Rangers (7), St. Louis (6) and Minnesota (5). During the five-year stretch, the Ducks have posted a 222-104-43 record, ranking second among NHL teams in points (487) and points percentage (.660), and tied for third in wins.