|No Miikka tonight, but hopefully a lot more Perry. |
Forget about the streak -- the one where Ducks haven't lost to Calgary at home in the regular season since January 19, 2004 -- 'cause the streak doesn't matter. What does
matter with the Flames in town is that the Ducks desperately need a win tonight (and tomorrow in LA for that matter) to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Both Calgary (in 11th) and the Kings (ninth) are part of the crowded pack of teams battling with the Ducks for those last playoff spots. Wins for Anaheim in both those games would not only help the Ducks whittle down the seven points between them and eighth, but it would hold back those two teams from climbing the standings as well.
"Obviously right now we know the next two, pretty much next three is going to be do or die," Teemu Selanne
said, "because we can’t let those games slip away. Both are against teams that we want to catch.”
But -- and I don't know if you've ever heard this -- you have got to take one game at a time, and that means the focus is on tonight with the Flames, who are coming off a rather impressive road win in Phoenix. Calgary knocked off the Coyotes 4-2, putting a halt to a ridiculous 11-0-1 streak by Phoenix that catapulted them into first place in the Pacific (and third in the West).
The Flames got that win behind Miikka Kiprusoff, who will actually sit down tonight in the second game of a back-to-back. The Flames' shootout loss to the Ducks back on February 6 dropped Kipper to 1-6-3 lifetime at Honda Center. Tonight the Flames will go with Leland Irving (which happens to sound like a very exclusive private school).
The Ducks, of course, will counter with Jonas Hiller
, who will break a Ducks team record when he starts his 24th straight game tonight. The old mark was set by set by Guy Hebert (who happened to go on a nice run during last night's Ducks-Kings poker event) in 1997 and matched by J.S. Giguere in 2001.
Hiller has more than earned those starts, going 14-5-4 with a 1.84 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage in that stretch.
"I haven’t played that many games in such a short period of time in quite awhile. I don’t think I ever have," Hiller said this morning. "But I’m feeling good, so why not?"
Hiller was given a day off from practice yesterday, part of a process of the Ducks giving him rest when he can get it. "We’ve been very cognizant of giving him the time off between games because we’re worried about him getting overly tired," Bruce Boudreau said. "The only time I’ve ever seen him with any sense of fatigue was maybe the Colorado game [on Monday]. Other than that, he’s been sharp and he’s strong and I ask every day how he’s feeling to make sure we’re doing the right things for him to stay strong."
Said Hiller, "I definitely have a little better understanding of my body and how to take care of it, to listen to my body and not just try to work through it when something is aching. With massage or treatment, you can get rid of stuff before it really gets serious. Bruce has also given me the opportunity to take my rest on certain days and certain practices. That definitely helps to stay sharp, especially mentally, which is almost as tough as staying ready physically."
The Ducks plan to not only go with him again tomorrow night in LA, but for the duration of the season, with Dan Ellis
still out with a groin injury. "Unless something negative happens, he’s probably starting the rest of the games from here on out," Boudreau said.
He also used one of his typical non-hockey references to talk about Hiller's focus these past couple of months. "As a goalie, you can’t let up," he said. "A forward might have a bad shift, but if a goalie has a bad shift, it’s in the net. A goalie reminds me of a golfer. If a golfer lets up, he’s two-over. It’s that focus for 60 minutes or [for a golfer] four hours that is really difficult."
"Goalies are special that way. That’s why they’re all a little weird."
There was another funny moment with Boudreau during today's post-skate session with media. One reporter noticed some cowboy hats on a nearby table -- which are being signed by players as giveaways at tonight's Stampede Da
y -- and asked Bruce if he would ever consider wearing one.
Boudreau immediately remembered a time he was made to wear one on the bench during his stint as a coach in the ECHL with the Mississippi Sea Wolves.
"I looked like an idiot," he said. "When you're in the 'coast' [a nickname for the ECHL] and you're down south, you do a lot of weird promotions. This was one of them. The owners wanted me to do it, much to my chagrin."
He was asked if he won the game.
"I can't remember," he said. "I'm too embarrassed to even know if I coached."
He then paused, waiting for a reporter to ask the first question of the scrum, and said. "Anyway, what's up?"
- - -
Last night's Rivalry Hold 'Em Poker Challenge at San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino, involving Ducks and Kings alumni, broadcasters and fans, was a great event for the second straight year.
Kings fan Greg Smyser came out the winner out of the close to 1,000 people who competed and took home $3,500 in cash and prizes. Among those who won their tables to advance to the final 100 were Guy Hebert (can't believe he's mentioned twice in this blog post), who was among the Ducks alums with Sean Pronger and Jason Marshall. Hebert, who happens to be a heck of a nice guy, told me later that he actually rarely plays poker and had no idea how he managed to win a table. Also winning his table, oddly enough, was Kings mascot Bailey. File this in Things You Don't See Every Day (although he did play last year too):
On a personal note, I actually won
the second hand of the night and (thanks to some conservative betting) lasted 40 minutes before being knocked out, doubling my time from last year. I knew when I was in trouble when I sat down and asked which of the fellow players were Ducks fans and which were Kings fans. Three guys said they were neither, just poker fans. (Got the feeling this wasn't their first tournament.) Here is a gallery of photos San Manuel took
during the event, and below are some that I snapped:
Not sure where the "personality" part came from
At our pre-event dinner. That's Kings alumni/broadcasters/staff at the far table and the Ducks people at the near one, with an empty table in between us. Got to love rivalries.
A nice touch on the cheesecake desert. I took a bite out of the Kings logo and left the Ducks one alone.
This guy's not so great with making decisions.