ANAHEIM – The Ducks and Canadiens don’t see each other nearly enough to develop much of a rivalry, but that didn’t diminish the intensity of tonight’s clash in front of a sellout crowd at Honda Center.
The Ducks and Habs, facing off for the first time in Anaheim since November of 2011, battled through a hard-fought 65 minutes before Montreal pulled out the 4-3 victory in the sixth round of a tight shootout. And the Ducks truly experienced how a mere inch or two can spell the difference between a triumphant win and a heartbreaking loss.
Kyle Palmieri appeared to give Anaheim the lead in the fourth round of the tiebreaker when his wrist shot hit the left post, then the right post and skittered along the goal line.
"I saw it go off the post and head towards the net, but by the time it was bouncing off, I didn’t see it hit the other post," said Palmieri, who played on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry tonight. "I looked back and the ref called a goal, but when they went to review it, it didn’t go in. There’s not much you can do about it."
After a lengthy review, it was ruled the puck never fully crossed the stripe, much to the chagrin of a home crowd that had waited with baited breath for referee Mike Hasenfratz's announcement.
"When I first saw it, I didn’t know," said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. "Everybody was cheering but I didn’t know if it went in. When you look at the first replay, you see it bouncing. When you looked at the overhead, you didn’t see any white but you knew it was on its edge. So, obviously, it was in at some point. That’s what took so long. That’s the difference between winning and losing."
Tomas Plekanec fired wide on the next shot, and Saku Koivu (with a chance to beat his former team) was stopped by Dustin Tokarski, making his Habs debut in net. The Canadiens sealed the victory a shot later, as Andrei Markov wristed a shot under a clearly disappointed Jonas Hiller.
The point earned by the Ducks (43-14-6) pushed them to four ahead of St. Louis for the top spot in the NHL, while Montreal remained third in the Eastern Conference (35-22-7). "We got the point," Palmieri said, "but it’s disappointing we didn’t get the second point."
In a tense third period with a couple of near-misses for both teams, neither found the net, forcing the first overtime for the Ducks since January 5, followed by their first shootout since December 6. Nick Bonino and Perry each converted their attempts, but Jakob Silfverberg, Getzlaf, Palmieri and Koivu were all turned away by Tokarski. David Desharnais, Daniel Briere and finally Markov each converted for Montreal.
The Canadiens jumped out to a 2-0 lead after one period on goals by Brian Gionta (who hit Hiller’s stick to help the puck through) and Max Pacioretty (who one-timed a Desharnais pass).
But Anaheim came roaring back in the second with three unanswered goals. The first came from Tim Jackman, who tipped a Luca Sbisa shot through with the shaft of his stick 7:08 into the middle session.
Two minutes later on the power play, the Ducks got a lucky break when Francois Beauchemin attempted to fire the puck into the corner, and Tokarski started to chase it behind the net. But it took an awkward kick off the stanchion between panes of glass and dove into the middle of the net. It was Beauchemin’s second goal in as many games after not having found the net since New Year’s Eve.
Tokarski got burned again with 1:49 left in the period, as Matt Beleskey sent the puck on net from the left wing circle and Daniel Winnik redirected it netward out of mid-air.
Montreal tied it with a half-minute left in the period, as Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy fell on Hiller during a scramble around the crease, allowing Brendan Gallagher to punch in a loose puck. Few could have predicted that would be the last goal of the game, but both teams tightened things up in the third and overtime with the posts at both ends playing major roles.
"We came out a little slow and had to start catching up," Hiller said. "We weren’t focused enough starting from me all the way up front. Pucks were getting away from us, and we weren’t strong enough on the puck. We had a really good second period, fought all the way back. The third period was a pretty even game on both sides."
The game followed a flurry of deals made by several teams in the run-up to the NHL trade deadline at noon PT, in which Montreal acquired forward Thomas Vanek (who did not play tonight). The Ducks remained relatively quiet a day after trading away both winger Dustin Penner and Viktor Fasth, and acquiring defenseman Stephane Robidas.
The Ducks, 2-0-1 on this five-game homestand, continue it tomorrow night against another beast from the East, the Pittsburgh Penguins.