ANAHEIM – What started out mostly as a tribute to Teemu Selanne
turned out to be a pretty good hockey game.
In the final regular season game of the Ducks legend’s decorated NHL career, Nick Bonino scored 1:33 in overtime to pull off a 3-2 comeback victory for Anaheim in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 17,528, the largest of the season at Honda Center. It was the 26th comeback victory of an outstanding regular season for Anaheim, and Bonino sealed it by picking up a loose puck near the side of the net and chipping it past Avs goalie J.S. Giguere.
The final score was relatively insignificant for both teams, whose playoffs fates are both set for the first round, but it was a magical night as the 43-year-old Selanne was honored in a myriad of ways. There were a number of video tributes throughout the night, and fans (through social media and other methods) started a campaign to give him a standing ovation during every one of his third period shifts. When it was over, Selanne was given all three stars of the game, and skated around the ice to acknowledge the adoring fans.
"What a great ending," Selanne said. "It was really special. The fans are unbelievable for me. All through the years, this franchise, and the fans, has treated me great. It was a big honor. It’s almost overwhelming. It felt great."
Things got even louder when he grabbed former teammate and longtime friend Giguere for one lap around the rink.
"When I saw him, I said ‘This is the time,'" Selanne said. "We’ve had a great journey together, and we’re good friends. It was an honor to share this night with him."
This also could have been the final regular season game for the 36-year-old Giguere, who has hinted at retirement this season. The former Conn Smythe winner and Stanley Cup champion was honored with a video tribute and an ovation by the fans during the game’s first timeout.
Selanne had a couple of scoring chances in the game – which might have made the roof blow off Honda Center if he found the net – but he was ironically denied each time by Giguere.
After a pedestrian first 40 minutes, the Ducks appeared to come to life early in the third, right around the time when fans throughout the building first started giving Selanne a standing ovation every time he hit the ice. Seconds after the cheers started on that first shift, they got even louder when Mathieu Perreault made a beautiful cross-ice feed that gave Patrick Maroon an easy tip-in goal 1:41 into the period.
A little more than three minutes later, two Finns (not named Selanne) connected as Sami Vatanen shuttled the puck from the wall in front to Saku Koivu, who made a nifty backhand move past a sprawled Giguere to tie it 2-2.
Colorado got the game’s first goal when Ducks goalie John Gibson knocked down a Nick Holden shot from the circle and Brad Malone punched in the rebound under Gibson’s pad. It was originally waved off on the ice, but a quick video review deemed it a good goal.
The Ducks had some chances to tie it in the first and second, including on a couple of power plays prominently featuring Selanne, but Giguere was relentless.
Instead, the Avs went in front 2-0 when Ben Lovejoy had trouble clearing a bouncing puck in the slot and Stefan Elliott chipped it in with 1:09 left in the second.
But the Ducks came back with three unanswered, including the Bonino strike that put the lid on this regular season in which the Ducks earned the best record in the Western Conference for the first time in franchise history.
"That’s going to be the most forgotten-about overtime goal in the history of the Ducks," Bonino joked. "It was a great play by Sami Vatanen and Devante Smith-Pelly, and I’m happy it went in. But it was T’s night, and we’re all happy for him."
Almost forgotten in the hubbub was the fact that 20-year-old rookie had 29 saves in earning his third straight win in his first three NHL appearances.
"It worked out great," said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau of honoring Selanne. "I was really happy because we knew the game itself wasn’t going to be worth anything in the standings for either team. That’s where it worked out best. We could honor him, honor Jiggy, and do it without having to worry about points."
The Ducks learned their schedule for the opening round of the playoffs just before the game, and they will open Wednesday night against the Dallas Stars at Honda Center. For the rest of the schedule, visit AnaheimDucks.com/playoffs.
Boudreau, like a lot of people in the building tonight, admitted to getting a little emotional during the postgame salutes. "I’m glad there were no cameras on me because I was crying," he said. "That was as great a scene as you’re going to see in sports. Two well-deserved heroes of hockey hugging each other after battle. To me, that’s what it’s all about."
Despite all the hoopla, Selanne remained focused on the task at hand -- going out with a second Stanley Cup. "It wasn’t really the last game because we still have games remaining, so it would’ve been way harder if that was the last time playing," Selanne said. "But I’ll remember this night forever."