ANAHEIM – If the Ducks and Penguins do indeed meet in the Stanley Cup Final three months from now, they gave a heck of a preview tonight at Honda Center.
A standing-room-only crowd of 17,518 witnessed an intense, playoff-like battle between the NHL-best Ducks and Eastern Conference-leading Penguins, in which Pittsburgh outlasted Anaheim in a six-round shootout, 3-2.
"I thought we played a great game," said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. "Take away their power play, and I think they had 10 or 11 shots, which is great. We followed our game plan to a tee. We just lost in a shootout."
It was the second straight six-round shootout loss for the Ducks, who fell to Montreal the same way two nights ago.
"Our last two games are very different," said Ducks defenseman (and former Penguin) Ben Lovejoy. "The Montreal game, we probably didn’t deserve. They took it to us and we weren’t ready right away. Tonight, both teams were ready from the get-go, and they were able to come out with a win."
In this one, Brandon Sutter put Pittsburgh ahead with a backhand past Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller, and Ryan Getzlaf backhanded a shot wide of the net trying to extend the tiebreaker.
Corey Perry, who had two goals in regulation, also converted in the shootout, as did Teemu Selanne when he kept the Ducks alive with a low wrister in the fifth round. Sidney Crosby and former Duck Chris Kunitz each cashed in their shootout chances for Pittsburgh.
"That’s a very good team over there," Lovejoy said. "I thought both teams played really good hockey. They wanted to get into a transition game, and we wanted to play a physical game down low. It went in waves where they carried the play and we carried the play."
On a night where space on the ice was limited, the Ducks controlled play for most of the first two periods, outshooting the Pens 23-7. And while Pittsburgh picked it up in the third, Perry gave the Ducks a 2-1 lead on his second of the game 1:10 into the period, taking in a pretty backhand pass from Getzlaf near the crease and roofing it from in deep.
But Pittsburgh evened things up nearly halfway through the frame on a power play stemming from a dubious Kyle Palmieri tripping call, as Evgeni Malkin beat Jonas Hiller gloveside from the slot. That made it 2-2, where it remained until the end of regulation.
"I thought we played pretty well," Palmieri said. "There were a couple opportunities we had that might’ve been able to put the game away. Hillsy played a great game. When he was tested, he came up big for us. Overall, it was a good test for us, but falling in a shootout is disappointing."
Pittsburgh looked poised to slam the door a minute into overtime when a Cam Fowler giveaway led to a Crosby breakaway, but Hiller made a huge stop on Crosby’s wrist shot. Later in the extra frame, Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made consecutive saves on Hampus Lindholm and Getzlaf with the game on the line.
Fleury had 29 saves on the night, and made key stops in the shootout on Nick Bonino to lead things off and Jakob Silfverberg, who had a chance to win it. Kyle Palmieri, whose shootout goal two nights ago was overturned via replay, fired wide on his attempt in the second round.
One of Fleury’s few missteps came on the game’s first goal 3:54 into the first, as he left a rebound off a Getzlaf shot for Perry, who punched it in for his 33rd of the year.
Pittsburgh evened things up almost four minutes later when Deryk Engelland slung a shot from the slot that got between the wickets of Hiller (15 saves).
The Ducks, who ran their points streak to five games, still remain at the top of the NHL standings with a 43-14-7 record. They conclude their five-game homestand Monday night vs. Toronto.