It was a game that seemed out of reach. The Ducks, trailing 5-1, appeared to be on their way to a loss against the Washington Capitals on Sunday. John Gibson was taken out of the game in the first period in favor of Ryan Miller. The Ducks were scrambling and on their heels against the defending Stanley Cup champions. Then, something incredible happened.
The Ducks scored five unanswered goals in the second and third periods, including the go-ahead tally late in regulation to pull off a feat never done before in their franchise's history. Today's comeback in Washington marked the first time in club history the Ducks have rallied from four goals down to win on the road (and first such comeback win in regulation). Only once before have the Ducks ever come back to win after trailing by four goals, and it came at home in overtime when they rallied from 4-0 down to beat the Winnipeg Jets, 5-4, on March 31, 2014.
Andrew Cogliano started the comeback when he made it a 5-2 game. Then, it was Rickard Rakell 55 seconds later. Then, Pontus Aberg. Then, Hampus Lindholm. Then, Aberg again.
Of course, there was Miller, the poised veteran netminder, who helped keep the Ducks alive. The 38-year-old netminder gave up two goals on 21 shots, but was their best defender in the third period when the Caps were on the power play and again when they had a 6-on-5 advantage.
It was a milestone performance for Miller, who, with the win, tied John Vanbiesbrouck (374) for the all-time lead among U.S.-born goaltenders in victories.
"It was talked about at the end of last year," Miller said, on the milestone. "It was something I tried to get to as early as possible for two reasons - it helps the team win and also to push it aside and kind of get it over with. It was nice."
Wins come in all varieties over the course of a season, but this one was unlike any other. "It was definitely looking grim when they put their fifth on the board, but we responded," Miller said. "You're going to need these kinds of effort over the course of the season."
So where exactly was the turning point in this game? Aberg says Cogliano and Rakell scoring 55 seconds apart was that moment. "We were feeling good after that," said Aberg, who finished with two goals and three points in the win. "We kept on building after that. Millsy made the saves he had to make."
Simply put, the Ducks turned a good road trip into a great one. After losing the opener in Nashville, the Ducks have won four in a row to finish the trip with a 4-1-0 mark. They've also won six of their past seven games (6-1-0) and seven of their past 11 overall (7-2-2). The win improved their record this season to 14-10-5.
A sold out crowd left Capital One Arena in stunned silence, a complete 180 from earlier in the game when the Caps were well on their way to their eighth straight win. Instead, the Caps saw a seven-game winning streak snapped in shocking fashion. Nicklas Backstrom, Chandler Stephenson, Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nic Dowd scored five of the first six goals of the game, but it wasn't enough. Braden Holtby entered the game with a 6-2-0 record with a 1.70 goals-against average and .950 save percentage since November 7 - the lowest GAA and highest SV% among netminders with at least six games played since November 4. The Ducks dismissed those numbers and scored six goals on 25 shots.
The game didn't start the way the Ducks had hoped, allowing the Caps to score just 41 seconds into the first period when Backstrom finished a 2-on-1 rush with Alex Ovechkin. It gave Backstrom his 10th goal and team-leading 33rd point of the season.
The Capitals doubled their lead when Stephenson's shot from the boards caromed off Jake Dotchin's skate and slipped under Gibson's leg pad at the 6:08 mark of the opening frame.
After Gibson denied several chances in close, the Ducks marched down the ice and cut the deficit in half when Ryan Getzlaf used a backhanded swipe to beat Holtby with a shot with 10:36 left in the first. It gave Getzlaf sole possession of the team lead in goals, his eighth of the season.
Video: ANA@WSH: Getzlaf uses one hand to chip puck by Holtby
The scoring barrage continued when the Caps re-took a two-goal lead courtesy of Wilson's eighth goal of the season. Wilson got a tip of John Carlson's point shot just seconds into the game's opening power play, extending his goal streak to six consecutive games. It marked the end of the game for Gibson, who allowed three goals on 11 shots.
Kuznetsov made it 4-1 when he walked in on his off wing and made a nifty deke on Miller at the 4:59 mark of the second period.
Dowd made it 5-1 when he drove the center lane for his fourth goal of the season late in the middle frame.
The Ducks answered back with quick strikes from Cogliano and Rakell in a span of 55 seconds to make it a 5-3 score. Cogliano's goal, a jam attempt in the crease, came just 61 seconds after Dowd's goal. Rakell followed up with a rebound off his own shot that beat Holtby far side to give the young Swede his fourth point in his past two games (1g/3a). With an assist on Rakell's goal, Adam Henrique extended his season-long point streak to five consecutive games (1g/4a).
Video: ANA@WSH: Cogliano bangs in the loose puck in front
Video: ANA@WSH: Rakell stays with the play to put it home
The Ducks made good on their second power play of the third period (and game) when Aberg sent a blistering snap shot off the nearside post and in to cut the deficit to just one goal. It was Anaheim's third unanswered goal of the game. It marked Aberg's eighth goal of the season and his third on the power play.
Video: ANA@WSH: Aberg snaps a PPG off the post and in
Minutes later, the Ducks delivered again. This time it was Lindholm who snuck backdoor to bury a shot on the power play, erasing what was once a four-goal deficit.
Video: ANA@WSH: Kesler, Lindholm combine for game-tying PPG
The Ducks weren't done. Moments after killing off a crucial penalty late in regulation, the Ducks took the lead when Aberg pounced on a loose puck at the left post with 6:05 left on the clock. It started with Getzlaf's rush through neutral ice, and then Kiefer Sherwood, who carried the mail into the slot. Aberg found the puck and made no mistake for his team-leading ninth goal of the season.
Video: ANA@WSH: Aberg puts the Ducks ahead late in the 3rd
"It was a good play from Kiefer," Aberg said, on his go-ahead goal. "Getzy touched it to me and I had an open net. I tried to be patient and put it in."
Led by Miller in net, the Ducks withstood a final push from the Capitals, who pulled Holtby for the extra attacker. The improbable comeback was complete, and the Ducks somehow, someway found a way to win.
The Ducks became the first road team to accomplish the feat in regulation since Colorado on March 9, 1999 at Florida. Additionally, the four-goal comeback win also marked the first time in which a team (home or road) overcame such a deficit against a defending Stanley Cup Champion.
They will return to Anaheim to open a four-game homestand beginning Wednesday against the Chicago Blackhawks.