CHICAGO -- Locked in a scoreless goaltending duel early in the third period, John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks somehow made a sprawling right pad save to stop a wide open one-timer by Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.
It left half the fans at United Center holding their hands on their heads and gave Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau the utmost confidence on the bench.
"When he made that save in the third period, I said, 'Nothing's getting by him tonight,'" Boudreau said after Gibson's 38-save performance gave Anaheim a 1-0 win. "I've said that many times going the other way, and then I touched wood a hundred times, just because you don't want to jinx yourself. But it just looked like he was on top of his game. Something really special would've had to go in to [get past him]."
Nothing special enough happened for the Blackhawks (5-3-1), despite a strong late push aided by a power play after Anaheim defenseman Sami Vatanen's tripping penalty with 2:35 left in regulation.
Gibson stopped everything he faced and his teammates chipped in with 18 blocked shots. The Ducks outhit the Blackhawks 37-16 and used their size advantage to clog up the fast-paced game Chicago likes to play.
Gibson stopping everything else was simply another level of defensive cover the Blackhawks couldn't crack.
"You have stretches sometimes when things are not going in for us, but we played the right way," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "[We] gave up probably the fewest chances all year. It was a tight game. We played well in a lot of areas. In the second period, we had some great chances all alone. [Gibson] made a couple of big stops in the third. Whoever scored first, the way it was going, was in a pretty good spot."
That turned out to be Ducks forward Devante Smith-Pelly, who scored the lone goal of the game 11:32 into the third while Anaheim was on a penlty-kill.
After Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook fell down at the blue line in the Chicago offensive zone, the puck slid out to the neutral zone. Smith-Pelly and teammate Andrew Cogliano engaged in a footrace to get it, with Smith-Pelly scooping it and heading off for a breakaway against 25-year old Blackhawks rookie goaltender Scott Darling (24 saves).
A quick forehand-backhand deke sent a shot aimed between Darling's pads and the puck fluttered past him over the goal line. That was all the Ducks needed.
"[Our] eyes both lit up and I don't know if I tripped [Cogliano] or not, but we both wanted it," Smith-Pelly said. "As soon as [Seabrook] fell, we tried to take advantage."
The Ducks (8-2-0) needed a big defensive effort to make it hold up. Chicago controlled the puck for most of the game's final eight minutes and tested Anaheim, particularly Gibson.
Coming away with the victory was quite a confidence-booster heading into the next three games of a tough road trip at the St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche. It certainly felt better than Sunday, when the San Jose Sharks ended the Ducks' seven-game winning streak at Honda Center.
"Obviously after Sunday we weren't too thrilled with how we played and we wanted to redeem ourselves," Smith-Pelly said. "This is a good team to come out and have a great game against. It's a top team, so it was good to get back out there and get a win."
The first two periods were scoreless, but there was plenty of action at each end. There was even something to see between the blue lines late in the first, when Ducks defenseman Mark Fistric sent Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival flying into the Anaheim bench with a clean, hard hit.
The rookie goalies had 20 saves apiece through 40 minutes, which included a big stop by Gibson at 7:33 of the second period.
The puck kicked out to Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad in the neutral zone for a breakaway. Saad's initial backhand attempt was stopped, but the best save came on his attempted stuff of the rebound at the right post. Gibson kicked his left pad out just in time to keep it out.
Chicago forward Jeremy Morin had a breakaway chance with 1:24 left in the second, but Gibson used his blocker to turn away a hard wrist shot from the slot to keep it scoreless. That set up his best save, against Toews 1:31 into the third.
Chicago forward Bryan Bickell carried the puck behind the Ducks net and into the left circle, where he sent a backhand feed to Toews for the shot. Instinctively, Gibson dropped into a butterfly and got his right pad extended far enough.
"You just see him wide open and try to get something in front of it," Gibson said. "You don't know who [it is]. I don't think anybody could've told who it was. It was just, 'Make the save.' I saw where the pass was. I saw he was there and I knew he was going to one-time it. I didn't know who it was, but I just tried to get something in front of it. Luckily enough it hit me."
It was Gibson's third game this season; he entered with a 3.50 goals-against average and .875 save percentage. The Ducks wanted to get the highly-touted rookie turned around, and this game might've done the trick.
"The first game [he played] was not indicative of what John Gibson is," Boudreau said. "I always thought we could put in either goalie and they'd be great, and John and [Frederik Andersen] have shown all season that's true."