-- Considering just how special Jonas Hiller
has been in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, losing Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinal the way he and the Anaheim Ducks
did at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday night was certainly a tough pill to swallow.
Despite being bombarded with 17 shots by the Detroit Red Wings
in the first period, Hiller kept his team in the game and allowed it to erase two deficits. But just when it seemed the game was destined for overtime, Dan Cleary
poked a loose puck past the Ducks' goaltender with exactly three minutes remaining in a 4-3 decision.
"It was a tough goal, especially at the end," said Hiller, who finished with 36 saves. "It was more of a question if he's allowed just to put my pad in and not the puck. I don't think he ever saw the puck. He just thought it must be behind my pad, so he just pushed my pad. That's the only thing that I question."
One thing that can't be questioned is the remarkable turnaround the Ducks enjoyed during the second half of the season. They fought their way into the playoffs in an incredibly tight conference, then proceeded to oust the 117-point San Jose Sharks
in the opening round in six games.
They followed that up by taking the defending Stanley Cup champions to the limit, and came within 180 seconds of forcing overtime in the opposition's building.
"We showed a lot of heart and a lot of character … it wasn't meant to be for us tonight," said Ducks defenseman Ryan Whitney
, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins
at the trade deadline. "It wasn't from a lack of effort. We won a lot of games down the stretch to get in. We don't have much to be ashamed of."
It certainly was a mature way to handle a loss that had only transpired moments earlier. Whitney wasn't the only one who lost with dignity. The team's best player quickly followed suit.
"I don't want to take anything away from them," said center Ryan Getzlaf
, who has established himself as one of the League's premier players. "It's a tough call for the refs. It's not something they can go and review and make sure that he didn't push the goalie's leg in the net. It's a tough bounce. I'm not going to fault the officiating for anything."
Or Hiller, for that matter. After all, it was Hiller -- who won the No. 1 goalie job from Jean-Sebastien Giguere
just prior to the start of the postseason -- who kept the Ducks in the game and allowed them to mount a comeback.
"He just played absolutely unbelievable," said defenseman James Wisniewski
, another Deadline Day acquisition. "By far, the No. 1 star of the playoffs. It's kind of shocking. You win tonight, and maybe you're playing four more weeks. Now, you're playing golf tomorrow or Saturday."
Maybe halfway through their first round of golf, the Ducks will realize the accomplishments they were able to achieve during this postseason. Naturally, it was difficult to sit back and smile after such a heartbreaking defeat.
"It takes a while to realize that," Hiller said. "Right now, it's disappointing. It's sad, but I think if somebody told us in January that we'd lose Game 7 in Detroit in the semifinals … we definitely would take it. But it's tough to be happy with what happened."
"I've got to view it as a second-half success, anyway," Getzlaf said. "Obviously we didn't start the way we wanted to this season. We dug a pretty big hole in the first half of the season. Our guys did an unbelievable job coming back and even getting to where we are right now. I think we'll be able to look back on that and learn a little bit. Hopefully we can take that into next season."
Contact Brian Compton at: email@example.com.