Freeway Faceoff be damned.
The Ducks desperately need two points, because that’s what separates them from solidifying their spot the playoffs at this point. To get those two points, they have to win a game this weekend with a pair of games against the Kings. Marketing people can say all they want about why fans ought to be attending these games. Hockey people know that the playoffs are what counts.
Friday night the game took place in Anaheim, the usual 7 p.m. start and an Angels game across the street. Didn’t matter, as the place was full at puckdrop. And the sweaters weren’t all Kings, either, nor even a large representation, as has been the case other times this season. Rather, it was a local OC crowd out to support their team. The final count on the night, by the way, was a standing-room sellout of 400 over capacity.
Maybe some of them bought their tickets a week ago, calculating that their boy, Corey Perry, would score his fiftieth goal on this evening. He fooled everyone by potting a hat trick Wednesday night against San Jose, getting to the magic mark in front of a crowd of 15,649 (capacity is 17,174). A pity that.
On this night, the focus was not on one player, but on the team, though, and one potential trouble spot was in net, where recent hero Ray Emery was absent. He had a twinge in the lower body (interpret with pretty good confidence as hip) the other evening and did not finish the second period. Dan Ellis came in in relief and let in one goal on 15 shots to secure the win, 6-2.
The other Anaheim scorers, by the way, were the big names—Teemu Selanne, Jason Blake, and Cam Fowler. Captain Ryan Getzlaf ended up with four assists.
OK, but back to the goalies. With Emery out of commission, Jonas Hiller was riding the pine behind Ellis. He watched on as both his compadre and the Kings’ goalie, Jonathan Quick, put on miraculous displays in the early going. The Kings ended up scoring first on a turnover behind their net by Toni Lydman, which was fished to the front by Stoll and eventually put in by Ryan Smyth. But Ellis wasn’t to blame, and later in the period, he stonewalled Wayne Simmonds.
Simmonds got the puck all alone in front just to the left of the goal. He deked while standing still and fired off a wrist shot to the open long side. Ellis spread-eagled forward and grabbed it with his trapper.
“I thought the stop he made on Simmonds was the game changer,” said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle. “We missed the assignment; two guys went to one and followed out, and Dan Ellis came up with a big game-saving glove save, and we were able to recover from that after the first period and got our game going in the second.”
Quick, at the other end, faced eight shots in period one, stopping them all. Four came on one power play, including one where Selanne came through center and slammed a shot at Quick from the edge of the crease. As he did, his stick was slashed in half, drawing no call. But it was the save Quick made on the flying Finn just after that that was his most spectacular.
Selanne got a pass from behind and to the right of the Kings net. He fired a one-timer slapshot that should have gone in, except that Quick got his blocker out on it, which there’s no way he should have done.
Coach Terry Murray has said in the past week or so that he would rest his number one goalie at some point this weekend, playing Jonathan Bernier in one of the games against Anaheim. That came up Wednesday night in LA after the game, Murray commenting that he had Bernier pencilled in for one of the weekend games, likely Saturday.
Bernier’s outstanding, but I’ve never seen him have the kind of spectaculer start to a game that Quick had on Friday night. He was mobile, agile, and confident, flying from side to side of the net, yet never out of position.
The middle period began with the two dolts with ivy league educations—George Parros and Kevin Westgarth—fighting one another. For what? Who knows, because Parros had just made a nice play where he blocked a shot at his own point and would have turned it up ice but for a bad bounce. His offense is not lacking, nor his hockey sense. But he has to fight, if you follow the logic of the NHL in this era.
With that out of the way, the hockey could recommence, and the Ducks made the Kings take notice as the frame wore on. The shots were 20-16 by period’s end, and the score was knotted at ones.
The Ducks’ goal came when Luca Sbisa fired a long slapshot which Quick kicked out to the slot. There, the ageless wonder Selanne picked it up, fading to his right. He took a right-hand wrist shot back against the grain, putting it past the goalie and into a wide open side of the net for his 30th of the season. It was the 10th time that Selanne has accomplished that feat.
But after the game, the veteran was more intent on focusing on his team.
“Luck’s not the thing. Even the night when we’re down a couple of goals in the third, we have to believe that we’re going to come back,” he said with the usual smile after the game. “Good things happen when you believe; that’s why we’ve made the playoffs. We didn’t need anybody’s help.”
The Kings hit the post behind Ellis shortly after on the power play. Then on the same shift, Dustin Penner skated a puck across the slot, right past the empty seam that would have allowed him to drive to the net. Why didn’t he go there? He was headed to the bench. But how do you let a chance to drive down to the cage go? What happened was that a player on the LA side caught up with him as he went to the outside of the slot, and he lost the puck there. Penner has been cold like Edmonton in January since a week after he got to the coast.
He got points in six of his first seven games after being shut out in his first game. Since then he hasn’t tallied a single point since March 17th. His ice time can’t be blamed, either, as he’s gotten 18 minutes or just short of it in the last three games, and six times in the month and a half that he’s been in California.
Why dwell on that, though, when you can talk about one of the best players ever and his magic? Selanne struck again with about six minutes gone in the third period. He took a pass across from Saku Koivu, who had taken it in turn from Blake. Blake had stolen a puck that the Kings were trying to clear back to their own defense in the Anaheim zone, and worked it up the ice. He dished to Koivu, who went left to right and beat a guy, then passed back across the grain as he was falling. Selanne is automatic with the wrist shot from the near right slot, and he beat Quick.
Destroyed him more like, as the goalie lay spread-eagled on the ice two feet out of his crease for a few seconds after the goal went in.
The goal, according to Carlyle was largely to the credit of Blake. He first talked about the pass from Koivu to Selanne, but then said, “I think the guy that come [sic] up with the puck, Jason Blake, doesn’t get a lot of recognition on the line. He doesn’t get a lot of recognition on the line, but he moved the puck up to Koivu.”
Blake responded to the praise by saying, “I appreciate that, obviously, but you know, playing with those guys is definitely an honor. Teemu is speaking for himself, his hockey, a definite hall of famer. Saku with his playmaking ability, he has the knack. Tonight worked out, and I think there’s lots of nights where we do the right things but don’t get rewarded for it, but that’s just the game of hockey. Right now, it’s a good feeling in this locker room.”
When I asked him about how he got the jump on the puck, he said with a laugh, “You like to think you got the jump, but you just try to read it, read it right, the best you can. Like I said, playing with those guys, especially Sak, makes it easier. I definitely lean on those two, and especially Saku.”
Carlyle made an important shift in his lineup in the third period when he swapped Bobby Ryan onto the line of McMillan and Winchester and put Matt Beleskey with Perry and Getzlaf. They didn’t produce any scoring, but Carlyle admitted he was trying things out.
“I just felt that we just weren’t getting enough balance in our lines, and Beleskey’s played with Getzlaf and Perry before, and Bobby Ryan has been moving around, and we just felt that it would be a better look, and uh, what did you think?”
Smarty pants. I said I thought they got some production out of the line, and he said, “Well, then it worked.” End of news conference.
Carlyle earlier summarized the game by saying, that his best players had been his best. “But that’s why they’re paid the money they’re paid,” he said. “I thought in the third period what we asked them to do was instead of accepting the way we were, we asked them to be 10 percent better. It’s not the first time we’ve asked [that] but when you get 20 guys pushing and 20 guys being 20 percent better, you find a way in the third period to score the goal.”
OK, so he might have shifted the terms in his math as he went along, but the point is the same—he got more from his guys near the end than the beginning, and the Ducks assured themselves of a playoff spot by gaining the two points they did.