A video played after warmups reminding people of the team’s history, including the thrilling and unlikely Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2003 and the repeat appearance in 2007 that led to the franchise’s Cup win.
And when the PA announcer said “Ladies and gentlemen, your Anaheim Ducks” as the team came onto the ice for the game’s opening, it almost felt like old times, when the team was a Western conference powerhouse facing squads like Chicago (and this night’s opponent, San Jose) deep into the playoffs. Current fans hope those days are not too far off once more, and with good reason given the quick start and successful road trip the Ducks just put down.
Keeping with the heritage theme, there were a number of former Ducks in attendance, ten in all. Seven of them were introduced as they looked on from a suite. They were #25 Terry Yake, #54 Sean Pronger, #29 Randy Ladouceur, #36 JJ Daigneault, #46 JF Jomphe, #5 Vitaly Vishnevsky, and #12 Mike LeClerc.
The last three were introduced in superhero fashion, lights blazing around them as they appeared on the video board, and then a hallway walk to the ice. They were Guy Hebert, Teemu Selanne, and Paul Kariya. This trio held a ceremonial faceoff attended by the two teams’ captains, Cam Fowler and Tomas Hertl. And then it was game on.
The Ducks, who needed a win to restore their early season hope, played a flat first period. Hounded by San Jose’s relentless forecheck, Anaheim responded with a bit of what their coach, Greg Cronin, called “pond hockey” the other night after their loss to Philadelphia. Still, their level of skill prevailed. First Troy Terry rushed the puck from his own blueline into the San Jose zone. His dish pass led to a save on Mackenzie Blackwood’s part.
Later, the hat trick hero of the other night, Leo Carlsson, stole a puck and got to the San Jose net like magic and flipped a shot that Blackwood swallowed up.
But in between those two events, Frank Vatrano kept up his scoring ways, tipping a puck flung to the net by Ilya Lyubushkin downwards and underneath the bottom of Blackwood’s pads. He would follow that up on the power play when he took a one-timer off a pass from Fowler at the blueline. Vatrano’s shot may have hit the defenseman’s stick as it went up and over Blackwood’s head and into the net for his second goal. San Jose had scored a goal between Vatrano’s tallies, so the period ended 2-1 for the Ducks.
The second period was a track meet or played without defense, depending on whose language you want to adopt. It would be pretty clear to observers which team this favored (the Sharks) and who was getting drawn in (the Ducks), but in fact, the Ducks often finished—not to say buried—their chances. By that, I mean they were the ones whose zone time setups led to shots on goal. So many shots on goal—18 in the period, not counting the ones that ping-ponged around the zone, hitting pads and legs and not getting to the net.
The third period saw the Ducks add two goals to win the game 4-1. The more popular of the two was that by Radko Gudas. It was a shot from the point that hit a defenseman’s stick and blooped up and over everyone’s head, including the goalie’s, before plunking down into the net. The crowd sent up a huge cheer.
IH asked Gudas about the goal, and the reaction to it, after the game. “They were probably as surprised as I was. I was just happy for them to cheer, and it went in. It was a lucky bounce, so, I’m glad it went in.”
So on this Legacy night, who is setting himself up to be welcomed back at the Ducks’ fiftieth birthday celebration in 2043?
Gudas for sure.
He described the team as having gotten better and better as the game went on. “We were really going after that two points.”
IH asked him whether it’s more important to have won the game or broken what would have been a three-game losing streak. “We’re looking one game at a time. It’s important for us to focus on one game at a time, and keep chipping away. It’s a long season, and we want to focus on the next task ahead instead of looking at the big picture.” He added, “It’s early in the season, but we’re making steps in the right direction, doing a lot of good things out there. We staying defensive in a lot of situations, and as the season is going to continue, it’s going to work in our favor that we’re in good spots in the D zone, and that we don’t leave early, and we’re playing right most of the time.
Vatrano, probably, if he keeps up the pace he’s on. IH asked him after the game about not getting the hat trick this night. He replied “I’m just glad we won. The hat trick is just a bonus. We came up with a big two points. The team played hard tonight.” He would later add that his line is always focused on “doing something that is positive. . . . We got rewarded tonight because we did things the right way.”
Someone else asked him about his two-goal contribution, and he replied to compliment his line mates. He said of his own game, “I’m just trying to put the puck in the net, play hard every single night. When you play the right way, goals and points come.”
IH then followed up asking about San Jose’s forecheck, and Vatrano replied, “They’re a team that comes in waves. They can skate well. We just had to break them down. If they’re being too aggressive, we just had to quick-up pucks, rim pucks, make sure we’re getting pucks out at the blueline and transitioning through the offensive zone.”
What about Greg Cronin? He’ll be 80 when the Ducks celebrate a half-century, but he’s fit. Will he be at a potential 50-year reunion? Maybe, if he keeps up what he’s doing. Questions for him centered around the team’s play, naturally. “I think we had kind of a sloppy first period, a lot of turnovers. Didn’t get into a rhythm. The second and third, I thought we played really good hockey.” He said the fans in Anaheim have been “terrific. Into it. Involved in it. Fans love hits, fights, and goals. Rebound chances. I think there was a lot of that tonight, so it was good. It was just a good home game.”
Cronin also complimented his team’s puck management once they had the lead, making sure that they locked things down. This is a sign of maturity, though he didn’t say that word particularly.
So it was a good night in Anaheim, a bit of hope and promise in what was supposed to be a season of continued rebuilding. No doubt the Ducks are doing that, but that’s not the focus. Winning games is.
The team now plays back-to-back in Nashville and Colorado this week.
Cronin said that Trevor Zegras will be on the road trip, but it’s not certain if he will be fit to play.
Carlsson’s minutes and games are being monitored so he’s fresh all year. Cronin didn’t know if he would play both games on the trip.