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Adam Brady is the Director of Publications & New Media for the Anaheim Ducks and Honda Center. Email him by CLICKING HERE.

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Updated March 31 at 11:47 a.m.

Last Friday night's loss to the Edmonton Oilers at Honda Center was heartbreaking for the Anaheim Ducks. Another one tonight in Edmonton would be near-devastating.

It's the same old story that it's been for the past few weeks for Anaheim, which can afford few missteps in what has become a ridiculously tight race for the last couple of Western Conference playoff spots. And while three games on the road at Edmonton, Vancouver and San Jose isn't exactly the easiest path to the playoffs, the Ducks are starting tonight with an Oilers team that has been surprisingly mediocre at home this season.

The Oilers are 16-14-6 in 36 games at Rexall Place this season, second-worst in the Western Conference ahead of only the Kings (yeesh). Meanwhile, the Ducks' 19 road wins is tied for third-best in the conference.

In fact, things have gotten so bad for the Oilers at home, the players have taken this desperate measure of looking into the camera and practically begging fans for their support tonight and the rest of this six-game homestand that was gift-wrapped to them from the NHL schedulers. I'm sorry, isn't this Canadian hockey? Isn't that support already there?

(Speaking of fan support, we've added a watch party at Zito's Pizza in Anaheim for this one tonight.)

The Oilers, also fighting for their playoff lives, have lost four of their last five games. That included a 3-2 defeat at home to the Wild on Sunday, the only good thing that happened with the Ducks' postseason competition that day.

Of course, we all know the one win the Oilers have had in those last five games -- last Friday's 5-3 victory at Honda Center in which the Ducks threw 54 shots at Dwayne Roloson to no avail. Roloson gave up a couple of soft ones to the Wild two nights ago, so we know he's actually human.

But who cares about the Oilers goalie when the Ducks have their own goalie issues to deal with. Actually, there really is no issue at all right now, is there? Randy Carlyle is more likely to tell the media what he wears to bed at night than he is to reveal his starting goalie, but I'd be absolutely shocked to see anyone but Jonas Hiller in there tonight. He's won his past four starts, continues to be in the top five in save percentage and goals against, and if you want to talk about success against a particular team, he's 1-1 with a 1.89 goals-against average against the Oil.

“I think Hiller’s been competitive, but looking back at specifically the Nashville game (last Tuesday), it was one of the best games Giguere’s played for our hockey club all year,” Carlyle said yesterday. “There are peaks and valleys, and right now, it is what it is from a standpoint that we’re going to make those decisions. Hopefully you make the right one.”

I think at this point, it's the only one.

“I want to play as many games as possible, sure,” said Hiller of the situation. “But I don’t look too far ahead. I know one day you can be the hero, the next day (it) can change."

No one knows that better than J.S. Giguere right now, the hero of '03 and '07, a guy who had a record-setting year in '08, but just hasn't been able to string it together this year. And unfortunately for Giguere, the best playoff goalie of the last half-decade, it's probably going to be -- come Hiller high water -- it's the Swiss kid's time right now.


Meanwhile, Hiller was the latest guest with the incredibly stiff Scott Laughlin on Ducks Weekly on XM Radio. I've come to realize over the past year that if you played a drinking game where you took a sip every time Hiller said the word "yeah" during an interview, you'd drop dead halfway through.

That being said, can Hiller lead the Ducks to a badly needed victory in a hostile environment? 

Let's hope we're saying "yeah" to that later tonight.


- - -

As disturbingly popular as hair-pulling girl fight internet videos have become, who would have thought we'd see a version of one in an NHL hockey game? But it happened in this epic brawl between the Canucks and Blackhawks on Sunday. Although the fight stemmed from a laughably blatant cross check by Dustin Byfuglien (that's BUFF-lin) to goalie Roberto Luongo's face, it took a little while to get going. But when it finally did, it was a doozy. Highlights included Blackhawk Ben Eager literally lifting Canuck Kevin Bieksa off the ice to body-slam him. But the most awkward highlight was Vancouver's Alex Burrows pulling Duncan Keith's hair on a number of occasions during their one-on-one battle (at the 1:20 mark).

"That's not something I've ever had happen to me," Keith said afterward. "My little sister never even pulled my hair when I was a kid. It's kind of comical when you have a grown man trying to pull your hair on the ice."

Comical indeed. I hope Burrows was able to go home and calm down with a nice glass of Smirnoff Ice and a Tivoed episode of "Gossip Girls."

Updated March 30 at 11:01 a.m.

Thank God for the Colorado Avalanche.

Twice in a span of five days, when the Ducks badly needed a victory to stay in this playoff race, the Avs did little to get in their way. That included a 7-2 demolishing last Wednesday in Colorado and a 4-1 victory for the Ducks last night at Honda Center. Granted, the Ducks earned both those victories, but they seemingly deserved one in between against Edmonton too, and came out on the wrong end of that one (more on that later).

Last night's win certainly didn't have the flair of that Wednesday blowout, and the Ducks definitely didn't look as good as they did in losing Friday night (again, more on that later) but they did what they had to do. And last night's game got even bigger as the day wore on, and not just because losing to last-place Colorado at this point in the season would have been disastrous. But since both Nashville and St. Louis had won earlier in the day, the Ducks desperately needed two points to hold serve, so to speak.

Although the 4-1 final doesn't indicate it, last night's game wasn't in the bag until a good portion into the third period. And just to give a better illustration of that, we can freeze-frame on this moment: Almost 12 minutes into the second period, the Ducks holding an unsteady one-goal lead, the puck on a Colorado stick in the Anaheim zone and goalie Jonas Hiller on his knees just inside the blue line.

That was the situation the Ducks faced when Hiller rolled the dice and darted out of his crease to try and dive and poke away a rolling puck to avoid facing a Colorado breakaway. He did get a piece of the puck, but it ended up kicking to T.J. Galiardi, who had the chance to tie the game if he could put that puck into the goalie-less net. But a couple of Ducks teammates had Hiller's back, as Andrew Ebbett jumped into the crease to play a little last-minute goalie and Chris Pronger put his 6-6 body in front of Galiardi to block his shot. And a split second after Hiller lumbered back in front of the net, he made a big save of his own. (Fast-forward to the 1:25 mark of this video to see it for yourself.)

That's one of those plays that, since the Avs didn't score, the crowd went crazy for Hiller. If they got the tying goal on that play, he's an idiot.

“I think he made the right play,” Randy Carlyle said. “He made a decision. Usually in those situations, you better go. You better get it, and he got it. There’s no criticism when you get it done.”

And I like this comment Carlyle added: "What it does on the bench, your heart rate definitely goes up. But the bottom line is, it energizes the building and that's entertainment value for your fans. And when your fans do that, it can't help but rub off on your players."

Said Hiller of the play, “I thought I might make it, and once you decide to go, you have to go,” Hiller said of the gamble. “You can’t back off or you’re totally lost. I was a little lucky. Prongs made a save for me. I might have to buy him dinner or something.”

Maybe. Or perhaps a BMW.

That was about as close as the Avs would get, as Bobby Ryan's second goal of the game 4:05 into the third (man, is he fun to watch) gave the Ducks a huge two-goal lead and Drew Miller swept in a loose puck less than two minutes later to make it 4-1 and pretty much slam the door.

Ryan's two goals combined with Corey Perry's in the first period, as the so-called "RPG Line" (with Getzlaf at center) continues to produce. Perry has been ridiculously hot lately, with six goals in his last seven games to take over the team lead in goals. Meanwhile, Ryan's two gave him the NHL rookie scoring lead. And oh yeah, it's a little late, but it's Bobby Ryan Bobblehead Night for the Iowa Chops on April 11. (You can bet I'm emailing my Chops contacts to beg for one of those.)

Last night's win gave Anaheim its first-ever season sweep of the Avalanche, who couldn't have a more appropriate team name in their natural disaster of a season. Normally a perennial postseason contender, the Avs have been riddled with injuries, and were forced to use three rookies on defense last night with a combined 10 games of NHL experience.

And a team like that couldn't have come in here at a better time for the Ducks, who somehow freefell from seventh to 10th in the conference standings in the 24 hours following their heartbreaking loss Friday night to Edmonton. The Ducks threw everything they had at the Oilers, including a team-record 54 shots at Dwayne Roloson and still couldn't get the victory. Never have I seen a goalie give up three goals and still completely dominate a game.

(I did think it was funny that on the postgame interview with Roloson, FSN reporter Patrick O'Neal asked him if this was the most he has ever been in the zone in his life. Roloson politely said "No," but he could have easily said, "Dude, I'm 39 years old. I've had about five dozen games just like this one. I don't know if you remember, but just a few seasons ago I carried an eight seed on my back all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. So, no, this isn't the most I've been in the zone.")

Of course, the Ducks might not have needed more than the three goals they managed to get by Roloson if they got a better performance from J.S. Giguere, who actually got pulled twice in that one. The first came after two quick and early goals by the Oilers, but he was inserted right back in two seconds later following a George Parros fight off the faceoff. Then he was pulled for good after two Oilers goals within a nine-second window early in the second.

Granted, the blame can't be totally placed on Giguere for those Edmonton goals, as bad Ducks turnovers led to three of them. At the same time, he'd be the first to say those were saves he absolutely has to make, especially at this juncture in the season. And it was no surprise to see Hiller get the start last night, which he handled with a fine performance of 26 saves, many of them with style. This was my personal favorite, when he did the splits to snag a Galiardi shot out of the air, then sat there for a few seconds as if to exhaustedly say, "Wow, how 'bout me, huh?"

Yes, Jonas Hiller has a bit of a flair for the dramatic, but as long as he's making the stops, he could practically pull a Rod Tidwell on us and we wouldn't mind. And you have to believe Hiller (just 11 goals in his last seven appearances) will be back in net tomorrow night in Edmonton, in yet another vital game for the Ducks (more on that tomorrow). 

“It’s unbelievable,” Hiller said of the tight race. “You almost can’t lose any games. I saw the standings up there when they showed it. I saw Nashville and St. Louis won. I knew it was even tighter than before tonight. We know we have to win as many games as possible. It’s still the same thing. We just have to play it game-by-game and see the standings at the end. We know there is a lot of pressure, but I think the team is ready.”

With the next three games in Edmonton, Vancouver and San Jose and just six left in the regular season ... oh man, let's hope so.

- - -

Best of luck to the Anaheim Lady Ducks 12U and 14U teams, who are playing in this week's USA Hockey National Championships in Rochester, New York. Here is a portion of an email I got from a reader named Renee, whose daughter Micayla plays on the team:

These girls have worked really hard all year, the 14U girls have actually traveled on a red-eye once a month three months in a row earlier this season back to Chicago and Detroit to play 5 games in 2 1/2 days for the Girls Mid-West Elite Hockey League so they can play against good competition and challenge themselves to be their best. This is in addition to the weekly Southern California game schedule. They juggle a difficult practice and travel schedule with homework and still manage to keep up their grades.

Several of our girls live away from their families during the season, or travel from Vegas on a weekly basis just to play for the Anaheim Lady Ducks. The Anaheim Ducks support of the program and the coaching is fabulous and gives these girls the opportunity to realize a dream of playing hockey in college or the USA National development program.

They won the USA Hockey Pacific District Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska earlier this month and now they’re off to try and win the National Championship later this week.

We are so proud of all the girls and will be rooting them on starting Wednesday in Rochester.

We're rooting for them too.


Updated March 27 at 12:46 p.m.

When you look at your clock and it’s almost noon and you say to yourself, “You know, seven hours really isn’t that long,” you know it’s a big game. 

And it definitely is a big one tonight, as the Ducks look to keep the momentum going against an Oilers team that’s lurking just one point back of seventh-place Anaheim in the conference playoff race.

The Oilers had a chance to replace the Ducks in that seventh slot last night in Phoenix, but couldn't get it done. The Coyotes raced out to a 3-0 lead and though the Oilers trudged back with two in the third, Ilya Bryzgalov saved everything else to earn the victory. It was the third straight defeat for the Oil, and caused this morning's game story in the Edmonton Journal to begin with the line: The Edmonton Oilers might have been knocked out of a playoff berth...

Geez, guys. With just one point between them and seventh place, I wouldn't exactly say that. Though the discouragement from dropping a game to the Coyotes is understandable, especially since they hadn't lost to Phoenix in more than two years. And Bryz got the win despite an 0-3 record and a 5.72 goals-against average against Edmonton. To top it off, the Journal reported that The Coyotes hadn’t played since Sunday and had just a dozen players stroll out for an optional skate Thursday morning. Head coach Wayne Gretzky didn’t even get on the ice; he was late getting to the rink because he got stuck in traffic.

Okay, so I guess there's reason to be down, but you can bet Edmonton will be ready when they take on the Ducks tonight at Honda Center. And the Ducks need this one just as badly as they've needed the past few. It's one thing to grind your way into playoff position, but staying there is just as vital for Anaheim right now. Said Randy Carlyle yesterday, "By no means are we feeling comfortable with where we're at. We've got some very, very huge hockey games to play here, and it starts [tonight] against Edmonton."

Not surprisingly, there wasn't much indication of who will be in net for the Ducks tonight, but the way things are going for them as of late, it almost doesn't matter which of the two get the nod. Carlyle has been stressing lately how important goaltending has been to the team's recent success -- whether it's a Swiss guy or a French-Canadien guy in there. "It all starts in goal," Carlyle said. "We've had decent goaltending here for the last little while. They've given us a chance. We're pretty adamant that our goaltending doesn't have to win us games, but they have to give us a chance. They've given us that chance."

Meanwhile, there is no question who the Oilers will have between the pipes tonight, as Dwayne Roloson has started their last 22 in a row. And even though it's the second of back-to-back nights, he'll be in there again tonight, despite the fact that his 9-7-6 record in those games isn't all that glowing.  

“Based on the way that [Roloson] has played and the situation we’re in, there’s no choice,” said Oilers coach Craig MacTavish. “There’s absolutely virtually zero choice. For me. Others may read it differently, but my mindset is that he’s played great and we need him. We have to go with him. To do anything else would just be rife with regret if something bad happened during the game. The what-ifs. And I’m not prepared to do that.”

So, what are you saying? Is Roloson in or not?

During this morning's skate at Honda Center, Francois Beauchemin and Brad Larsen skated with a full team for the first time in months after both skated on their own yesterday. For Beauchemin, it was the first full practice since he went down with an ACL tear back on Nov. 14. For Larsen, it was the first time since having hip surgery in mid-December. "They're a ways away, but it's always a good sign when you have people who were absent from your lineup and are now starting to get into practice mode with your group," Carlyle said.

He even went so far as to indicate that at least Beauchemin will "more than likely" join the Ducks on the road for next week's games in Edmonton, Vancouver and San Jose, but mainly for conditioning purposes. He said he wasn't 100 percent sure Larsen would join the team. "We'll pick on [Beauchemin] him from a conditioning standpoint and see how he progresses," Carlyle said. "Right now it's week to week rather than day to day."

Carlyle stressed that Beauchemin won't play before the end of the regular season, but if the Ducks make the postseason, he could be in there. "Medically, there is a time frame that has to be honored and we will honor that," he said. "We won't put a player in a situation where he could jeopardize himself. We have to be realistic about the situation. I think that the postseason is what the target is and that's not going to change."

- - -

I have to admit, I'm not much of a kids person, but what they have going at the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana is really cool. I've had two chances this past week to check out The Science of Hockey exhibit, including a special preview involving J.S. Giguere, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry yesterday afternoon, and it is really impressive.

Of course, my favorite exhibits are the "You Be the Shooter" (where you shoot pucks at a virtual Giguere) and "You Be the Goalie" (where you try to stop pucks shot at you out of a wall from a virtual Perry), which have less to do with science than they do hockey skill. I tried the "Shooter" one a few days ago and was able to get a few past the virtual Giguere (though I was on the "Amateur" level). Then watching Getzlaf yesterday sling wrist shots that produced a defeaning BOOM when they hit the screen -- well, let's just say he was slightly better than I was. And watching Giguere try to wrist shots past himself was kind of a surreal experience.

Meanwhile, there are about a dozen other exhibits that are not only a lot of fun, but will teach the game to kids who might not have otherwise experienced it. And the Ducks video people did a phenomenal job of shooting the footage of Giguere, Getzlaf and others that accompanies many of the exhibits. In addition, there is a running loop on a high-mounted TV of a segment from the Ducks Stanley Cup Champions DVD that I couldn't stop staring at, even though I was watching the same parts over and over again. (I'm stll not even close to being sick of that.)

One other thing I took from yesterday was not only how much the 100 or so kids were into it all, but how the adults (Ducks staff, media, etc.) were blown away by it. I wish I had a nickel for each time I heard, "You know, this thing is pretty cool" from people. And, despite being constantly mobbed by kids holding out their Ducks hats and a Sharpies, the three players looked like they were having a good time taking it all in as well.

After this thing opens April 2, get your kids down there. I'm telling you, it's phenomenal.

- - -

TSN has come up with a very entertaining list of the Top 10 Goalies Gone Wild moments in NHL history that includes Ray Emery punching his own trainer and the classic Patrick Roy and Chris Osgood fight. One of my favorite moments is No. 9, where Dominik Hasek tries to skate all the way to the other end of the ice to get involved in a fight involving Roy. The reason I love it is because the announcer, describing Hasek joining the fray and falling on his rear, says, "And Hasek ... slips."  

Absent from the list is J.S. Giguere going after Ryan Smythe in a 2006 Ducks-Oilers game after, ironically enough, a Chris Pronger goal (love the "whoo hoo!" then the look of shock on Pronger's face as Giguere flies by him). And also missing from the list is this timeless brawl in an old Calgary Flames-Winnipeg Jets game involving an old goalie named Brian Hayward (now the Ducks TV analyst). It's hard to pick out the funniest part of this video. Is it where Calgary's Tim Hunter circles the net to blindside Hayward with a punch to the face, knocking him to his knees? Is it where Hayward gets in it with Hunter, not bothering to remove any equipment, and slapping the top of Hunter's head with his flopping blocker?

No, no. I say the funniest part is the announcer raising his voice a bit to report the "SEVENTY ... SIX ... HUNDRED ... DOLLARS IN FINES" handed down from the brawl. That's hundred, not thousand. When was this game played, 1958? That included two $500 fines, a $400 fine and a $200 fine handed down to four players for their involvement (not Hayward). The two teams were also fined a combined $6,000 for players leaving their benches.

And here I thought we were in an economic crisis right now.

Updated March 26 at 12:23 p.m.

Alright, it's confirmed: The Anaheim Ducks are officially the "team no one wants to play" in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Last night's 7-2 demolition of the hapless Colorado Avalanche only added to that distinction, giving the Ducks their fifth straight win and a temporary hold on seventh place in the Western Conference.

You could make a case that last night's victory was even more impressive than the 2-1 shootout squeaker the Ducks managed the night before against a much-better-than-the-Avs Nashville team, and here's why. One night after that big victory that put the Ducks in playoff position for the first time in more than a month, last night's date with Colorado could have a classic "letdown game." Even as bad as Colorado is right now, you could have easily worried the Ducks would let up on the gas a little too much and turning last night's game into a battle to the finish -- or even worse, a buzz-killing loss.

But that was the pre-trade-deadline Ducks. These Ducks we have here now don't look like they have much let-up in them. And that has never been more evident than it was last night. Granted, the Avs appear to have given up on this season weeks (maybe months) ago. But this is exactly what playoff-caliber teams do with teams that don't belong in the same rink as them -- they completely annihilate them, even if it is on the road and even if it is the second game of a back-to-back.

Think the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks aren't looking at the Ducks -- a team with three Hall-of-Famers, 10 guys who won a Cup two years ago and a handful of newcomers who are jelling at just the right time -- with a little nervousness about a first-round matchup?

We should have known early on last night that this one would be a laugher, based on the goal Erik Christensen scored 2:11 into the first period at the tail end of his shift. Christensen pretty much had one foot on the bench when his casual wrist shot from above the circle hit poor Peter Budaj's glove and fluttered behind him into the net. (In baseball terms, that's called a passed ball.) Not exactly the prettiest first goal as a Duck for Christensen, but it was an indicator of things to come for the Ducks, as they pretty much did anything they wanted to last night.

And if you don't mind, I'd like to run through each Ducks goal, since it's not every day they score seven. Late in the first, Selanne skates out from the corner with no one around him and tees up a slap shot from above the circle that sails through. Perry scores with 35.2 left when Christensen tries to punch the puck into the open net, but instead makes an accidental perfect feed to Perry, who does the honors. That marked the departure of Peter Budaj (who was just awful), but replacement Andrew Raycroft pretty much looked like the same guy, just with a different number on his back.

Perry absolutely drills a slap shot on the power play 2:46 into the second, with the help of "defenseman" Brett Clark, who politely backed off so Perry would have a clearer shot on net. Notice Brian Hayward saying, "Yeah, I don't know what the Avalanche are trying to accomplish on their penalty kill." (By the way, just made a quick check on Clark. He's paid $3.5 million per year through the 2009-10 season, so not playing for a new contract this year. Yeah, thought so.)

Ebbett (who is looking phenomenal lately) deftly deflects a Wisniewski point shot 4:55 into the second to give the Ducks a 5-0 lead. (Another thing going right for the Ducks lately, much more deflection/redirect goals, when they couldn't seem to buy one for the longest time.) Rob Niedermayer (Rob Niedermayer!) forces the puck under Raycroft after taking a couple of jabs at it following a Petteri Nokelainen shot. (Incidentally, 12 goals this year for Robbie. Last two years combined? Thirteen). And finally, Nokie gets his, less than two minutes after the Avs had the audacity to score their first goal, wristing a shot through on a mini-breakaway

The Avs made the rare move of putting their pulled goaltender back in the game for the third, and to Budaj's credit, he saved everything he looked at in the final period. On the other side of the rink, it kind of got lost in the blowout, but Jonas Hiller had 34 saves, proving that just in case the Ducks had needed him last night, he was there.

So it's a five-game winning streak for the Ducks that didn't look possible as recently as a week and a half ago. I can vividly remember the optimistic talk of Anaheim getting into playoff position (when they were mired in 12th) revolving around them stringing together a few wins in a row. "Yeah," I remember saying, "but they haven't done that since November. This just doesn't look like the kind of team that is going to win four or five straight."

Well now they do, and the vacation plans I made for the week of April 13? Yeah, they're cancelled.

So much of the credit for this leap has to go to the guys who came over here at the trade deadline, helping make Ducks fans forget the now-misguided agony of losing a few Stanley Cup mainstays. Nokelainen is looking outstanding on the checking line with Todd Marchant and Rob Niedermayer. Christensen is doing the same centering Brown and Parros on the fourth line. On the defensive end, Wisniewski has been a beast playing next to Scott Niedermayer, providing stinginess in his own end and a heavy point shot that has come in handy the past handful of game.

“I think what we’ve taken out of this winning streak is when you look at all the good teams in the league, like Boston, San Jose and Detroit, they have a lot of depth,” Christensen said. “I don’t think any team can really compete with us on our back end. When we get contributions from our third and fourth lines on a regular basis, that’s the difference between winning teams and losing teams.”

And just in case you needed further proof of the benefits reaped by the Ducks from those once-controversial trades, here are some numbers put together by our resident stat geek Matt Vevoda. Since the March 4 trade deadline:

Wisniewski, Nokelainen, Christensen: 5 goals, 11 assists, 16 points, +2 rating
Steve Montador, Samuel Pahlsson, Travis Moen, Brendan Morrison: 5 goals, 4 assists, 9 points, -1 rating

Of course, Pahlsson didn't get into a game in Chicago until a week ago. But that only further establishes the point, doesn't it?

But enough about that. Right now it's all about these Ducks and a rejuvenation that, let's admit it, we never saw coming. From 12th to seventh in 10 days, though  the Edmonton Oilers team that sits one point behind them plays tonight in Phoenix. In other words, we're all huge Coyotes fans tonight (a little help, Bryz? It's not "only a game" tonight.). Then the Ducks play those same Oilers in the next edition of "biggest game of the year" here at Honda Center on Friday night (more on that tomorrow). There is still a long way to go before we start seriously talking playoffs, but that road looks a little smoother than it once did.

For now, we revel in a seven-goal explosion on the road. A five-goal blowout that was the largest margin of victory for Anaheim in more than two years. A Ducks team that is playing arguably its best hockey of the season.

And at just the right time.

Updated March 25 at 12:12 p.m.

In the immortal words of Ebby Calvin "Nuke" Laloosh: "I love winning. You know, it's like, better than losing?"

Or to put it another way: This is really kind of fun, isn't it?

It wasn't pretty, but in a game the Ducks absolutely had to have, they pulled off a 2-1 shootout victory in Nashville to win their fourth in a row and vault into the eighth position in the Western Conference playoff race. And this one last night was decided in the tiebreaker by two of the greatest Ducks in the franchise's history -- Teemu Selanne and J.S. Giguere.

Giguere held his ground all night, allowing just the one third period goal, and let none of the four attempts through in the shootout (though he got some help with one shot that went wide and one that rang the post). And Selanne came through with the shootout's only goal.

I couldn't help but smile at the way the shootout worked for the Ducks, as they sent out Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan as their first three shooters, all of whom couldn't convert. (That ended with Ryan, who tried to make the same multiple-deke moves that beat Phoenix last week, only to lose control of the puck.) And then Randy Carlyle was able to pretty much say this: "Hmm, too bad our three young forwards couldn't get it done. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna try one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the NHL. We'll see what he can do."

And was there any doubt that Selanne, the guy with the knack for seizing the moment on the big stage, would come through? And the way he did it was a thing of beauty, heading to the net at full speed, slowing to a cruise right between the circles and then, BOOM,  making a quick move to the backhand before roofing it, "upstairs where your mother never dusts," according to John Ahlers' call. You can't see it on this video, but Selanne quietly celebrated by "holstering" his stick before heading back toward his appreciative teammates on the visitors bench.

That left Giguere to deny a fourth straight attempt, and although he was leaning a bit, he was able to stop Radek Bonk with the leg pad (great photo, by the way).

Say what you want about the incongruity of the NHL shootout, allowing a team game to be decided by a one-on-one skills competition (which I agree with to a point). But when you're in a crowd of fellow fans and your team is fighting to get those two points, it really is a pretty damn exciting thing to watch. And remember the days when the shootout seemed to be the enemy of the Ducks? They're 5-2 this year, third-best in the league behind (strangely enough) two of the worst teams in the league -- Atlanta and Colorado.

Last night's extra time came from Nashville's tying goal in a third period in which the Ducks were mostly on their heels, only to finally get bitten by Shea Weber's power play strike 4:12 into it. The Ducks played much of that period like a team nursing a one-goal lead in the final minutes, content to clear the puck out of their zone and change rather than put any pressure around the Nashville net. And that showed on the stat sheet with a 15-4 shot advantage for the Preds in the period. And when Corey Perry took an accidental delay of game penalty when he tried to send the puck to the corner and lifted it over the glass, you could almost see the power play goal coming.

But to Anaheim's (and Giguere's) credit, that's all the Ducks allowed, and they nearly got the lead back when Perry made a great move on the right wing, only to clang the shot off the plumbing. That was one of a few missed opportunities on open looks for Perry, and Getzlaf had an agonizing near-miss of his own early in the game, trying to chip the puck into a wide open net but finding the near post instead. Nashville had a few missed opportunities of their own, meanwhile. Steve Sullivan, who beat Giguere in the shootout only to see his shot hit the crossbar, also had an opportunity to win the game in overtime on a breakaway, but lost control of the puck.

“He came in with speed and he tried to beat me wide,” Giguere said of the play. “Fortunately, the puck just kept going, and he lost track of it. God knows I couldn’t stretch any further than that. I was at my limit at that point.”

Let's not forget about the one shot in regulation that did find the net for the Ducks, a pretty Drew Miller goal set up by a nice feed by Andrew Ebbett to Selanne on the wing, and an even better feed by the Flash to Miller in the slot. God bless Drew Miller and his prematurely greying hair. That was a gargantuan goal for the Ducks, since you couldn't help but feel last night that after that scoreless opening 20, the team that scored first would have a big advantage.

So a Ducks team that found itself in 12th place as recently as a week ago, is now in eighth, tied in standings points with the Preds, but owning the tiebreaker for now since they have 36 wins to Nashville's 35. And if you're interested in such things, the website sportsclubstats.com has determined that with the win last night, the Ducks chances of making the postseason skyrocketed 17.1 percent, putting them at 56.3 percent.

But there is little time to celebrate that (if that is something to celebrate), as the Ducks need to keep it going tonight in Colorado. And as solid as Jonas Hiller had looked as of late, it's nice for Anaheim to be able to come back with him in net in the second of a back-to-back (if he is indeed in there tonight). The only games Hiller hasn't started in the last seven were those two against Nashville, when Giguere got the nod. And if you doubt that coaches go with goalies who have good past histories against certain teams, here's Carlyle on starting Giguere last night:  “If you look at his history against Nashville, he was 13-5 or something, and Hiller was 5-0 against Phoenix, so that really played into the decision.”

If Hiller is in there, he'll face an Avalanche team that's mired in last place in the West, has lost four in a row and its last home game was a 8-1 demolishing at the hands of Edmonton. Meanwhile, the Ducks have beaten them in both of their previous two matchups. But as much as the Avs don't present the same challenge as the Preds, the Ducks are in no position to let up.

That's made me think of something, probably because I was recently watching the HBO documentary about the 1980 USA Olympic team (for about the 80th time), and how they had to resist the temptation to overlook Finland in the gold medal game after beating Russia in the semis. I couldn't help but tie that in with the Ducks, who after taking down a tough Nashville team still need to keep their heads in it to get a very important two points against a seemingly lesser Colorado squad tonight.

In the locker room before that Finland game, coach Herb Brooks reportedly told his team, "If you lose this game, you will take it to your [expletive] grave."

Okay, it's not the same thing at all, but you get the point.

Updated March 24 at 12:50 p.m.

Remember all those "BIGGEST GAME OF THE YEAR"s the Ducks have had over the last couple of weeks?

Yeah, forget about those. They're nothing compared to this one tonight.

The Ducks head into Nashville to go up against a Predators team that is but one point ahead of Anaheim in eighth place in the Western Conference. Win tonight in regulation and the Ducks take over that eighth spot. Win in OT and they're tied. Lose tonight in regulation and Anaheim has some serious ground to make up, as they would fall ...

You know what? Let's just not get into that right now. Along those same lines, if you believe in jinxes, don't read this post on the Puck Daddy blog sight entitled Six reasons why the Anaheim Ducks will make the playoffs. While we appreciate the sentiment, we just don't need to be seeing things like that right now.

First things first to make that prediction come true, and that's winning this mammoth game tonight, which Randy Carlyle called, "the most important game we’re going to play this year.”

And it's not going to be easy. I'm guessing Nashville remembers the 4-3 overtime win the Ducks pulled off on them less than a week ago at Honda Center, which they undoubtedly didn't care for. They've been patiently waiting at home for this one, not having played a game for the last four days, while the Ducks headed into Nashville yesterday morning after winning Sunday night at home.

They also probably didn't enjoy the three power play goals the Ducks scored in that last one, especially since Nashville is a team that simply doesn't give up power play goals. Their penalty kill is ranked fourth in the league at 83.87 percent, and they are a staggering 89.9 percent at home, including no power play goals there in their last 11 games (a club record). Anaheim, meanwhile, has jumped to sixth in the league on the power play thanks in part to seven PP goals in the last 12 opportunities.

And in addition to watching this one intently, you'll want to keep an eye on the ticker tonight as well. The three teams within two points of the Ducks (Wild, Blues and Stars) and the one team three points ahead of them (Edmonton) are all in action tonight. And by the way, all of those teams have exactly 10 games remaining, just like the Ducks.

The Oilers host the Red Wings (good), Minnesota battles the Rangers in New York (somewhat good), Dallas is at home to Vancouver (not bad) and the Blues host the Kings (oh, lord). I'd never thought I'd say this, root hard for the Kings tonight, to keep the Blues off our backs in the playoff race. Sounds strange, doesn't it? It also sounds strange to admit that the Blue Jackets-Tampa game doesn't matter as much because the BJs are too far in front of Anaheim. Anyway, if you feel like dropping $19.95 for the night, you can watch all of those games online.

That also includes the Ducks game, if you live outside of Southern California. If you do live here, the watch party at Zito's Pizza should be rockin' (did I really just use that expression?). And with the 5:00 start, we're looking at just a little more than four hours to go to puck drop (I'm already giddy). That relatively early start prompted this email exchange between me and a couple of co-workers yesterday:

Me: Watch party at Zito's tomorrow?
Girl: Yeah, but better get there early. Game starts at 5.
Me: So, noon?
Guy: Noon's cutting it close. How about 11?
Me: Perfect.

Think I'll head over and lock down a very large beer right about ...


Updated March 23 at 1:07 p.m.

My, what a difference a week can make.

Think of where we were last Monday morning, after the Ducks did all they could to try and take down San Jose, only to fail to find the net in a 1-0 defeat at Honda Center. When the dust settled on that head-shaking loss, the Ducks were 12th in the Western Conference with four teams and three points between them and the eighth spot.

Now, one week and three wins later -- the last an emphatic 6-2 victory over the visiting Coyotes last night -- the Ducks are in ninth, just one point short of a Nashville Predators team they play Tuesday night. And it's not just that, but with the way the Ducks played last night, they showed for the first time in a long time that they can dominate a game. They also showed for the first time in a long time that they can string together some wins. This three-game winning streak the Ducks are on is the first since Nov. 30.

After a club record eight straight one-goal games (during which the Ducks went a middling 4-3-1), the Ducks scored early and often last night. Although, there probably wasn't a Ducks fan in the building who didn't fear the Coyotes would tie that game in the third, the same fate the Ducks had suffered against the same Coyotes team Thursday night and the Preds at home the night before that. But three Ducks power play goals from that point on squashed any hopes for the Coyotes to tie it.

There's another difference from a week ago. After that San Jose loss, the Ducks had gone a maddening 21 straight power plays without a goal. Since then? A ridiculous seven goals in their last 12 power plays. That included a team-record-tying four last night, three in the third period. Two of those came from Ryan Getzlaf, who had a fantastic night that included a beautiful feed to Corey Perry for the Ducks' third goal. Getzlaf's first power play goal was indirectly set up by another guy who had a great night, George Parros. Parros' hit on Petr Prucha near the Coyotes bench goaded Todd Fedoruk into slamming Parros, drawing an interference penalty. That led to Getzlaf's power play goal just 10 seconds later. And of course, Parros had a goal of his own, a pretty chip-in of a rebound off Ilya Bryzgalov that jumped on Parros' stick in just the right place.

Parros, by the way, has five goals this year after scoring four combined in his first four NHL seasons. And as if there was any doubt that Parros is among the most popular guys in the locker room (not just with the fans), did you notice how the celebration after his goal was just a little more animated than if anyone else had scored? Check out the 40-second mark of this video and notice how Erik Christensen pretty much jumps into Parros' arms, followed by a leap into the pile by Brendan Mikkelson. Then fast-forward to the 1:35 mark, after Perry's goal. Pretty much business as usual.

And as long as we're patting guys on the back, how about Chris Pronger and his three assists? Pronger has shown the last few games just how much he can do with that slap shot from the point -- or actually, the threat of that slap shot from the point. His slap pass to Teemu Selanne won the game in overtime on Wednesday. The same type of pass set up the Scott Niedermayer power play goal just 4:55 into the game. And a fake-slap-shot-pass to Getzlaf led to his second power play goal in the third.

All of it showed the Ducks had no intention of letting Phoenix get too close in this one.

“We’ve had a habit of throwing away a few leads, but the guys did a good job tonight,” Getzlaf said. “We kept playing. Our focus was just the two points. We wanted to play our game for the whole night, whether we had the lead or were behind or whatever."

We're all for thrilling, down-to-the-wire hockey, but there is something even more exhilarating when your team dominates like the Ducks did last night. Oh, and by the way, the last time the Ducks won a game 6-2? A little something called Game 5 of the 2007 Stanley Cup Final. Just mentioning.

Bryzgalov, who was in there for all six Ducks goals last night, had this poignant thought afterward. "They shoot, they score," he said. "That is the difference."

It's funnier if you say it in your head with a Russian accent.

There you go.

Speaking of Bryz's flair for unintentional comedy, how great is this photo of him and Corey Perry from last night? Perry has slammed  into pretty much all of the goalies in the National Hockey League, but I have yet to see one share a laugh with him about it.

The Ducks have little time to relish this win, as they have a huge one tomorrow night in Nashville (more on that tomorrow). So huge, in fact, the team flew out to Nashville first thing this morning, and they will practice there later this afternoon.

"We're playing desperate hockey right now," Getzlaf said last night. "The situation is pretty much do or die from here on out. Every night is a playoff game for us, and it's nice to see that we're recognizing the situation we're in. We have a huge game coming up against Nashville, so we just have to continue playing the way we are."

Added Bobby Ryan, "To get contributions from everybody night in and night out like we have the past couple of games, you can see it building in the room. Guys are happy to come to the rink. It’s nice to be on the other side looking back at it.”

That's something the Ducks definitely weren't thinking a week ago. But right now, things look a whole lot differently. 

Updated March 20 at 10:48 a.m.

It was deja vu all over again for the Ducks last night -- blowing a late lead only to win in dramatic fashion in extra time -- but somehow the sentiment was different last night.

Two nights ago, when going to overtime with Nashville meant giving a point to one of the Ducks' contenders for the last conference playoff spots, we were shaking our heads a little more noticeably. Last night, since Phoenix is out of the playoff race, it was more like: So what? We got the win.

“As long as we win," Jonas Hiller said, "we don’t ask too many questions.".

Granted, Matthew Lombardi's goal with 2:31 left in regulation was like a kick in the stomach (for the second straight night), but two points is two points. And the fact the Ducks won that shootout despite getting down to a do-or-die situation with their last shooter, made it all the more exilherating. Ryan Getzlaf stepped up to the puck with the Ducks needing a conversion to keep the shootout alive, though you'd hardly know it in the manner he skated toward Ilya Bryzgalov, made a move and sleepily slipped the puck under him. Getzlaf looked like he was putting on a scientific experiment on the method of scoring a hockey goal without increasing your heart rate.

That was in stark contrast to the multi-deke artistry that young Bobby Ryan displayed in scoring the eventual game-winner. Hard to believe Ryan was a lifetime 0-for-5 in shootouts by the way he made this left-right-left-right move to completely befuddle Bryzgalov before leaving the puck behind as he cruised by the net.

All that was left was for Jonas Hiller to make a stop on the final attempt by (ironically) Lombardi, one of the many huge saves the Swiss Bliss pulled off on the night to keep the Ducks in it.

I'm not much of a karma guy, but maybe there was something to Anaheim losing that late lead, since their go-ahead goal was so (let's face it) downright ugly. With 7:01 left in the third and the game tied 1-1, the increasingly likeable Petteri Nokelainen skidded into the net (and Bryzgalov a bit) as Todd Marchant passed the puck in front from the deep wing. That caused so much commotion that Kyle Turris accidentally knocked the puck into the net. (Listen to Coyotes commentator Darren Pang say incredulously, "Did that go in?" on the video. Yes, Darren, indeed it did.)

You almost wanted to feel guilty about that goal, but  you know what? The Ducks have had so many breaks not go their way in the recent past, it's about time they get one back.

“It wasn’t pretty, but we got our two points," said Getzlaf. "We just have to worry about our games every night. As long as we come out with two points, we’ll be all right at the end. We’re going to try to keep stringing them together now and keep going.”

Those four points the Ducks got in a just-over-24-hour span moved them to 10th in the Western Conference, three points back of the seventh and eighth spots. Those are currently held by Edmonton and Nashville (who has just 10 games remaining while the Ducks have 11).

“I don’t think this group ever really thought we were out of it,” Ryan said. “We know it’s not going to be an easy road. Some things have to happen for us, but ultimately we still control our own destiny."

And they can continue to dictate that destiny on Sunday, when they play those same Coyotes again at Honda Center, when the Ducks will be looking to win their third straight game for the first time since Nove...

Let's just leave it unsaid for now.

- - -

I was lucky enough to be one of the judges for the 10 finalists of the "Oh, Say Can You Sing?" contest, sponsored by the Ducks and the Orange County Register, who performed on the Honda Center ice yesterday afternoon. You haven't lived until you've heard the Star Spangled Banner sung 10 times in a row, seemingly a different way each time.

Each of us graded the singers on categories that included Tone, Tempo, Voice Quality and Style, while writing additional comments. Mine scribbles including lines like "Fantastic," "Great voice," "A little too much style" and "High notes were a disaster." For the record, I never wrote "pitchy."

We haven't officially named a winner yet, but you can check out the performances here. I don't mind revealing that three of my favorites were Sandra Yazmin Gallegos (who had the tough task of going first), Robert Adams (despite the eyes-closed move you see in the video) and Kelcie McDonald. Although, my fellow judges assumed I'd give high marks to Jason Watros, because from our seats in the 200 level, he kind of looked a lot like me. 

The winner will sing the anthem at Fan Appreciation Night on April 10, the last regular season home game of the year.

Notice I said last regular season home game of the year.

Updated March 19 at 1:18 p.m.

A wise man once said: Sometimes while the result is desirable, the method is ... uh ... not.

Okay, no wise man ever said that, but last night's 4-3 overtime victory for the Ducks painted a perfect picture of that circumstance. In other words: Loved the win, fellas. Didn't exactly care for the way you got it.

While a Teemu Selanne overtime game-winner is a pretty thrilling way to polish off a hockey game, the fact is the Ducks shouldn't have needed it. Thanks to a Bobby Ryan goal with 8:22 left in regulation, the Ducks hoped to cling to that one-goal lead to the final horn.

At the time, I couldn't help but think to myself that if this was the 2006-07 or 2007-08 Ducks, I'd have no problem sitting back in my chair completely relaxed and confident the 3-2 Ducks advantage would remain that way to the end. Remember those days, when the Ducks would pretty much put together a Berlin wall at the blue line in the closing moments, hardly allowing a shot, let along a tying goal? Well, you might remember that the Berlin wall ultimately fell.

And alas, that tenuous lead last night was erased on Joel Ward's deflection goal with 2:45 remaining, giving the Predators (seventh in the conference playoff race) a standings point they should never have had.

"I'm not very happy with how we played," Selanne said afterward. "When you get that lead, 3-2, you should not let the other team score any more. That was really disappointing, but obviously, the two points, we needed that. We have to be happy with that."

And on the bright side, winning that game in overtime was certainly a more desirable results than, you know, losing it. And leave it to Selanne to yet again have a flair for the dramatic. It wasn't just that his redirection of a pretty Chris Pronger slap pass on the power play won a game the Ducks absolutely had to have. But it was also Selanne's 1,200th career point. And it moved him past Mike Bossy for 18th on the NHL's all-time goals list. And it was the 205th power play goal of his career, sliding him past Wayne Gretzky into a tie for 11th on the all-time power play goals list. (Wait a minute, Gretzky is only 13th all-time in power play goals? How did that happen?)

Even Selanne admitted he was hoping to score such a historical goal in that setting. "When they scored the tying goal, I said, ‘You know it would be pretty nice to get the game-winner and get the 1,200th point away at the same time,'" he said. "For sure, I wanted to do it at home if I could choose. It was a pretty happy ending."

Meanwhile, Ryan's goal gave him a tie with Dustin Penner (2006-07) for the club rookie record for points at 45, which really is a pretty minor record. Just ask Bobby. “There’s a lot of other things on my radar than that right now,” Ryan said. “It’s a nice honor. I’ll be happy to break it. But at the end of the day it’s pretty trivial.”

"Pretty trivial." Just a reminder, he just turned 22 years old.

It's hard to fathom considering the Preds have been a playoff team the last five years, but the Ducks improved to a stunning 16-1-3 at home against them since they came into the league in 1998. And aside from that late loss of the lead, you had to be pleased with the energy the Ducks showed. Corey Perry and Ryan each had goals, while Ryan Getzlaf had two assists as that newly formed top line was tremendous the entire night. Not to mention, Anaheim's three power play goals finally got that aspect of their game on track after they went 22 straight power plays without slipping one through.

"It's been kind of a dry run for our power play," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "It's good that it delivered. It won us the hockey game."

But they have to keep winning hockey games. Last night's win pulled the Ducks to within three points of the eighth spot in the West, but there are still three teams between them and that plateau. "It's a long road, and we know we have to be better," Selanne said.

Actually, it's not a long road at all, with just 12 games left in the season. But a win tonight in Phoenix would be a big help for the Ducks, especially if they can get some help from some other teams tonight. Fellow competitors Edmonton, St. Louis and Nashville are all playing on the road. But the Ducks aren't doing much scoreboard watching right now.

"We've dug ourselves a pretty good hole," Pronger said. "We're the only ones who can dig ourselves out. You can't hope for other teams to beat so-and-so on any given night. There are too many variables and too many teams vying for what essentially is turning into probably one playoff spot. We have to worry about ourselves and not worry about any help. We're probably not going to get it."

You might remember the last time the Ducks took on the Coyotes in Phoenix, the first game after the All-Star break, when Anaheim broke out with a fire we hadn't seen much this season and rolled to a 7-3 blowout. That win didn't exactly vault the Ducks like we would have hoped, but it did something crazy to the Coyotes, who at the time of that game were among the challengers for a playoff spot. That game was the start of a six-game losing streak and a run of nine losses in 10 games for the 'Yotes. They had lost six in a row before finally breaking out with a win over the Sharks two nights ago (making the Ducks' loss to San Jose on Sunday look all the more worse). Phoenix gagged a 3-0 lead in that game, but bounced back to win it with a late Shane Doan goal.

Another difference between this Phoenix team and the one the Ducks bounced back in January? They have since traded away Olli Jokinen, Daniel Carcillo and Derek Morris, while picking up Matthew Lombardi from the Flames, Scottie Upshall from the Flyers and former Rangers Dmitri Kalinin, LW Nigel Dawes and RW Petr Prucha.

One familiar face that remains is a certain former Duck Russian goaltender, who will be in net tonight having lost six of his last eight starts (but he won that last one with San Jose). And even though he faced a five-goal barrage in a loss to Buffalo during that stretch, he's actually only given up 2.75 goals per game in those eight games. More than ever, he's needed to remind him self that "It's a hockey. It's only a game. Why you haf to be mad?"

Man, I know I should be sick of that ... but I'm just not.

Updated March 18 at 1:11 p.m.

You could make a case that as tough a challenge as the Ducks faced against a top team like San Jose last Sunday, they may have it even tougher tonight against the Nashville Predators. On the heels of Monday night's victory in L.A., the Preds are 8-2-1 in their last 11 and as hot as any team in the Western Conference. They sit in the seventh spot in the standings, as they head for their (hard to believe) fifth straight postseason berth. 

Meanwhile, the Ducks are in even more dire straits than they were in on Sunday, sitting four points back of Dallas' eighth spot in the West. And among those fighting for those last spots, only the Oilers have more games remaining (14 versus 13) than Anaheim. Edmonton beat St. Louis last night in a game that was the complete opposite of what the Ducks needed, since it went to a shootout and the Blues got a point out of it in addition to the Oilers' two.

With all that in mind, it's another monster game for the Ducks tonight at Honda Center. And I'm not saying their playoff hopes are dashed if they don't at least pull a point out of this one. But it certainly wouldn't help.

The Ducks are trying to keep from falling to the .500 mark (as many regulation losses as wins) for the first time since Oct. 27. That doesn't mean a whole lot except for the fact that it just doesn't look pretty. 

Anaheim has yet to beat the Preds in two tries this season (their final bout comes next week in Nashville). The last visit to Honda Center for Nashville came way back on Nov. 14 when the Preds pulled off a 4-3 overtime victory. The Ducks also lost Francois Beauchemin to a torn ACL in that game, although the bright side of that injury was it made Bobby Ryan happen. Last month in Nashville, the Ducks fell 4-2 to the Preds and rookie goalie Pekka Rinne (which incidentally, tastes great with a light sprinkling of parmesan).

Rinne, like rookie goalie Steve Mason in Columbus, has been a huge boost to his team, as he's 24-11-1 since taking over the starting job from Dan Ellis and 13-3-1 since Feb. 1. That not-so-coincidentally corresponds with the hottest run of the season for Nashville. It would be great if tonight the Ducks could not add Rinne to the list of goalies they've made look like superstars over the past few months.

On the other side of the ice, no concrete indication of who the Ducks will have in net, though J.S. Giguere was the first to leave the ice during the morning skate while Jonas Hiller stayed behind. That would normally indicate Giguere gets the nod, but certainly doesn't reveal anything.

As far as the rest of the roster, there is no question who will be dressed tonight since the Ducks are carrying their minimum 18 right now. Brett Festerling is down in Iowa and Bret Hedican continues to be troubled with back problems. Hopefully no one else will run into any problems tonight, or the Ducks might have to put together a quick flight from Iowa to Phoenix for tomorrow night's game with the Coyotes.

It's been pointed out that if the Ducks can take this one and win again in the desert tomorrow night, they leap from 70 points to 74 in a little more than 24 hours. But that's getting way ahead of things. For now, it's all about tonight. And the Ducks need this one.


- - -

Marcia Smith of the O.C. Register has a very nice piece on the Ducks Power Players in today's edition. Here's a good line from the top of the story: ... the Ducks' Power Players are young women, most in their early 20s, who are pleasantly perky, tastefully coiffed, minimally clothed, thin but healthy and, OK, hot enough to melt the ice.

Later Smith writes: And not one of them feels like a sex kitten on skates.

I don't know about that. Did you ask them all?

Updated March 17 at 3:22 p.m.

With the Ducks not in action until tomorrow night, and with all of the eighth-place through 11th-place teams in the Western Conference playing tonight, it's scoreboard watching time again. Dallas is at Vancouver tonight, so root for Vancouver. Minnesota hosts Colorado tonight, so pull for Colorado. St. Louis is at Edmonton, and since both those teams are in the race for the eighth spot, pray for ... an outbreak of small pox in the arena.

Okay, that was a little harsh. But if one of those teams has to win, at least let them do it in regulation.

With tomorrow night's game against another team fighting for the playoffs (Nashville) on the horizon for the Ducks, they were noticeably workmanlike during today's practice at Honda Center. That was despite the fact it came after a naturally loose exercise, the annual team photo. The team not only have to sit through the various shots of them together, but then they have to keep the smiles going while more than a dozen groups of Ducks staffers line up to pose with them. It's a tradition started by Brian Burke and continues in his absence, which is good, because I always thought it was a cool little perk for the people who work here.

The scary part of it is that you have to walk baby-step by baby-step along the ice to get in front of the platform where the players are standing, because slipping on the ice in front of 100 co-workers is the horror of horrors. As I was carefully walking to my spot, I felt a small nudge in my arm from one of the players. I looked to my left to see Teemu Selanne's smiling face. I think he still feels guilty about asking my non-pregnant girlfriend how many weeks along she was.

The photo day over, the Ducks hustled into the locker room to change out of their game uniforms into practice jerseys and commenced a particularly focused practice session. Said Selanne, “It was almost like after a day off, when we always know it’s going to be a hard practice. There’s no joking or anything. It almost feels like that. For some reason it was really quiet. Sometimes that’s good.”

Randy Carlyle, who isn't really the type to find pleasure in something as mundane as a team photo, challenged his group to get the focus back afterwards.“It appeared flat, and I just made a comment that we’re going to need a little bit of noise here, and the whole tempo of the practice picked right up,” Carlyle said.

And about the team's outlook right now, with 13 games to go and needing to win almost all of them: “I don’t think we’re down. I don’t think we’re feeling great about the situation we’re in, but I don’t think we’re discouraged, or haven’t shown emotions.”

It's St. Patrick's Day, but it's also Bobby Ryan's birthday today. It's fitting that a kid with a name as Irish as Bobby Ryan should have his birthday on St. Patty's, but then again, his name isn't really Bobby Ryan, is it?

But how about this: When I Googled the words "Bobby Ryan Irish" I found out that there is an Irish footballer (soccer player) named Bobby Ryan who currently plays for St. Patrick's Athletic in the Irish Premier League.

What does that mean? Absolutely nothing.

Nevertheless, happy 22nd, Bobby. Go get loaded. But not too loaded. Something tells me we might need you tomorrow.

March 16 at 12:31 p.m.

If this was December, and the Ducks outplayed one of the top teams in the Western Conference, only to lose to an ugly goal and a goalie who played out of his mind, it might be encouraging. But this is mid-March, and the Ducks are in 12th place in the West, with four teams and three points between them and the eighth spot. So instead, what happened last night was just incredibly frustrating.

Moral victories they can't afford, but at least the Ducks can find solace in this: If they do sneak into these playoffs, the best they can hope for is a first-round matchup with a San Jose or a Detroit. And I think Anaheim showed last night that there would be no counting them out in such a seven-game series. (Well, maybe against Detroit, who looks unstoppable right now.)

“There’s no way they were better than us,” said a worked-up Teemu Selanne of the Sharks. “We have to remember that ... Tonight was like a playoff game, and I hope everybody understands . . . if we play like this, there’s no team that can beat us. We just have to believe that and play like that.”

That almost makes it more exasperating to accept the Ducks' current lot in life. The fact that they can play like they did last night doesn't exactly make 12th place very palatable. But 12th place comes from too many games this season like the one last night, where the Ducks seemingly control most of the game, and the only place they come up short is where it really matters -- on the scoreboard. I'm not a big "Three Stars" guy, but the Ducks have to lead the league in having the opposing goalie earn the No. 1 star, which happened again last night with Evgeni Nabokov's second straight shutout against them.

“It was just one of those nights when the goalie was standing on his head,” Selanne said. “He’s a good goalie, but not that good.”

Well said. Although Selanne was robbed twice by Nabokov in the closing moments, first on this shot that hit Naby and then the post with less than three minutes left, and again on a point-blank opportunity with seconds remaining.

And that wasn't the only way Nabokov made his mark last night. In fact, Corey Perry is claiming that he made a nice one with his skate blade. Perry told reporters that during the Ducks power play late in the third, Nabokov kicked him in the arm after the whistle while Perry was crawling around the net. “Everything was over,” Perry said. “I was still lying there on my knees. All of a sudden, Nabokov just turned and kicked me. He rolled onto his side and kicked me with his right leg. He hit me with his toe.”

Nabokov responded by saying, “I didn’t kick him. I was moving my legs to get up, to get out of there, so whatever he was saying is his problem. Ask him what he did.”

Perry had fallen on the back of the goalie's legs, but looked to be pushed into that position. Either way, it's doubtful anything will come out of it, especially since Perry claims the officials saw it clearly and did nothing about it at the time. Based on the Ducks' history with such things, if Nabokov is punished for the alleged act, it will be more shocking than what's happened to Kelly Clarkson's hips.

While so much around the net didn't go the Ducks' way last night, the Sharks got the only one they needed -- and just to dig the knife a little deeper and twist it, it came from Travis Moen. The former Duck who was traded just before the deadline, redirected a Jamie McGinn throw on net, which hit Ryan Whitney in the thigh and darted past Jonas Hiller.

"It hit my pad, the post and in," Hiller said. "It's an unlucky goal, but it counts the same as a nice goal."

It was a shame too, because Hiller was very solid the entire night. "We didn't deserve to lose today," he said. "I thought we played pretty well. But if you don't score, it's tough to win."

Excellent point.

Too bad the Ducks' very classy move to recognize Moen with a video board tribute and an ovation from the fans didn't pay off like it did when they did that for Ilya Bryzgalov. When Bryz was honored last year, he admited later he teared up a bit, and he gave up a goal not long after the tribute. Moen, on the other hand, broke the home fans' hearts. And it didn't help that on the same night, Chris Kunitz had two goals for Pittsburgh (although he was thought to have a hat trick before the third goal was taken away). In other news, yesterday Kent Huskins saved a drowning child and Samuel Pahlsson put out a house fire in suburban Chicago by himself, using nothing more than a garden hose and some baking soda.

But again, the positive we can take out of last night is the Ducks proved they can go toe-to-toe with San Jose, no matter how good the Sharks have been this year. And the Ducks play them two more times in the final 13 games, in a back-to-back home-and-home on April 4 and 5.

Let's just hope that by that time of year, those games still matter.

Updated March 13 at 3:15 p.m.

To: Members of the Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks, Carolina Hurricanes, Atlanta Thrashers and Colorado Avalanche

From: Anaheim Ducks

Message: Thanks for nothing.

On a night when the six teams closest to the Ducks in the tight battle for the last playoff spots in the Western Conference were in action, the Ducks needed some help to keep from losing ground. And they didn't get much.

The Rangers' 4-2 victory in Nashville was the only game in which one of the Ducks closest foes lost in regulation. Other than that, Pittsburgh lost to Columbus in a shootout, San Jose fell to St. Louis, Carolina went down to Dallas, Atlanta needed overtime to beat Edmonton (meaning the Oilers got a point) and Colorado needed a shootout to beat Minnesota (the Wild got a point).

And with no games until Sunday, the good news is the rest of the conference will finally get closer to the Ducks as far as number of games remaining. The bad news is Anaheim could be in 13th by the time they drop the puck Sunday against the Sharks.

San Jose's loss last night to the Blues dropped them out of the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference for seemingly the first time all season, as they fell a point behind Detroit, which lost in a shootout to Calgary. The once-unstoppable Sharks have looked very beatable as of late, dropping five of their last six games. And the Ducks catch them Sunday coming off a giant win over the Canucks that has the team feeling a renewed sense of confidence.

Has anyone else noticed that in the last week or so, Todd Marchant has seemingly become one of the main spokesmen of the Ducks? And he's earned that role with some provocative thoughts on the team. Here's one of the latest: “We needed, as Randy likes to call it, a starting point,” he said about the Vancouver win. “This is obviously one of them. We’re talking about a team that is fifth in the conference, a team that up until the last couple games has been playing very well. For us to be able to get two huge points at home, now obviously we move on.

"Our next game is a one-game playoff against San Jose. It’s a must two points for us. We understand that. We have to bring the same kind of effort and execution.”

And there's more, regarding the play of second-tier Ducks two nights ago: "We can’t sit back and expect Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan to do it every single night," said Marchant, who by the way, was one of those guys who played phenomenally on Wednesday. "We need other guys to step up, and I thought we had a lot of guys step up. It just snowballs. It becomes confidence. Individuals get confidence, and when you have individuals that are confident, you’re going to have a team that’s confident, and you’re going to be able to make plays. You have to make plays, especially in crucial times.”

Something tells me that if I were in the middle of war-torn Baghdad and Todd Marchant said, "Just follow me, it will be fine," I think I'd be relatively at ease.

Sunday. Honda Center. 5:05 p.m. San Jose Sharks. The next edition of "biggest game of the year."

It can't get here soon enough.

Updated March 12 at 1:04 p.m.

In the aftermath of the Ducks' gargantuan 4-3 overtime victory over Vancouver  last night at Honda Center, I think I have re-watched Scott Niedermayer's game-winner no less than a dozen times. Right after the game ended, I watched it a few times on the website, then a few more times on DVR when I got home and a couple more times online this morning. It's that mesmerizing to me. I'm not even sure where to start, so let's just go chronologically. 

You have to go all the way back when Teemu Selanne's holding penalty created a 3-on-3 situation and anyone in the building with any knowledge of the Ducks had to be thinking: It's Scotty time. And not just because Niedermayer is a master of the open ice and has more overtime goals than any defenseman in the history of the game. But also because exactly one month earlier, on Feb. 11, he scored the OT game-winner against Calgary, also with both teams skating 3-on-3 (more on that odd coincidence later).

The whole play last night started with Todd Marchant making a valiant diving play to tap the puck up the wall to Chris Pronger (with Marchant getting well-deserved props for that from Niedermayer after the game). All three Canucks were caught hovering around the puck, with no one to monitor Niedermayer streaking up the middle of the ice. When the puck ended up on Pronger's stick, he got it to Scotty, who had only one Sedin twin (Daniel) chasing him.

I would venture to say it was right around the time Niedermayer crossed the red line that you had to be thinking, This game's over. But here's the amazing thing about what Niedermayer did on this play. First of all, even though he initially had trouble holding the puck on his stick, he still was moving quick enough to keep Sedin in his wake. And then it gets really interesting. Watch how Niedermayer takes his last skating stride above the circles. Even though he's just coasting at that point, somehow he still manages to increase the distance between himself and a charging Sedin. That's just ridiculous. I don't know any other word for it.

And the rest was pretty much academic. Niedermayer, commenting later that his bobble of the puck at the beginning of the breakaway luckily didn't give him time to think too much, whipped a wrist shot that darted under Roberto Luongo's arm. And that's when the similarities to the overtime winner from exactly one month earlier became even more erie.

The celebration of that goal and last night's goal occurred in the same exact corner of the Honda Center rink, with Niedermayer possibly standing on the exact same spot. (And, by the way, instead of the traditional look of unabashed glee that most guys show when they score an overtime winner, Niedermayer pretty much looked like he just got up from a nap, letting out more of a relieved breath of air.)

And the first guy to grab Niedermayer before the rest of the team poured onto the ice? Marchant, just like in that game a month before. In fact, here is a picture from that February 11 game (which you might recall I made fun of at the time for its intimacy):

... and here's last night (it's a screen capture so I apologize for the graininess)

I swear to you, those are photos from two different nights. Spooky.

Said Marchant afterward, "He creates miracles in overtime." Well put.

But there was so much to enjoy -- and agonize over -- in last night's game that truly was one of the best we've seen at Honda Center in quite some time. Again, it's hard to know where to start, but somehow the name Erik Christensen seems an appropriate place. Christensen had unquestionably his best game as a Duck (just his third since being acquired before the deadline last week), setting up two scores and having one goal of his own stolen from him by an official. We don't have video of it because it didn't turn out to be an actual goal, but Christensen appeared to give the Ducks a coveted two-goal lead with 1:20 left in the second, when he made a beautiful deke move to completely fool Luongo, then snapped the puck into the open net. But somehow an official determined that Ryan Getzlaf interfered with Luongo on the play, though replays showed Getzlaf didn't come anywhere near him. He may have judged that Getzlaf nudged the Vancouver defenseman into Luongo, which caused some interference. Either way, it was one of the worst calls in the history of hockey. Is that too much of an exaggeration? I really don't think so.

Nevertheless, I couldn't help but enjoy the way Christensen celebrated the goal (or at least when he thought it actually was a goal). With his momentum carrying him toward the glass he slowly pointed into the crowd with a calm, stone-faced gaze. Think of an Ovechkin goal celebration, and then imagine the exact opposite. That was Christensen. A work buddy of mine commented as a new Duck, he looked almost like he was delivering a message to the Ducks fans in the building: "More to come, people" (although my friend didn't say "people").

Now, while that goal was swiped away, Christensen still did his part with those two assists. The first came when he poked a loose puck in front of the net to Getzlaf, who hammered it home for his first goal in eight games. Then came the play in the second period, when he held the puck in open ice on the right wing, appeared poised to pass it and then quickly whipped it at Luongo. Whether the goalie was slightly fooled by the last-second change of or not, the puck kicked off him right off his blocker to Petteri Nokelainen, who chipped it into the open net.

Both Christensen and Nokelainen were outstanding for the Ducks, as Nokie (is that his nickname?) continued to win big faceoffs and that goal was his first in nearly a year. Meanwhile, the thought of Christensen playing on that top line with Getzlaf and Perry the rest of the year is looking more and more appealing. The third trade deadline acquisition, James Wisniewski, suffered what is still being labeled an upper body injury in the second period and his status is unknown at this time. But the Ducks did bring up Brendan Mikkelson today, so that indicates that Wisniewski's availability for the next game could be questionable. And by the way, the other new Duck, Ryan Whitney, had two assists.

Another thing to like about last night? The fact the Ducks didn't waver when their treasured two-goal lead was wiped out in a manner of 50 seconds in the middle of the second period. They kept fighting after what should have been a two-goal lead late in the period was taken away and again when their tenuous one-goal cushion was killed by a Ryan Kesler score late in the third.

Much of the credit goes to Jonas Hiller, who was mostly outstanding on the night, even though those two goals in 50 seconds weren't among his finest moments. He came up huge on a number of power play opportunities for the Canucks in the first two periods and made a monster save on Daniel Sedin with 1:15 left in regulation. 

All of it led to a Ducks win they absolutely had to have, as they were in danger of losing four straight for the first time since the beginning of the season, and would have fallen deeper into a non-playoff hole. Randy Carlyle called the win “important for our well-being and our sanity, more than anything. We’ve worked hard in some games and had as many chances as we had tonight, and still come up empty.”

Carlyle gave the Ducks a day off from practice today, as they now look ahead to another tough opponent, the San Jose Sharks, on Sunday (more on that game tomorrow).  With the Ducks now one point out of the seventh and eighth spots (with still more games played than ... you know the rest), there is some serious scoreboard watching to do tonight. Columbus, Edmonton, Nashville, Dallas, St. Louis and Minnesota -- each battling with the Ducks for those spots and each with more games remaining than Anaheim -- are all in action tonight. Among them, only Minnesota is playing on the road.

Tonight and for the next month, the Ducks could use all the help they can get from the rest of the league to inch toward playoff position. The thought of the Ducks not making the postseason for the first time in four seasons became even tougher to ingest after watching the win last night. First of all, it plainly showed what this Ducks team is capable of. And second, the playoffs usually mean more games like that one last night. And that one was pretty damn fun to watch.

Updated March 11 at 1:44 p.m.

There's "must-win" and then there's "Please let us win this one or we're really screwed."

Tonight is a little closer to the latter.

The Ducks are looking to avoid dropping four games in a row since the opening four of the season when they take on a very good Canucks team tonight. And losing four games in a row is a luxury the Ducks can't afford right now, with three points and four teams between them and the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Or here's another way to put it, according to a writer on the Canucks team website:

To say these aren’t the same Ducks that won the Stanley Cup in 2007 would be an understatement. A powerhouse team just two seasons ago, the Ducks seem to have gone from ‘mighty’ to ‘lame’ and may be approaching ‘dead’ at least as far as the playoffs are concerned if they don’t right the ship in a hurry.

Ouch, dude.

In consecutive losses over the weekend to Dallas and Minnesota, the Ducks found a way to make goalies Marty Turco and Niklas Backstrom look all-world, denting the net just twice on 38 shots in each game. Now they face a guy who actually is all-world in Roberto Luongo, and he probably isn't too pleased that he lost 3-2 to the Kings two nights ago, just his second defeat in his last 14 games. Bobby Lu a big reason the Canucks are 12-3 since the beginning of February and have vaulted into the No. 5 spot in the West. Although, for whatever reason, Luongo isn't all that hot against Anaheim, with a middling 7-6-0 record and 2.50 goals-against average in his lifetime. (That doesn't include the famous looking-the-other-way goal against him here in overtime of Game 5 of the '07 conference semis). Ah, memories.

On the other end of the rink, all signs from the morning skate point to Jonas Hiller getting the nod for the second straight night for the Ducks. Hard to believe, but the last time the Canucks were here was Halloween night, when Hiller was inserted mid-game in a 7-6  loss to the Canucks after a 13-round shootout.

That was a Vancouver team without Mats Sundin, who signed with them in December but didn't get into a game until early January, and the team promptly went 0-5-3 for the rest of the month. But the 38-year-old and the team have (unfortunately) turned it around, and he's got seven goals and 16 points in 24 games. Sundin hadn't seen the Ducks all that much in the recent past when he played in Toronto, but he's got an eye-catching 32 points in 26 career games against them. I wouldn't be offended if that number stayed at 32 after tonight.

You know how the Ducks have a "dads trip" every year, where the players' fathers join the team for a couple of games? The Canucks are doing it with their moms (that didn't come out right) on this current road trip. They attended Monday night's game against the Kings and they'll be in the house for this one tonight. So, Ducks fans, if you're in the building tonight and you see a bunch of middle-aged Canadian women together, please be polite. Now, having them leave here disappointed that their boys lost? That would be just fine.

- - -


Montreal bruiser Georges Laraque had a pretty calm response to the talks at the NHL general managers meetings that "staged" fights could result in a 10-minute misconduct penalty.

"Stupidest thing ever!" Laraque told TSN for a story posted yesterday (not sure why the writer felt the need to insert the exclamation point). "I think it's a joke. They might as well take fighting out of the NHL...fighting won't be safer; it will be eliminated because an added 10-minute misconduct is too much."

Of course, Laraque has one of the greatest staged fight moments in NHL history, during a fight with Raitis Ivanans of the Kings a couple years back (when Laraque was playing for Phoenix). Laraque happened to be wearing a mic for that game, and you could plainly hear him turn to Ivanans and politely say, "You want to? Okay. Square up? Okay, good luck, man."

Laraque also said about the possible rule changes, "This will take the one-dimensional player out of the NHL because that's who they will say starts a staged fight." He added, "Why even bother showing up for training camp?"

Well, because ... wait, is that a real question?

Brian Burke (he's the GM in Toronto, by the way) had a comment a few days ago about the possibility of a ban on fighting in the NHL being discussed during the meetings.

“I will personally challenge anyone who wants to get to rid of fighting to a fight,” Burke said.

God, I miss him.

Updated March 10 at 1:50 p.m.

It makes me sick to my stomach to say this, but I'm jealous of the L.A. Kings right now.

That's right, for the first time in four seasons, I'm jealous of the Kings.

I'm sure in time it will pass, but right now there is some serious resentment going on. Last night the Kings just won their third game in a row, something the Ducks haven't done since (wait, this can't be right) Nov. 30. The first two were against a Dallas team and a Minnesota team the Ducks failed to beat the very next night. And last night they pulled it off against a Vancouver team that had won 12 of its last 14, a 3-2 to victory that was sealed with the help of a heroic effort by defenseman Matt Greene in the final seconds.

With the Kings gripping onto that one-goal lead, Greene went down to block a shot from Alex Burrows, and was still down when he blocked another Burrows shot -- this one with his face. With the clock ticking toward triple-zero, he got back up to rejoin the play before the buzzer sounded. He skated over to congratulate his goalie, Jonathan Quick, and finally headed to the bench looking like this (much to the obvious shock of Quick).

Anyone who saw the play immediately wanted Matt Greene on their team. Or, they immediately wanted one of their guys to be Matt Greene.

And just to add to the jealousy, Heidi Androl on the Kings Live postgame show on FSN West? Good ... God.

Thanks to those three straight wins, the purple and black are sitting one point behind the Ducks in the standings in 12th place, with one fewer game played.

Excuse me for a second, I have to vomit in my trash can.

And ... done.

A look at the Western Conference playoff picture reveals that despite those three straight wins, the Kings are part of a cluster of middle-class teams in the conference that thankfully haven't been so hot lately over the past couple of weeks. Edmonton is 4-4-2 in their last 10, Dallas is 3-6-1, Minny is 4-4-2 and the Kings are 4-6-0. (And oh yeah, Anaheim is 3-6-1). The only team that's been worth a damn of late is, shockingly, the Predators (6-3-1), who most of us didn't even know where still in Nashville, let alone in eighth place in the West.

So, while not too long ago it looked like the magic number to get into the coveted eighth spot was 90 points, right now it's looking closer to 88. That means the Ducks have to win something like 10 of their remaining 15 to sneak in. So, just win two of every three games for the next month. Can they do it? Sure, they can. And if they do, they'll suddenly be the hottest team in the West and that playoff team we find every year that "nobody wants to play."

But will they?

Um ... where's that trash can?

- - -

One thing to come out of this week's NHL general managers meetings is the recommendation of a harsher punishment (probably starting next season) for so-called "staged fights" or "fights by appointment." In other words, if you plan a fight just before the faceoff, or even worse, text a potential combatant before a game, you'll probably get a 10-minute misconduct rather than the traditional five-minute fighting major.

The idea will be sent to the league's competition committee for its approval and go to the board of governors for official approval.

So, in all likelihood, the days of one guy whispering "You wanna go?" just before the puck drops are dwindling. Message from the NHL: We don't mind the fighting. It's the preparation that leaves a bad taste in our mouths.

- - -

Remember a little while ago I had a link to legendary Florida Panthers radio announcer Randy Moller's side-splitting goal calls and  the pop culture references he enthusiastically threw into them? Well, he's kept it going, and now part 2 has been posted on YouTube.

Among the movies referenced are "Cast Away," "Animal House," "Heat," "When Harry Met Sally," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Titanic," and "There's Something About Mary." He even throws in a commercial one: "Oh, I can't believe it's not butter! Panthers with a 2-1 lead," not to mention "I would do anything for love ... but I won't do that." 

Although, he did mess up the Titanic reference by saying, "Iceberg, dead ahead!" when it's actually "right ahead."

(I'm sad that I know that.)

Nevertheless, hilarious stuff again.

- - -

Last thing for today. Some Carolina Hurricanes fan took full advantage of having a seat behind the visitors penalty box and was well-prepared when Sean Avery took a seat in there.


Updated March 9 at 2:18 p.m.

It's fairly easy to reassess two different games over the weekend when they're both pretty much the same game. The losses to Dallas on Friday night and Minnesota on Sunday evening certainly had a lot in common. Both came at Honda Center against teams fighting with the Ducks for playoff spots. Both ended 3-2. Both came despite a seemingly respectable 38 shots on goal by the Ducks, only to have both opposing goaltenders look like Hall-of-Famers. And in both, the Ducks trailed in the opening two minutes of the game and never fully recovered (although they did manage to tie it temporarily last night). Oh, and in both they lost to teams that couldn't beat the Kings the night before.

My girlfriend often uses the expression "Sunday night blues" to reflect the feeling of the weekend facing its waning hours and you're forced to look ahead to a Monday morning return to work. Well, those blues are a little bluer when your team has just lost its third game in a row (fourth straight at home) and its chances of playing past mid-April are looking slimmer. (And when your website, and every website across the league, breaks down in the middle of the game, as it did last night, that doesn't help either.)

In the flash of a bad weekend, all the optimism from a relatively respectable six-game road trip and an influx of new, ready-to-play talent is watered down by two more inexplicable losses at home. The Ducks team that used to dominate in its own house (winning an average of nearly 27 games the last three seasons) still can't seem to get it together at home. Anaheim is a shocking 15-15-3 at Honda Center, worst in the Western Conference.

“I have no explanation for that,” said Teemu Selanne last night. “This used to be a very tough barn to play in. I don’t know what’s going on there."

Here's part of what's going on. The Ducks aren't taking care of the puck (28 turnovers last night) and aren't creating nearly enough havoc in front of the net, something that was a staple of their success in the past. Meanwhile, the guy they can usually count on to make things happen on the scoring end, Ryan Getzlaf, hasn't been the same since suffering a broken nose and cut face in that game in Buffalo two weeks ago. Getzlaf wore a shield for a few games after the injury, and has since ditched it, but the normal points machine has just two assists and no goals since that game.

And in a column by Mark Whicker in the O.C. Register, Getzlaf addresses the fact that some think he's being a little too unselfish with the puck. Whicker points out that after taking 45 shots in 13 games in November, Getzlaf has just 28 in his last 15 contests. He has two goals since Jan. 31. “When you’ve struggling like I’ve been, you go back and re-evaluate everything,” Getzlaf said. “I haven’t been contributing like I need to be. That’s what I’m going to do this week, see if I’m doing the right thing in the right situation. Maybe I should be shooting the puck more.

“All I know is when things are going well, you can shoot it and it’ll go through six sticks and go into the net. At times like this, it doesn’t. But I don’t go down and just shoot the puck without looking because it’s not what I should be doing. I don’t think shots on goal have been our problem lately.”

Indeed, it's not, and while the quanitity of shots was there over the weekend, the quality wasn't always. And it was incredibly frustrating to see Marty Turco and Niklas Backstrom make save after freakin' save on Anaheim chances in the two games. Of course, there is no irony to the the pair of too-little-too-late goals the Ducks scored late in the third period of both games. Both Bobby Ryan's breathtaking coast-to-coaster late in the third against Dallas and Scott Niedermayer's bullying jam job with 22.6 left against Minny came from the Ducks forcing the issue and going hard to the net -- essentially giving the goalie no chance. That's Ducks hockey. That needs to happen more often.

“What’s weird is that we’re losing and I think we’re playing good," said Selanne last night. "We have a lot of chances. We just can’t get any pucks in the net. We make a mistake and it ends up in our net, and we can’t capitalize on the mistakes somebody else makes. That’s very frustrating."

Added a subdued Scott Niedermayer, “I think we have to focus on coming to the rink with energy, play hard for each other, play smart and just doing what we can from here ... We’re trying to find answers to play better.”

Those answers better come soon, as the Ducks are two points out of the eighth spot in the West with 15 games left, while they still (still) have more games played than anyone in the conference. Of course, now it's just 1 or 2 more than the teams they're fighting with. It's looking right now they need to go 11-4 or so over the rest of the year to get into the dance, and a win over a very hot Vancouver team (8-2-0 in their last 10) would be a pleasant start.

"I can’t wait," Selanne said, "until our next game.”

That makes two of us.

- - -

You may say, "Boy, it sure would be nice if NHL players got more exposure through TV endorsements." Well, be careful what you wish for.

Updated March 6 at 3:08 p.m.

As if each of the remaining 17 games didn't have enough of an element of "must-win" to them, tonight's matchup with the Stars at Honda Center comes with a little something extra. Anaheim is facing a Stars team that pulled even with the Ducks in the conference standings after getting a point in a disappointing come-from-ahead overtime loss to the Kings last night at Staples Center (more on that later). And it's a Stars team the Ducks knocked off in a heated 4-3 Ducks win last Saturday night in Dallas that featured a brawl after the final horn in which the villianous Steve Ott "allegedly" eye-gouged Travis Moen. (Ott was suspended just one game and will be in there tonight, and while Moen isn't still around to get his revenge, there are plenty of other black jerseys to take on the responsibility.)

To make the game even more critical for the Ducks, it's the first one since the team was shaken up with a bevy of trade deadline deals that saw mainstays Moen, Samuel Pahlsson and Kent Huskins leave town, along with defenseman Steve Montador. And in their place are newcomers Erik Christensen, James Wisniewski and Petteri Nokelainen, all of whom are supposed to be in the Anaheim lineup tonight. Meanwhile, it's the first home game for Ryan Whitney, the big defenseman the Ducks acquired from Pittsburgh last week for Chris Kunitz.

It's also the first home game at Honda Center in more than two weeks.

Oh, and Bobby Ryan is wearing 9 for the first time.

So, if you can't get up for this one ... well, you can't get up.

I have this vision tonight of a tribute to the pep rally scene from "Hoosiers," where the crowd chants during the pregame introductions, "We want Sammy! We want Sammy!" then Randy Carlyle walks out to center ice, grabs a mic and says, like Gene Hackman in the movie: "I would hope you would support who we are, not who we are not," then pauses and says, "This is your team." Kind of like this.

Okay, back to reality. Dallas' only move at the trade deadline was to claim Brendan Morrison off waivers, another guy the Ducks let go, and he made his Stars debut last night in L.A. I don't think it was Brendan's fault, but the Stars managed to gag that game away, giving up two goals in the final 3:18 of regulation to blow a 4-2 lead, and then lose it in overtime on Michal Handzus' third goal fo the game. The Stars took three penalties in a span of 1:03 to set up the two Kings goals, the last of which came Anze Kopitar with 14 seconds left, as he desperately threw the puck off Stephane Robidas' skate and under Marty Turco. That capped off a third period in which the Kings outshot the Stars 21-3.

I don't need to say it, but let's hope that futility carries over tonight. Granted, the last thing in the world we want when two Western Conference teams clash is an overtime game. But given the choice of which team would get the two points, we'd take the Kings every time. After all, L.A. is five points back of the Ducks and their hopes of springing into a playoff spot is ... well, they're the Kings.

There is a little more insight into Ryan switching to No. 9, aside from the fact that it ruins us Ducks people from using any old photos of him (thanks for that, Bob). Ryan told reporters yesterday that he started wearing the number when he was 10 years old and kept it throughout his junior career. He also had it in the minors, but when he came up with Anaheim, he was subject to the tradition of giving rookies high numbers. Since he's pretty much shown he's here to stay now, the Ducks had no problem giving him 9 (which they had no plans to retire despite Paul Kariya's accomplishments with that number).

“It’s a nice surprise, for sure,” Ryan said. “I try not to read too much into it, but maybe it’s another step toward permanence. I feel like this is where I belong now. I’m more comfortable. If they’re acknowledging that, it’s nice, but it doesn’t really change anything about what I have to do the rest of the way. I'll still be a rookie.”

And you know why Ryan chose 9 in the first place? It's because his favorite player growing up was none other than Mike Modano, who Ryan will see on the ice tonight. "Small world," Ryan said.

We've heard talks around here ever since he was picked up by the Ducks at the deadline that Erik Christensen had put so much pressure on himself in Atlanta, that he started seeing a sports psychologist. Christensen had been very successful in Pittsburgh, but when he came to Atlanta, there were high expectations on him, since all the Thrashers have at forward are Ilya Kovalchuk and ... well, that's about it.

“They had pegged me as a No.1 center,” Christensen said. “That’s the role that I wanted. I was very hard on myself early when it didn’t go well. I got extremely nervous and intense before games.”

But he believes he's gotten past the mental struggles he endured earlier. “The last two months," he said, "I think I’ve played the best hockey I have in the last year-and-a-half."

More of that, please.

I found it curious yesterday when I looked from across the locker room and saw the huddle of reporters standing so closely around Christensen. But I figured out why when I watched the last part of this video and saw how softly Christensen speaks. Well, that's one way to replace Sammy Pahlsson, with a guy who might be even quieter.

Speaking of guys replacing Pahlsson, watch that video at the 4:05 mark for the sound bite with Nokelainen. Considering he was born in Finland and didn't come to North America until 2005, is anyone else surprised at the complete lack of an accent? Maybe he's a graduate of the Nicklas Lidstrom School of English in which the slogan is: You may be from Northern Europe, but by the time you graduate, you'll sound like you grew up in Newport Beach.

Updated March 5 at 4:31 p.m.

In the last 24 hours or so, the dust has settled on the day that shook Ducks nation. And the more we think about it, the more these moves make a lot of sense. For the hundreth time, it's not easy to part with guys like Pahlsson, Moen, Huskins and Montador, but it's something that had to be done for the long-term sake of this franchise.

And it's asinine to claim that by making these deals, the Ducks essentially gave up on making the playoffs this season. Let's keep things in perspective on this one. It's not like Bob Murray said goodbye to a Chris Pronger (which every rumor in the world said he would do) or dumped a Scott Niedermayer. Or a Bobby Ryan. Or one of the goalies. Of the four guys he traded, just two are playing right now and the other two -- Pahlsson and Huskins -- don't appear to be on their way back anytime soon. In Montador, he's given away a hard-working guy, sure. But he may have brought in someone better in James Wisniewski. And Travis Moen, as friendly and humble a guy as he is, as much of a hard-working, vital part of that Cup team he was ... let's face it -- there are plenty of Travis Moens out there. To hang on to him when there was little guarantee he would re-sign here would have been reckless.

Bottom line, there is absolutely nothing to suggest the Ducks did anything to harm their chances of making it to the postseason. And depending on how guys like Wisniewski, Christensen and even Whitney adjust to their new team, you could make a case they enhanced those chances.

And one more time, watching those guys walk away in July with nothing to show for them? Now, that would have (and should have) been something to upset Ducks fans. (Remember how you felt about losing Penner, Bryz, Andy McDonald, Sean O'Donnell? The Ducks have not one player on their roster right now that makes up for those losses.) In this case, you have players like Wisniewski, Erik Christensen and Petteri Nokelainen, who will make an impact on the Ducks this year and likely in seasons to come. (Not to mention college player Nick Bonino, who could be very promising in a couple of years.)

And it's not just in this space that you'll see the approval of these moves. Ryan Dixon of the Hockey News, in a story entitled What a job, Bob, says of the trade deadline deals: One team took a vibrant position that should stand to other teams as a lesson in spine. That club is the Anaheim Ducks ... kudos to GM Bob Murray for showing an incredible sense of organizational self-awareness as he attempts to re-tool this team on the fly. Most GMs don’t have the courage – or in some cases, the option – of stripping down a team before it’s entirely past prime. What Murray has done is essentially address the critical flaws of his aging vehicle before he finds himself on the side of the road with a broken down lemon ... Murray took a cold, hard look at his team and made moves designed at turning a middling club into a contender without being a bottom feeder in between. That kind of vision and execution deserves recognition.

And locally, there is more media support, including Dan Wood of the O.C. Register and Helene Elliott of the L.A. Times. Elliott, not exactly the easiest woman to impress, wrote a story in today's edition, that at once praised the Ducks while ripping the Kings' puzzling single move: The Ducks' trades said they want to make the playoffs now. If they miss ... they have restocked enough talent and promise to rightly feel optimistic. They don't have to rebuild from the ground up.

All that being said, it was pretty weird being at practice this morning and in the locker room afterwards and staring at a handful of faces I'd never seen before. It felt a little like training camp all over again as I'd tried to figure out just which one was Christensen and which one was Nokelainen and which one was Wisniewski. (Recent call-up Troy Bodie isn't exactly a familiar face either.) Heck, I hadn't yet seen Ryan Whitney in person before.

Even Rob Niedermayer said, “(It’s easier when) they’re standing in front of their name tags."

And here are how the lines looked on the ice this morning:
R. Niedermayer-Carter/Marchant-Parros

S. Niedermayer-Wisniewski

Whether that maintains in tomorrow night's rematch with Dallas remains to be seen.

But here's something we know we'll see for the first time, which is sure to cheer up the many Ducks fans who have been wondering when this was going to happen: Bobby Ryan has changed his number from 54 to 9 (and he seems pretty happy about it).

Speaking of new numbers, Sammy Pahlsson fans might get even a little more wistful when they look out on the ice and see Christensen wearing that number.

- - -

Bob Murray and Tim Ryan are going to be part of a live State of the Franchise Fan Forum teleconference open exclusively to season ticket holders this evening, answering questions about the trades and the status of the team. We will post a podcast of the entire teleconference on the site within the next day or so. 

Updated March 4 at 5:30 p.m.

With apologies to Sean Penn as Harvey Milk:

I know you're angry ...

And judging by the majority of emails that have come pouring in all afternoon, you're really angry. No matter how you slice it or how you justify it, it's a dark day in Anaheim when the Ducks lose five players from their current roster, three who played for the Cup team two seasons ago. It's not easy to see guys like Sammy Pahlsson, Travis Moen, Kent Huskins and Steve Montador leave here and seemingly not get much in return. But if you calm down a bit, climb off the ledge and take a deep breath, you can gain some understanding as to why these trades were made today.

We've known for quite some time the challenges the Ducks were going to face in the offseason with 14 players up for free agency, including Pahlsson, Moen, Huskins and Montador. And much as the Ducks and GM Bob Murray would like to hold on to those guys and make a push for the playoffs with them over the final month, for the long-term sake of the franchise, they just couldn't do it.

"Over the last few years here, chasing another Cup, we’ve let assets get away from us and got nothing for them," Murray said. "That had to stop now. We just couldn’t let these unrestricted guys go and not get anything for them. You talk to Travis, Sammy and Husky. They love it here and wanted to stay here, but they all look at you and say, ‘I’ve got to try free agency’. The contract negotiations were going nowhere. It’s just the way the game is. They understand that I had to do what I had to do going forward because it would have been totally irresponsible of me to not get the best I could for these unrestricted guys."

Murray learned more and more in the passing weeks that his chances of being able to afford to re-sign guys like Pahlsson and Moen were remote. And it would have been irresponsible for him to hang onto those players and have nothing to show for them if and when they skipped town for greener (meaning higher-paying) pastures in the summer. The bottom line is, we were probably going to lose most (if not all) of these guys this summer anyway. Today just ensured we have something for them in return.

That being said, it still sucks. It sucks losing guys like Moen and Huskins to a rival like San Jose. It sucks losing Montador, a guy who just might have been the hardest-working player on the Ducks this season. And it really sucks saying goodbye to a guy like Pahlsson, the quiet, cherub-faced checking line workhorse who was beloved by Ducks fans, and (I don't need to mention again) was my personal favorite player.

And although we might not see immediate dividends from the players Anaheim got back in return, the hope is that we will in the future. Let's start with the Moen-Huskins deal. Murray made it clear he would have never dealt those two guys to the Sharks had he not gotten in return Nick Bonino, an extremely promising center playing for Boston University.

“We think we got one of the top prospects in hockey,” Murray said, adding that Bonino could be an NHL player by next season, and probably within two years. “We’ve got to get help at center ice. No way I’m dealing with (San Jose GM) Doug Wilson unless I get this guy. He sees and feels the ice unbelievably well. I can’t emphasize enough how good we think this player is.”

In the Pahlsson deal, the Ducks got Chicago defenseman James Wisniewski, a gritty young guy who will come in and contribute immediately, though he missed the first chunk of this season with a knee injury. Murray called him, "our type of player."

Center Petteri Nokelainen is a 23-year-old Finnish center and right winger who Murray said has tremendous potential if given the opportunity, and "He’s going to get his opportunity at center ice here to blossom." Although, Nokelainen has been out since Feb. 10, when he was hit in the right eye with a stick during a game against the Sharks.

Center Erik Christensen comes over from Atlanta (for prospect Eric O’ Dell), a 25-year-old who had 18 goals in just 61 games a couple of seasons ago in Pittsburgh (he was part of the Marian Hossa trade at last year's deadline). "I think he’s the type that can play with good players and we have good players here on our top two lines," Murray said. "He needed that opportunity and he’ll get that opportunity here."

So, there is some promise in these acquisitions, but don't get me wrong -- that doesn't mean that most Ducks fans are happy about this. Not even close. And frankly, it's hard to blame them. It's never easy losing the guys you've enjoyed watching for so many seasons, guys who won a championship for this team. I'm sitting here staring at my office wall of a team photo of the '07 Cup team, and it's hard to believe that less than half the guys in that picture are still here. There are 24 guys in that picture, and 9 of them will be at practice here tomorrow. (One of them, Francois Beauchemin, has been injured most of the year. No matter how you spin it, this is a very, very tough day.

I don't possibly have the space or the time to rehash all the emails I've gotten from fans today, but I will reprint part of this one from a reader named Jason that sort of sums things up: Like everyone else, I'm upset. But I'm not. It's like I just made out with my cousin -- I don't know how to react. It's the strangest feeling.

Does it mean the Ducks have given up in their playoff hopes, sitting in (technically) ninth place in the Western Conference with 17 games to go? Not in the least. Keep in mind this is a team that still has Getzlaf, Perry, Selanne, Pronger, Niedermayer, Ryan, Giguere. Guys with heart like Todd Marchant, Mike Brown and Andrew Ebbett. Guys looking to impress their new teammates like Wisniewski, Christensen and Ryan Whitney.

This team can still make the postseason and make some noise in it. Just two guys are gone from the group that last night showed so much heart in fighting back against Chicago. Granted, it's a tall task to grab one of those last playoff spots, but it was a tall task two weeks ago. And with the next five games here at Honda Center, we'll find out soon enough if this team can make it happen.They'll just have to do it with a few different guys than the ones we've gotten used to -- or even grown to love.

"I fully expect this team to run for a playoff spot. I don't think we're anywhere near out of it," Murray said. "I expect our players to make a good shot at it. I see no reason why they can't."

So, does today make sense? Sure, it does.

Does it make it easy?

Well, just give it time.

Updated March 4 at 2:01 p.m.

We're handcuffed from announcing anything official until the NHL gives us the go-ahead, but suffice to say that everything you're seeing (Pahlsson, Moen, Huskins and Montador traded away) is legit. And so are the outraged emails filling up my inbox. I'll have more later on the trades after Bob Murray talks to the media.

Updated March 4 at 10:22 a.m.

If you’d told me two weeks ago that the Ducks would go 3-2-1 on this six-game road trip, I would have been thrilled.

If you'd told me yesterday morning the Ducks would get a point out of their tough matchup in Chicago, I would have been pleased.

Yet I still couldn’t help but feel punched in the stomach when Martin Havlat fended off Corey Perry and slipped the puck by a somewhat-out-of-position J.S. Giguere to win it for the Blackhawks last night in overtime, 3-2.

Still, if you’re a Ducks fan, you have to be pleased with the heart those guys showed last night. Down 2-0 midway through the first period, you had to be wondering to yourself one of two things:

1. Will they fight back?
2. Will this be another 6-0 nightmare? 

The redeeming factor in that first period was that the Ducks had several opportunities to fight back, only to be denied by goalie Cristobal Huet, who looked very good in the early going. That included this breakaway by Mike Brown, who somehow skated between four Chicago players to end up one-on-one with Huet, but poked the puck away before Brown could get off a shot.

Still, Brown was phenomenal the entire night, a bundle of energy who skated harder than anyone on the ice and snapped off a team-high six shots. (Judging by the reactions of a very energetic crowd at the watch party last night, Ducks fans are already loving Brown). His vigor last night seemed to resonate throughout the rest of the white jerseys the entire night, and they tied it with two quick ones from Drew Miller (his first on the season) and Bobby Ryan (his 22nd).

"After we were down 2-0, we came in and settled down," said Giguere. "We talked to each other about just putting the puck deep and trying to create something and we did."  

Those two youngster goals would be all the Ducks would get, despite a number of opportunities that just barely went awry, including a shot by Andrew Ebbett that could have been the game-winner, but it clanged off the post. And Giguere held his own for the most part with 34 stops.

But he wasn’t in the best position for Havlat’s shot in overtime, a heartbreaking goal that started with a Ducks turnover off the stick of Steve Montador (which would turn out to be the last time Montador touched a puck as an Anaheim Duck). Havlat did an impressive job to fend off a lunging Corey Perry, before slipping the puck past Giguere.

“He did a great job in blocking me out,” Perry said. “It’s one of those goals where you have to tip your hat to him.”

Said Giguere,
"I wasn't really thinking. I was trying to react to what he would do and he made a nice play."

Still, Giguere was able to put the effort and the trip into perspective, considering it was the sixth game in 13 days and the Ducks showed a tremendous amount of heart to fight back and force overtime.

“It’s disappointing to finish that way, but overall I think it was a pretty good effort on our part,” Giguere said. “For us, it’s a positive road trip. It’s only one point we lost there at the end. We have to think of the overall picture.

“If we were going to have a bad road trip, that would have pretty much sealed our season. Now we’re in the thick of it with a bunch of other teams. Good luck trying to figure out who’s going to be in the playoffs.”

Good luck, indeed. But the Ducks look like they’ll be doing it with a slightly different look, after Montador was traded this morning to Boston (more on that later) and Brendan Morrison (who surprisingly played significant minutes last night while on waivers) was picked up by Dallas. And I’m hearing talks of even more deals in the works before the noon Pacific deadline (although it’s highly unlikely any of those will involve Chris Pronger).

Stay tuned.

Updated March 3 at 1:04 p.m.

I'll be honest, I really want this one tonight.

A win tonight against a very-good Chicago Blackhawks team would kind of turn this road trip -- a six-game, 13-day grind that has been called everything from a "death march" to "Trip from Hell" to "Journey of Death" -- into a pretty good thing. A win tonight would give the Ducks four wins in the six games, including three of the last four. Sure, a close loss to Boston would have been a lot more palatable than the 6-0 shellacking of last Thursday, but something tells me that loss might seem more in the rear view mirror if the Ducks can end this thing with a victory tonight. (Watch party. Tonight. Zito's Pizza. Be there.)

Of course, beating Chicago in their building is no small feat, considering they've only lost in regulation there five times this season (fewer than anyone in the West but the Sharks and Wings). That being said, they did lose twice at home to close out February (once in overtime) and dropped three in a row before coming back with a 4-2 win Sunday against the Kings. Rookie Antti Niemi got his first career win in that game, two nights after making his NHL debut in a 5-4 loss to the Penguins. Niemi entered that game at the start of the third period after starter Cristobal Huet struggled over the first 40 minutes and let through four goals.

Huet normally splits time in net with Nikolai Khabibulin, but he's been out with a "lower body injury" since Feb. 11. It will be interesting to see who the Hawks throw in there tonight, since Huet has looked solid against the Ducks in two starts this season (saving 50 of 53 shots).

Dustin Byfuglien had the game-winner in that Kings win, which I only mention because it's my way of transitioning into this change of subject. As much trouble as the Ducks have had gaining a foothold in the Southern California market over the years (even with the Cup victory), it's almost refreshing to watch this video. The Blackhawks' "Woman on the Street" went around the heart of Chicago asking random people if they could pronounce Byfuglien's last name (it's BUFF-lin, by the way). No one was able to do it, except for a Blackhawks fan at the end of the video, which thankfully prompted the playing of the legendary song, "You're the Best Around" from "Karate Kid." The low point is when the girl says to one guy, "How do you think he feels that you said his name wrong" and the guy reponds with, "I don't care, he's a Blackhawk."


ByFOO-glien will be in there for the Hawks, but the Ducks will be without Brendan Morrison, who was placed on waivers by the Ducks this morning. If Morrison and his $2.75 million contract gets claimed by another team by 9 a.m. tomorrow, he's off the books for the Ducks. If not, the Ducks have the option of sending him down to Iowa. That will give them the cap space to make a deal for another player (which I'm thinking is unlikely), but also to welcome back guys like Sammy Pahlsson and Kent Huskins when and if they come back from injuries.

It's a shame for Morrison, since he's such a good guy, but he's just never been able to get it going this year. Whether the knee surgery he had last April is still bugging him or not, he's just never seemed to have that spring that he did in Vancouver. And he's been seemingly hesitant to initiate contact. In other words, he's not hitting. And his 10 goals and shockingly low 12 assists in 61 games are just not getting it done.

“I didn’t think it would ever come to this, but it has,” Morrison told reporters after today's morning skate at United Center. “Obviously, my play this season has not been anywhere near the level that I expected, and I’m sure the team expected. This has been a trying time, a nightmarish year.”

Morrison actually is eligible to play tonight while on waivers, but it seems unlikely the Ducks will put him in the lineup.

“I guess the hope is there’s a team out there that is interested, and hope it’s a contending team, a team that’s going to have a chance to get into the playoffs, a place where I can go and play,” Morrison said. “Really, I want to play the game. I might be back, but ideally, if I’m telling you right now, it might be nice to go somewhere and play. We’ll see how it works out.”

Let's hope it does, because Morrison has been nothing but a class act the entire year for the Ducks, even though he's been as frustrated as anyone with his performance.

“He’s been a consummate pro,” said Randy Carlyle, not exactly a fountain of complimentary remarks. “He hasn’t slung any derogatory comments one way or another. We know he’s a great guy. The off-ice help he has given to Andrew Ebbett and Bobby Ryan can’t be measured. He’s been a huge influence to those players.”

- - -

Shocking news: In Scott Niedermayer's meeting with Bob Murray yesterday afternoon, to discuss Niedermayer's plans beyond this season, they came up with ... pretty much nothing.

“I just sort of continued along, trying to keep Bob, I guess, informed of what I’m thinking,” Niedermayer said. “We just kind of went over that -- nothing new there to report, no final decision or anything like that. I’m just trying to give Bob as much information, I guess, as I can, to try and help him.”


Oh ... I'm sorry ... how long was I out?

Murray did have more to say on his resistance to trade Niedermayer before the deadline. "It's the respect factor," Murray said. "I don't think he should go play somewhere else if this is his last year."

He also commented on the ceaseless Chris Pronger trade rumors: "Teams have interest but there has to be something to it that makes sense to us," Murray said. "He's playing very well and he and Scotty and [Ryan] Whitney give us a pretty good start on our defense right now. You'd listen to anything, but nothing has been thrown at me that's exciting."

We're a little less than 24 hours from the deadline, and we'll be covering it heavily on here tomorrow morning.

- - -

ESPN the Magazine has posted a video on their website of the Ducks Dads Trip back in January in New York. Part of the piece includes a trip to the Carnegie Deli with Ryan Getzlaf, Brendan "Phil" Mikkelson and their dads, in which cute girl Ducks staffer Lauren gets plenty of unwanted airtime sitting next to Getzy. Another highlight is Drew Miller's dad Dean (whose hair is only slightly greyer then Drew's) talking about watching his son's first NHL fight and how the family was watching it on TV back home. He says that Mom 'turned her back and wouldn't watch, but his sister watched and was cheering loud ...  had the dogs all riled up."

New slogan for the NHL: Hockey Fighting -- Even Dogs Like It

Updated March 2 at 12:28 p.m.

We’re at a point in the Ducks’ season when every loss is seemingly crushing, every win seemingly huge. 

The latest exhibit of the “huge” variety came last Saturday afternoon in Dallas, when the Ducks clawed out a mammoth victory in the Stars’ building. It not only gave Anaheim’s playoff hopes more life, but it helped demoralize a reeling Stars team that lately has been a rival for the last remaining playoff spots.

“Find a way to win” has become almost as tiresome a cliché as “It is what it is” or “At the end of the day…” but that’s exactly what the Ducks did against Dallas – they found a way. They found a way to bounce back from a 6-0 drubbing two nights prior to spring out to a 2-0 lead in the first. They found a way to take a mini-vacation in the second period and early in the third, allowing the Stars to score three unanswered to take the lead. And they found a way, with their playoff hopes kind of on the line, to fight back with two quick ones midway through the third and hang on over the final 10 minutes.

Yes, there are still 18 games after this one, but you could make a case that when the Ducks went down 3-2 in the third period, they were staring at the fate of their playoff aspirations dead in the eye. (And in the same place where their 2007-08 season ended, no less.) A loss in that game, when the Ducks had taken an early lead, could have turned the tide of the road trip. The Ducks would have dropped two in a row on the trip, in devastating fashion, facing one more road date with a very good Chicago team and then that same Dallas team Friday night at home.

Instead, the Ducks showed as much heart as they’ve shown all season, making the most of their limited opportunities down the stretch and getting help from their goalie to ensure Dallas would get no more.

“If we play this game and go down in points to them, and then they still have three games in hand, it makes a huge difference,” Randy Carlyle said. “It’s a huge swing game, so obviously it’s must-win.”

And if you want a hero in that game, look no further than little Andrew Ebbett, who had a goal and two assists, including a huge one to Selanne for the game-winner.  Ebbett stole the puck from fellow rookie James Neal just as the Stars were heading the other way with it. Then Ebbett waited, waited, waited ... and waited some more before saucering the puck to Selanne for the one-timer from point-blank range.

“He was very patient,” said Selanne, who admitted that he thought Ebbett had missed his chance before making that feed. “He was waiting and waiting, and it was a great pass. He has great hockey sense. He doesn’t rush. He doesn’t panic.”

Ebbett was pretty humble when he discussed the play later.
“Not me, but the regular player, would probably, eight, nine times out of 10, shoot that puck,” said Ebbett.

In addition, Ebbett found Scott Niedermayer in the middle of the ice before Niedermayer did his version of patiently waiting before rifling through the first goal of the game. And it took awhile to give him credit for it, but Ebbett tipped a Chris Pronger shot on the power play to give the Ducks that huge 2-0 lead in the first. The goal was originally given to Pronger, and remained that way even by game's end. But apparently even Pronger knew the goal belonged to Ebbett. You can't see it on the highlight here, but he was tapping Ebbett on the shoulder, apparently to signal that Ebbett got his stick on it.

Like Ebbett, Bobby Ryan was flying around the rink the entire afternoon, and he had a pair of assists. You could also make a case that he should have had a couple of goals too, but Marty Turco denied him with big saves, including this one when Ryan got behind the Dallas D.

Turco made some big stops for the Stars, but was overshadowed by Giguere, who had yet another solid game, and kicked away this try by Neal with 12 seconds left and the Stars skating 6-on-5.

As much intrigue as there was in the game during the 60 minutes of actual hockey, it was nothing in comparison to what went on after the final horn sounded. In the final two seconds, while the Stars took a faceoff in Anaheim's zone, mega-jerk Steve Ott needlessly cross-checked Scott Niedermayer from behind three times, making sure to jab him in the spot between the shoulder pad and the elbow pad. That move ignited Giguere, who slashed Ott in the lower leg before taking a swing at his head. Several Ducks joined the fray, with Ott and Travis Moen emerging from it to fight each other. (Here's the whole thing on video.)

Ott hung in there with Moen, despite having a broken hand, but after the two players went down to the ice, he allegedly eye-gouged Moen. You can't see it on the video, but what you can see is Moen's legs shaking as if to indicate something odd was happening there, then the official physically pulls Ott's arm away and says something to the effect of, "What the hell are you doing?"

And here's another way we know Ott did it. He responded after the game by saying, “It was an accident. I didn’t meant to do it."

I see.

Here was Dallas coach Dave Tippet's take on the whole thing. "I saw five of their guys jumping on one of ours, which is disappointing to see one guy having to fight all five of their's." Uh, Dave. Take a look at the video. Five Ducks jump in to get Ott off their goalie, but then they peel off to let Moen beat the hell out of him by himself.

The NHL suspended Ott while they had a hearing to review the incident, meaning he missed the team's 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh the following night, their fifth straight loss at home (love that). But somehow the league decided that the one game was enough, as they apparently agreed that it was an accident.

They also handed Moen a six-game suspension for leaving his eyes open while an opposing player attempts to stick his finger in them.

Okay, that part I made up. But it's really not that far-fetched, is it?

The silver lining about Ott not getting suspended? He'll be available when the Stars play at Honda Center this Friday.

- - -
Dan Wood reports in the O.C. Register that Bob Murray is meeting with Scott Niedermayer today about his plans for next season. But something tells me Murph isn't going to get a lot out of that meeting. "I guess in a perfect situation, it probably would be best for the team," Niedermayer said. "But at the same time, if I can't make the right decision, or if I made a decision too quickly, or end up making the wrong decision at this time, that could hurt, too."

That sounds familiar for some reason.

But here's the biggest revelation you can get from the story. Despite the rumors the Ducks might be looking to trade Niedermayer at the deadline, Murray indicated that's not going to happen. 

“I have no intentions of trading him,” Murray said.

That sound you heard is an entire legion of Ducks fans breathing a collective sigh of relief.

As far as any other Ducks go, well, we'll let you know by Wednesday at noon.