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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.


Ducks Blog by Adam Brady offers an entertaining inside look at the Anaheim Ducks, the NHL and other topics. Visit this page often for news, commentary, photos, links and much more.
(All times Pacific unless otherwise noted.)


Updated March 31 at 12:40 p.m.

As the regular season heads toward an undoubtedly climactic end, you've got to like the fact the Ducks are playing some of their best hockey of the season.

Granted, last night's 4-2 win over the Calgary Flames wasn't exactly a masterpiece, but it was an important win in an intensely hostile environment against a team facing a do-or-die situation. And not for nothing, it was Anaheim's seventh win in the last eight games, moving the Ducks past Nashville into sixth place and establishing a six-point cushion between them and Dallas and Calgary. With the win, the Ducks all but put out the Flames when it comes to their playoff hopes, as they would have to win all of their last four games just to get to 95 points (which might not be enough). Dallas, however, has two games in hand on the Ducks, meaning Anaheim has to continue its winning ways in these final five games. 

While the Ducks got two more goals from Corey Perry (the last a beauty of an empty-netter we'll get to later), it was a goal that was disallowed that was the talk of last night's game. Calgary looked like it might have tied the score late in the second period during a chaotic scramble in the Ducks crease in which Ray Emery fell back into the net with what appeared to be the puck on his blocker. Fortunately for the Ducks, the officials on the spot had so much trouble finding the disc that they ruled no goal on the ice. And a lengthy review viewed by the boys in the War Room in Toronto proved too inconclusive to reverse the call on the ice. (There's certainly more to describing that sequence, but we won't get into it here.)

When referee Gord Dwyer gave the safe sign and announced "No goal" to the crowd, there was some serious whoo-hooing in the group of friends I was watching the game with. And just to pile on, the Ducks got a Lubomir Visnovsky goal four minutes later to jump out to a two-goal lead late in the second.

Calgary got one back early in the third though, from Mark Giordano on a 5-on-3, and the Ducks took a slim lead late into the period. And just at the point I was thinking the Ducks haven't had nearly enough empty net goals this year, Perry got a dandy with 46.4 left to slam the door. Teemu Selanne somehow knocked down a mid-air pass with the shaft of his stick, nudging it ahead to Perry, who slapped it into the left side of the deserted net from just inside the blue line. That, and Perry's tip-in on the power play in the first, gave him 46 goals on the season, re-taking the NHL lead by himself. That empty-netter also snapped a string of seven straight one-goal games for Anaheim.

There was still enough time left for a little drama following that clincher, as with about 30 seconds left, Giordano delivered a late knee-to-knee hit on Bobby Ryan that left him hobbling off the ice and yelling some choice words in the direction of the Flames as they headed to the locker room. Ryan, who had a beauty of a wraparound goal to open the scoring for the Ducks in the first, commented on the hit to the OC Register after the game. His status remains unknown since the Ducks don't practice today in San Jose.

Not to be forgotten last night was the solid play of Emery once again, as he had 23 saves (kudos for the Ducks D for only giving up 25 shots). He also improved his gaudy numbers to 6-0-0 with a 1.90 goals-against average and .935 save percentage, as his comeback story gets more and more impressive.

"I'm fortunate," Emery said afterward. "I know that a lot of things had to go right for me to even get a chance to play. I'm grateful of every opportunity I get and I just take it as it comes, one step, one game at a time."

With the Ducks not playing again until Saturday in San Jose, we can do some scoreboard watching the next couple of nights, though not with the same anxiety as we did the past few weeks. What is intriguing is the fact the Ducks are one point out of fifth (owned right now by the Kings) and two out of fourth (Coyotes), making the possibility of a Ducks-Kings matchup in the first round all the more possible.

I get sweaty just thinking about it.

Updated March 30 at 1:34 p.m.

It's a giant game in Calgary tonight for both sides, since a Ducks win would improve their playoff hopes while most likely dashing (dousing?) those of the Flames.

Okay, here's the situation (my parents went away on a week's vacation...): The Ducks can leapfrog Nashville into sixth place alone with a victory, since the Preds fell to Vancouver last night and don't play today (they have played one more game than Anaheim). The Flames, on the other hand, are three points out of the eighth spot with five games to go, and are pretty much thinking they have to win out to have a chance at this thing. Five wins in their final five games would give them 97 points on the season, which looks like it might be good enough for eighth. On same hand (Teemu tribute), if they tie for eighth with any of the teams hovering around that spot, they may be out of luck. The tiebreaker is non-shootout wins, and the Flames have just 29. No team in the top 10 right now has fewer than 33.

So, in the interest of using two cliches in one sentence, it's do-or-die time right now for Calgary, and the Ducks can likely put the nail in the coffin with a victory. Calgary is slumping at the wrong time, not having beaten a team with a winning record since March 9. They're 2-4-2 during that span with their only wins coming against Colorado and Edmonton, that Oilers win coming Saturday in a shootout after clawing back from a three-goal deficit in the third period.

Meanwhile, Anaheim is looking for a series sweep after winning the first three games, the last two in dramatic fashion. Just 10 days ago at Honda Center, the Ducks jumped out to a 3-0 lead to chase goalie Miikka Kiprusoff only to give up four unanswered and trail by a goal late in the third. But Teemu Selanne tied it with just 2:01 left in regulation on the power play (seems like he's been doing things like that a lot) and Corey Perry won it in OT with a deflection off his leg.

It was an exasperating loss for Calgary, since they fell to the Ducks in much the same way, by the same exact score, a month earlier in their building. That time Selanne tied it on the power play with 2:07 remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime. That set the table for "C4 Kid Dynamite" (a nickname for Cam Fowler we learned from Matt Beleskey that needs to catch on immediately), who poured in a backhand with just 18.6 left in OT and went into one of the best celebrations we've seen all year.

The Ducks figure to have Ray Emery in net again tonight, as Jonas Hiller is having some more issues with his vertigo symptoms, according to Eric Stephens of the OC Register. Emery, by the way, is the subject of a great feature by OCR's Jeff Miller that gets into more detail about his unprecedented fight back from hip surgery. Miller, while pointing out that Emery is the first pro athlete to come all the way back without the aid of an artificial joint, quotes Randy Carlyle: "It is somewhat of a, I don't know if you want to say miracle, but it's something that's never happened before. It's a great story and one the individual should be recognized for because it's something no other athlete has done."

If Emery is in there tonight, he'll be looking to go 6-0 as a Ducks starter in an atmosphere in Calgary that promises to be charged up.

“It’s gonna be tight,” Selanne said. “And that’s awesome.”

- - -

Good news for tonight's game for those who live outside the Southern California market. You can watch the game online, since it's the Yahoo! Sports Free Live Stream of the Night. You can watch it on this page starting at 6:30 Pacific time. And according to Sean Leahy at Yahoo! Sports, the April 3 game vs. Dallas and the April 9 regular season finale at LA will also be streamed on the site. 

- - -
Carlyle commented yesterday on something a lot of fans have been asking about -- why Hiller wasn't sent on a rehab assignment to Syracuse during his recovery. The reason? It's against league rules. It's a little complicated, but in effect, an NHL player can't be reassigned to the AHL after the trade deadline, which this year was February 28. The rule is there so that teams can't send down NHL-level players to boost their AHL rosters in the closing stretches of both leagues' seasons. Another example: the Penguins won't be able to do the same with Sidney Crosby if he's able to come back this season from concussion symptoms.

Updated March 29 at 11:20 a.m.

My dad has been to hundreds of hockey games in his life, including nearly every Ducks home game the past few years, but there is one thing he's never done in his 65 years.

So during the second intermission last night, with Teemu Selanne already having scored two goals, he marched into the Team Store on the main level of Honda Center and asked an employee for the cheapest hat they had. When they asked why, he replied with this:

"I'm going to throw it on the ice in about 20 minutes."

And so, with a $12 Ducks 2007 Stanley Cup Champions ballcap on his head, he headed back to his seat in section 206 and waited for a moment he was certain would come. Sure enough, 15:11 into the third period, Selanne gathered in a rebound, calmly moved the puck to his backhand and lifted it into the net for his third goal of the game. My dad sprung from his seat, headed down the aisle and launched that hat over the glass and onto the ice, landing it somewhere around one of the faceoff circles.

See, that's the kind of story Teemu Selanne has been providing us for all these years, those "remember where you were when" moments. His 600th goal (here at Honda Center against Colorado), his 1,000th point (here against the Kings), the overtime winner in Game 5 in Detroit in '07. More recently, the goal here against Dallas with 1:03 left that sent the game to overtime earlier this month. Or the one in Dallas last week when he forced OT with 5.4 seconds left, then hopped up and down behind the net like a little kid.

Last night was another one of those moments, as Selanne became just the fourth player 40 or older to pull off a hat trick and the first 40+ guy in NHL history to have three goals and five points in one game. Selanne had a hand in each of the five goals the Ducks scored, and they needed them all to hang on to an important 5-4 victory over a struggling Colorado team the Ducks were expected to beat.

And while that third goal was undoubtedly the most thrilling for that screaming crowd last night, the first one was probably the most critical. With the Ducks down 2-0 following a lackluster first period, they were awarded a penalty shot early in the second when John-Michael Liles put his glove over the puck while it laid in the Colorado crease. Selanne, one of the five Ducks on the ice at the time of the infraction, was chosen by Randy Carlyle to take the penalty shot, an easy decision that Selanne quickly made pay off.

Looking as if his heart rate didn't change a beat the entire time, Selanne coolly skated in, faked a wrist shot and hoisted the puck over Brian Elliott's glove as if he were doing it in warmups with an empty net.

The second goal gave the Ducks their first lead, as Selanne was in the perfect spot to pick off Erik Johnson's clearing attempt, and he quickly put the puck back where it belongs. And the third, while we didn't realize it at the time, provided some big insurance, as Selanne gathered a rebound off a Ryan Getzlaf shot, and instead of putting it right back on net, somehow had the presence of mind to survey the scene, then move it to his backhand before flipping it off Elliott's shoulder and into the twine. When that third one went in, the Honda Center crowd went berserk (no other Duck scoring a hatty, besides maybe George Parros, could  elicit a cheer that loud). And my phone immediately buzzed with a text from a friend and fellow Ducks staffer. It simply said: I love hockey.

Here is a look at all three goals:

That last goal was one Anaheim would ultimately need when they gave up a Paul Stastny tally with 41.1 left that allowed Colorado to pull within one. But the Ducks were able to hold on the rest of the way and earn a big two points that kept them in seventh place and ahead of Chicago, which had won earlier in Detroit.

After being named the game's No. 1 Star, Selanne was talking on TV to Kent French in an interview that was simulcast on the Honda Center scoreboard. Selanne smiled when he said when he was younger he went harder for hat tricks. "But when you get older," he said, "you're not so greedy anymore. When you're old and you try and get a hat trick, it's almost embarrassing." (Yeah, we almost believe him.)

At the tail end of that interview, the crowd started chanting "One more year!" a line that was repeated by Corey Perry in the Ducks locker room while Selanne was talking to media (you can hear it around the 1:15 mark of this video). 

"My mind goes like an elevator," Selanne said about his thoughts of playing beyond this season. "One day I feel I could play 10 more years and the next day I feel like, 'Why are you still doing this?' That's why I'm not even thinking about that during the season. It's better to think about those things after the season when you're stable.

"But, you know, I'm really enjoying this game, and obviously that's why it's so much fun."

For all of us.

Updated March 28 at 11:49 a.m.

For all the superb things that Corey Perry does, talking has never exactly been his thing. He's seemingly more comfortable with an opponent's sweat-soaked glove in his face than a microphone there. So it's a little ironic that he delivered a defining quote on the Ducks postgame after he scored both goals in a huge 2-1 victory in Chicago. Perry was asked by play-by-play man John Ahlers to define Ducks hockey.

"We never relax," Perry said. "We just go out and we have confidence that we're going to get two points and get that tying goal whether it's late, early, doesn't matter.

"Ducks hockey means we just keep battling."

That's certainly been evident in the way Anaheim has won these past few games (they've taken five of the past six) and no player has exemplified it more than Perry. Those two goals against Chicago gave him a league-leading 44 on the season  -- and there are a ton more stats like that we'll get to in a bit -- but Perry has done so much more for this Ducks team than numbers can illustrate. That's why, if you're going to consider Perry for the Hart Trophy, you can look at his 44 goals and 85 points, but you've got to actually see this guy play. 

His work on the penalty kill has been tireless, but there's no stat for pucks taken away on a power play and sent the length of the ice. He wins battle after battle in the corners, but there's no stat for number of times coming out of a crowd with the puck. And seemingly every time the puck is sent in his direction -- whether it's in his skates, behind him or waist-high, it somehow ends up quickly on his stick blade. There's definitely no stat for that.

Exhibit A was that game-winner with 4:30 left in the game against the Blackhawks on Saturday night. Watch on this video how Getzlaf gets the puck in the corner, but his pass to Perry streaking through the slot is slightly behind him. A lot of wingers in that situation, even if they did get control of the puck, would try to keep it on their backhand and try a shot from the circle. But Perry, to the surprise of defenseman Duncan Keith and goalie Corey Crawford, spins to his forehand and slings it off the goalie and in.

“I just felt Keith move to the middle of the ice a little bit and the puck rolled to me," Perry said. "I just turned around and kind of shoveled it." Sounds simple enough from his perspective, but it was a beautiful goal and a huge one for the Ducks. They went on to hang on over those final 4 1/2 minutes (thanks in part to the still-hot Ray Emery) to secure a victory that moved them a point in front of the Blackhawks into seventh place. And it was the second of the period for Perry, whose tying goal just 1:07 in was much simpler, and it was further video evidence of the domination of the top (RPG) line. Bobby Ryan made a backhand pass from the left wing to Getzlaf, who in turn made a backhand feed to Perry, allowing him to dump it into the open right side

And while Perry, who was just awarded the NHL Second Star of the Week today, is about so much more than numbers, let's throw a few out there to show just how impressive he's been
•    While he leads the league in goals with 44, he's also tied for first in game-winning goals with 10, and -- I like this one -- 
leads the league with 22 third period/overtime goals (no other player has more than 18).
•    23 of Perry’s goals have tied the score or put the Ducks ahead (nine tied game, 14 put Ducks ahead and they won the game). Those 23 goals came in 20 different games, with the Ducks going 13-4-3 in those.
•    Though he is now leading the league in goals, it was only 18 days ago (Mar. 9) that Perry was sixth in the league (31), 10 behind then league-leader Steven Stamkos (41). On Feb. 5, Perry was tied for eighth among NHL leaders with 25 goals, 14 behind league-leader Stamkos (39).
(We have much more numbers-wise on Perry here.)
"This guy is amazing," Teemu Selanne said the other day when asked about Perry's MVP chances against the favorite, Daniel Sedin of Vancouver. "They’ve had a quite easy season. But our guy, what he has done, I guarantee he has been more valuable to his team than Daniel Sedin.Take nothing away from Daniel Sedin. But what Perry has done is incredible. It’s awesome. It’s just fun to watch. It’s unbelievable to watch. I love it.”

Perry had plenty of microphones and tape recorders hovering around him in the Ducks locker room after the skate this morning, as he looked every bit the 25-year-old kid living in Orange County in torn faded jeans and an I'm-sure-it-was-white-at-some-point t-shirt. His focus remained on tonight's battle with Colorado, who despite being the only non-playoff team the Ducks are facing in these final games, stands between them and a critical two points. The Ducks have taken the first three meetings this year (oddly enough, all within the last 51 days) against the Avs , who are 2-12-1 in their last 15 road games. They lost Saturday afternoon in LA, 4-1, in a game where the Kings lost Anze Kopitar to a broken ankle for the next six weeks.

If the Ducks win tonight and Detroit beats Chicago at home, the Ducks would remain in seventh, but three points ahead of the Hawks and within a point of the fifth-place Kings. And with that, we turn to Perry one more time:

"Confidence is high in this dressing room," he said. "and it's showing on the ice."

Updated March 25 at 11:15 a.m.

After two straight come-from-behind thrillers, and three straight OT wins, the Ducks finally found a comeback that even they couldn't muster.

An early 3-0 deficit in Nashville that later expanded into a 5-1 Preds cushion halfway into the third, proved too much to overcome. But oh, did the Ducks try. Teemu Selanne went untouched down the right wing and scored on the power play to make it 5-2. Then later he did it again, on the 5 on 3, cozying the puck into the crease and watching it get tipped into the net by defenseman Ryan Suter. That goal came almost immediately after a controversial shorthander by Legwand, as the puck went through just an instant before Joel Ward bowled over Dan Ellis. Ward got a penalty, but the goal was allowed to stand.

Corey Perry got a flukey goal (his 42nd of the year) that made it 5-4 with 26.5 left, when his centering pass was kicked in by Suter like a hacky sack (do those even exist anymore?). It's an "own goal" (Suter's second of the night) that's going a little viral right now, but as far as how it affected the Ducks, it was a little too little and a little too late.

The real concern in that one last night wasn't so much the just-short comeback, but the early deficit that led to it, since it involved a different sort of comeback -- that of Jonas Hiller. Playing his first game since February 13 in Edmonton in his recovery from vertigo, Hiller was just not sharp. He gave up three goals in his first nine shots and was pulled 11:37 into the first period for Dan Ellis.

"I didn't think he saw the puck," Carlyle said. "I understand his first game back, it's not easy to pull him. In my mind, you don't do that against him. You do it for the rest of the team. That's what I always say."

Carlyle was quick to point out that Hiller wasn't the only guy with a slow start last night. The Ducks as a unit, coming off a game the night before in Dallas, didn't show the urgency in that first period that they showed in scrambling to recover in the third. "We've played back-to-backs all year," Carlyle said. "We had to have a better effort, specifically in the early going. I felt that we had too many passengers tonight in that department."

The piece of good news that came out of last night's loss was that it didn't affect the Ducks' standing in the Western Conference (although they could have climbed to sixth with a win). Anaheim remains in eighth and will even stay there another day, since Vancouver is the only Western Conference team playing tonight. Of course, that makes tomorrow's game in Chicago the latest edition of Biggest Game of the Year.

Updated March 24 at 10:14 a.m.

The one thing I kept thinking while watching Teemu Selanne jump up and down like an eight-year-old who just opened an Xbox on Christmas was this:

Who would want to retire from that feeling?

The no-way-he's-40-year-old Selanne seized the moment yet again for the cardiac Ducks last night, punching in a rebound with 5.4 seconds left in Dallas to tie a game the Ducks looked to have no business tying.

If you're reading this blog, chances are you've already seen it, but I'll describe the goal only because it's so fun. With the Ducks trailing 3-2, the clock winding down and the Anaheim net empty, Saku Koivu picked up a loose puck that kicked off the referee, and he dashed to the net. His shot rebounded hard off Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen, right to a waiting and lonely Selanne, who (what else would he do with five seconds left?) punched it into the twine.

That was followed by a hop, skip and a jump behind the Dallas net that was magnificent, endearing and awe-inspiring all rolled into one. And it was quickly followed by a group hug led by Perry (who seemingly carried Selanne about five feet into the glass), then Getzlaf, Visnovsky and the rest of the six on the ice for that magical moment.

Here's the video if you want to watch it again (and why wouldn't you?).

And almost as good as the sights of the moment is the sound of John Ahlers and Brian Hayward's call. With Hazy saying things like "Wow!" and "Unbelievable!" in the background, Ahlers shouts, "The cardiac kids strike again!!"

It's a call the group I was in -- about seven or eight Ducks staffers -- didn't hear live, since we were in a crowded bar with the sound down. But when that goal went in, we all jumped up and shrieked, scaring the bejesus out of the booth of quiet diners sitting next to us.

And we did the exact same thing not long after that, when the Ducks won it 1:24 into overtime on Cam Fowler's goal on a nice Bobby Ryan feed on the rush. Fowler got the play going by banking the puck off the wall to himself and getting it ahead to Ryan, who returned the puck to Fowler for the lefthanded wrister.

Ahlers: "The kid has done it again!" and then, "The Ducks with absolute larceny in Dallas tonight."

Indeed, it had to be devastating to the Stars -- in a game that was just as important to them as it was to Anaheim -- to go from a lead with 5.4 seconds left to losing the game altogether.

This was one of those nights where, considering the circumstances, we would have gladly taken just the one point. But then again, that wouldn't be like the Ducks, who won it in overtime for the third straight game (first time in franchise history) and for the ninth time (ninnne times) this season. The Ducks proved yet again that no lead is safe when they're in the building, a pretty good feeling to have when and if things get tough for them down this stretch.

And last night, the moment Fowler dumped that puck into the net, held his arms outstretched waiting for the love, and then got mobbed by his teammates rushing off the bench, the emails, texts and tweets started pouring in:

Good freakin' lord!
This team is going to give me a heart attack
I LOVE this ... team
Dear Flash, NEVER retire

It would seem he's not even close. How's this?: Selanne is the first NHL player with four score-tying goals in the final 3:00 of the third period in one season. No one has ever done that before, and he's 40 (have we mentioned that?) His last three goals and four of his last eight have come in the last 2:07 of regulation and all have tied the game (here's video of all of them). The Ducks went on to win all four of those games. So it's not too far-reaching to say, as someone wrote in an email to me, That's eight points he's swiped! 

They're points that have come at a crucial time for the Ducks, who last night won their ninth game in the last 11. And while they didn't manage to move up from the eighth spot, they established some firmer footing there. By beating Nashville tonight, the Ducks move up to seventh, and as high as fifth if the Kings lose to San Jose.

It's almost hard to look ahead that far right now, with the sheer bliss of last night's miracle still sticking with us. And there's also the uniqueness of a 40-year-old and a 19-year-old being heroes on the same night. Said that 19-year-old: "It shows the resiliency of our team and how there's no quit no matter what the circumstances are. You can always rely on some of the veterans to step up when the game is on the line. Teemu did that for us. Bobby gave me a great pass in overtime. I didn't really have much work left to do. You put the game on those guys' sticks and 99 percent of the time, they're going to come up with a result for you."

Whether this is Selanne's last season or not doesn't matter right now, but there is even more reason to hope this season extends beyond these final nine regular season games.

Just so we can experience moments like that one last night as many more times as possible.

Updated March 23 at 12:58 p.m.

Amidst all of the discussion of the compacted playoff race in the Wild Wild West, there is actually something that isn't being talked about enough. As it stands today (and has been for much of the last week) all five Pacific Division teams are among the top eight in points in the Western Conference. 

It's a staggering note, especially when you consider that no other division in the National Hockey League has more than three. And it further emphasizes what a tough road the Ducks have to get into playoff position. Since you play your division foes six times a year, virtually every other current playoff team has a couple of division bottom-feeders they get to face half a dozen times a year. For the Ducks, and the rest of the Pacific, that "last-place" team is currently a very strong Dallas Stars team. A Stars team that led that division for months before a January-February swoon.

The Ducks are a respectable 10-8-0 against Pacific opponents this year, a record they will put on the line tonight and in the final five games of the regular season (SJ-DAL-SJ-LA-LA).

Check this out: Not only are the Ducks 8-2-0 in their last 10, but they have the fewest losses of any Western Conference team since December 28 (according to research done by a reader named Gary):

W-L       Pct.   Pts. Per Game Total Losses
Vancouver        26-8-4      .684     1.47             12
DUCKS            22-10-1    .667      1.36             11
San Jose            23-12-2    .621      1.29              14
Phoenix             23-13-4    .575      1.25              17
Detroit               20-11-5    .555      1.25              16
Calgary              21-9-8       .553      1.31               17
Chicago             19-11-5     .542      1.22               16
Nashville            19-13-4    .527      1.16               17
Los Angeles       19-14-5     .500      1.13               19
Dallas                 17-14-5     .472      1.08               19

But it's because of that fierce competition that the Ducks are still hanging by a thread to eighth place over those Stars, thanks to the ROW tiebreaker (the new NHL term for Regulation or Overtime Wins). That's what makes tonight's game in Dallas, as Randy Carlyle called it, "the biggest game of the year. I know you've heard it before, however many times, but it is."

In fact, each of the next three on the road -- Nashville tomorrow and Chicago on Saturday -- heck, the final 10 of the year will be the biggest of the year. It's the same for Dallas, whose coach, Marc Crawford, expressed that with this quote in Pierre Lebrun's story about this game on ESPN.com: "Just watching all the games lately, you just see the intensity. You know when you see it? When people score. There's no small goals at this point. Every goal is like, 'wow.' The celebrations after, you see it reflected in peoples' faces."

(Lebrun, in his latest Power Rankings column, has the Ducks ranked ninth right now ... in the NHL.)

The Ducks have won three of four against the Stars this season, the last coming March 4 at Honda Center when Lubomir Visnovsky won it in overtime with his hat trick goal. In case, like me, you feel like watching that highlight for the 85th time, here it is

He won't be in net tonight, but the Ducks have Jonas Hiller on this trip, as his recovery appears to be improving with each passing day.

"I'm not getting that tired anymore and it seems to be more natural to follow the puck," he said yesterday after going through a full practice before the team left for Dallas. "I've felt pretty good the last couple of practices and I'm definitely excited that it keeps going forward."

Said Carlyle, "We have, quite possibly, a decision to make in the next three games. I think he feels much better about himself. Obviously, he hasn’t had any setbacks. That was our main goal. They said one bad day out of 10 or 11. So we feel that’s a great sign. He’s moving closer to being part of our team again.”

- - -
While Corey Perry remains a mostly unheralded superstar (and possible Hart candidate) for the Ducks this season, he's becoming a little more heralded today.

Mark Whicker has a feature on Perry's Hart chances (and his proclivity to stay out of the box lately) in today's OC Register. Kevin Allen has a story in USA Today about how Perry has become a complete player (speaking of unheralded, his work on the PK this year has been incredible.) Allen has this quote from Perry in that story:

"The race is the tightest it's been in years. You lose one game, and you are out of the playoffs. … Even if you don't play, you can be out.

"Every morning I'm looking at the standings."

And one last thing: Jeff Miller has a nice story on the wonder of 40-year-old Teemu Selanne, and the wish of all of us that he sticks around past this season. That includes his teammates:

"He's beating guys 15 years younger than he is to the puck every night," teammate George Parros said. "He's still scoring. He's still Teemu Selanne. How do you cut a career off like that?"

Added Bobby Ryan: "He's a genetic monster. Somehow, he seems to get a little faster and a little lighter every year. It's been pretty incredible to watch."

And from Cam Fowler: "He's a specimen, pretty much. He just keeps ticking. He still has that Finnish Flash in him."

Updated March 21 at 9:34 a.m.

Nausea can come in many forms, and I think we all experienced a few of them last night:

- There were the butterflies in our stomachs going into what was a huge game for the Ducks against the Calgary Flames, one that had a major impact on Anaheim's playoff hopes.

- There was the excited stomach feeling when the Ducks raced out to a 3-0 lead in the first six minutes.

- There was the sickening feeling of losing that three-goal lead and eventually going down 4-3.

- There was the gut-wrenching, stomach-in-knots feeling of watching the minutes tick down in the third period, thinking there was a chance the Ducks might not tie it.

- Then our stomachs did a number of different things during these moments: Selanne redirects it from the slot to tie it. Ellis stops Iginla on a breakaway 1:25 into overtime that would have won it for Calgary. Bobby Ryan gets tripped on a breakaway to set up a penalty shot in overtime (an eerie similarity to a few weeks ago vs. Detroit). Ryan skates in on the penalty shot and tries the same wrister to the glove side, but Flames goalie Henrik Karlsson snatches it. Four seconds later, Ryan Getzlaf fights to win the draw, kicks it to Toni Lydman and Lydman fires a one-timer from the point that it deflects off the leg of a leaping Corey Perry AND THE DUCKS WIN IT IN OT AGAIN!!!

All in all, six or seven oh-my-God-I'm-going-to-throw-up moments in that game. Not a bad way to spend an evening.

(Small personal note: After that puck somehow found the back of the net and the Ducks poured off the bench for the second straight night, I stared out at the ice for several minutes. I turned to my laptop to type the description of that goal and my fingers were literally shaking. That doesn't happen too often.)

Leave it to the Anaheim Ducks to never do things the easy way, and you can imagine there were few people watching last night that thought that early 3-0 lead was going to stay that way. And sure enough, four unanswered Calgary goals later, it came to Selanne seizing the moment yet again and Perry being the hero one more time.

And not for nothing, it was the 13th straight time the Ducks beat Calgary at home, dating back to April 4, 2004 (an incredible stat when you consider the Flames are no pushovers.) It also moved the Ducks past those Flames and just barely into playoff position in the West (could have been better had the West not been the West yet again last night.) Anaheim pulled into a tie for Dallas for the eighth spot, but gets the edge in the tiebreaker by virtue of having fewer non-shootout wins.

Less than 24 hours before that dramatic win, Perry had pulled one in LA, blistering a slap shot from the right wing to beat the Kings in overtime. That one was was huge; last night's was gargantuan. And while Perry scored his first career overtime goal in that Kings game, last night he became the first player in Ducks history to score OT goals in consecutive games. He has 39 goals on the season (second in the NHL) and 79 points (fifth). He and Henrik Sedin are the only players since 2000-01 to increase their point totals each of their first six seasons in the league.

Sedin was last year's Hart Trophy (most valuable player) winner. Perry has got to get some consideration to challenge for this year's. He's come through time and time again for the Ducks this season, and did it twice over a crucial weekend. Not only that, but the usually low-talking Perry had the quote of the night in regards to what that game meant to the Ducks:

"It just says that we have fight left in us at the end of the game and we just don’t roll over," Perry said. "There is always a chance for us. We’re going out there and fighting for every inch on the ice. It’s not over until the buzzer hits zero. We don’t quit. If we’re down one or two, we just keep pushing."

And one last thing about that game last night, as the vision of Perry leaping in front of Karlsson is still burned in our minds. This was the cover of Ducks Digest we chose for last night's game. How's this for eerie?

Kind of gives me butterflies. 

Updated March 18 at 12:17 p.m.

Well, it was good while it lasted.

The Ducks' triumphant return to the top eight in the Western Conference lasted, oh, a little less than 24 hours, as we had another one of those nights where the out-of-town scoreboard was not Anaheim-friendly. 

There is a big grease board in the Ducks' players lounge and Corey Perry said he was shocked when he saw it this morning before practice. "I walked in and couldn’t believe it," he said. "I looked at the board and it said we’re back out of a playoff spot. I didn’t know if it was updated or not."

Calgary took down Colorado 5-2, to leapfrog the Ducks into the eighth spot. Nashville edged Boston in overtime to move to the ninth spot and send the Ducks slipping to 10th. Meanwhile, Phoenix pulled further ahead of the Ducks with a 3-1 victory over Edmonton, as did Dallas with a surprisingly decisive 5-0 domination of the Blackhawks.

Just as surprising was the one game that went in the Ducks' favor, the Kings' 4-0 defeat to an out-of-the-hunt Blues team that fell in Anaheim the night before. The Kings, coming off a 4-0 road trip, only managed 17 shots in the game and were outshot 30-6 after two periods. As they headed to the locker room for the second intermission, fans reportedly booed, which incensed Kings coach Terry Murray. "That is the most embarrassing thing I have ever been through," he said. "That's the worst I have ever been through in all the years I've been coaching. I've been behind the bench almost 3,000 hockey games in the NHL and booed off the ice by your own fans, at the end of the second period, after… this road trip, going 4-0 in hard places, it's very disappointing."

While we celebrated the fact the Ducks and Kings were in playoff position this late in the season for the first time in 11 years, that's no longer the case. But that doesn't make Saturday's bout at Staples Center any less intriguing -- or vitally important to the Ducks. (I'll be in LA doing a live game log if anyone is interested.)

Even though the Ducks and Kings have 12 and 11 games left, respectively, this is the first of three games between the rivals over the last three weeks of the regular season. The final two are back-to-back home-and-homes on the final two days, which promise to be barn-burners that should play a major role in both teams' postseason position. But for now, we're focused on this one tomorrow, which is huge. (We'll have the Ducks' takes on the game later today.)

"We’re pretty excited about the teams that we have to play down the road here," Ryan Getzlaf said. today. "We know what the task is ahead of us. We’re all fighting for the same reason. They are going to be some good hockey games."

Said Perry, "Especially when you are battling for a playoff spot with that team, it makes the games that much more intense and meaningful. It’s a fun time of the year to be playing hockey."

If by "fun" you mean nerve-wracking beyond belief ... then yes, this is fun.

- - -
Every morning the Duck staff gets an email containing the latest press clips involving the Ducks and Honda Center. And today's edition reads like a tribute to Bob Murray's moves:

- There is the OC Register feature by Mark Whicker on the greatness of Lubomir Visnovsky, a guy Murray got last year before the deadline in a trade with Edmonton for Ryan Whitney.

- There is another OCR feature by Eric Stephens on the impact on the blue line by Francois Beauchemin and Luca Sbisa. Murray got Sbisa at the 2010 draft in a trade with Philadelphia and Beauchemin in a deal with Toronto last month.

- There is a piece by Stephens on how the Ducks have been able to stabilize their goaltending in the wake of the Jonas Hiller situation by signing Ray Emery and trading for Dan Ellis.

- There is the announcement that Wisconsin defenseman Justin Schulz (a 2008 Ducks draftee) was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker award. The honor further cements his potential as a Ducks prospect, which made it easer for the Ducks to include Schultz's teammate and former Ducks first-rounder Jake Gardiner in the Beauchemin deal. (Gardiner, coincidentally, is making his pro debut tonight for the Toronto Marlies against our own Syracuse Crunch.)

- And there is this: Murray was just named to the management team of Team Canada for the 2011 IIHF World Championship.   

Updated March 17 at 12:49 p.m.

It's amazing how things can change so quickly in this game sometimes. Flash back to June of 2007, when Andy McDonald led the Ducks in playoff goals on their way to the Stanley Cup title over an Ottawa Senators team that had Ray Emery in net.

Less than four years later, it's those two guys in that same arena again, but this time McDonald is playing for the St. Louis Blues and Emery is in net the Ducks.

And who would have thought as recently as six weeks ago we'd be reading this: The Ducks, led by Ray Emery's 30 saves...

But those 30 saves led the Ducks to a 2-1 victory over the Blues in a game for Anaheim that garnered any one of a number of it-wasn't-pretty-but-we'll-take-it cliches. 

Bottom line, a win's a win (there's another one of those) and this one against a Blues team that is out of the playoff hunt, and had a number of AHL call-ups suited up, was big. Not only did it keep the Ducks from dropping that dreaded second straight game, but it put them in the top eight in the Western Conference for the first time since February 19. Anaheim's 81 points ties the club with Calgary for the eighth spot, but the Ducks win the tiebreaker by virtue of having played two fewer games.

On a night when the Ducks didn't get much going offensively -- no points from the RPG line and just four shots on six minutes of power plays -- they leaned heavily on Emery. And he made it pay off in his first start (and first win) since February 1, 2010, putting an exclamation point on his comeback from major hip surgery.

“It has been a while at this level but I’ve been playing for a number of years,” said Emery. “I kind of know how to prepare. I definitely had butterflies going but I was excited to get in there.”

The only puck to get past Emery came from an unlikely source on a power play in the second period. Nathan Oystrick, who played three games for the Ducks last season, was an emergency call-up from Peoria on Tuesday. Not only that, but he's currently serving a six-game suspension in the AHL for leaving the bench to instigate a fight (AHL suspensions don't apply to the NHL).

The Ducks answered that goal with a flukey one from Jason Blake, the first of his two on the night. Blake's centering pass on the rush hit the skate of a sliding Roman Polak and got under Jaroslav Halak. Then Blake tipped in a Lubomir Visnosky slapper early in the third, as Visnovsky once again made things happen with his rocket of a shot. That turned out to be all the offense Anaheim would need, thanks in part to Emery and to a Ducks defense that put the clamps on in the final minute with the Blues net empty.

“The guys played well in front of me,” Emery said. “We do things a little differently from what I’m used to, and I hit a few guys in the shin pads with pucks (while clearing) but no harm, no foul.

“You tend to calm down a bit as the game goes on. You have to remind yourself of things a little less.”

So, the Ducks finally join the playoff party after weeks of scrambling, but whether they'll remain there in the next couple of nights remains to be seen. We all become Avs and Bruins fans for the night because if the Flames get even a point against Colorado, they pass the Ducks for that eighth spot. Same goes for the Predators if they beat Boston at home tonight.

“Well, we’re in,” Blake said last night. “The tough part about it now is staying in. Every game for us is a playoff game. That’s the way it is for six, seven, eight, nine in the standings. It’s so close.”

That next "playoff game" comes Saturday night in LA, which leads into this interesting little note: This is the first time in nearly 11 years that both the Ducks and Kings have been in playoff position this late in the season (defined by games remaining). The latest the two clubs have ever been in the top eight at the same time was on March 21, 2000, when the Ducks had eight games left (31-29-14, eighth place) and the Kings had nine contests remaining (34-26-13, fifth place) in the 1999-2000 season.

"We're in the playoffs right now," Randy Carlyle said "Our message now is that we have to earn the right to stay in."

- - -
Got this email this morning:

Dear Adam Brady,

Since you liked my '
Anaheim Ducks Stanley Cup Champions 2007' video so much (according to every blog entry on June 6th). I figured I'd share my newest video I made with you. Being psyched by the Ducks playoff push I figured this would be a nice video to get in the playoff mood. I hope you enjoy it as much as my other video.

With kind regards,

The greatest Ducks fan in the Netherlands,

Kevin Brunings

- - -

Oh, and a happy 24th birthday to Bobby Ryan, who appropriately celebrates his birthday on St. Patrick's Day since he has the most Irish-sounding name in the game (even though it's not his original name).

I wasn't there to witness it, but apparently Ryan's teammates celebrated by gang-tackling Ryan to the ice and removing all of his gear until he was left with nothing but his Under Armour. Rumor has it this was his mustachioed road roommate's idea.

Updated March 16 at 11:46 a.m.

As much grumbling as we've done over the past several weeks about how tough it's been to climb the Western Conference ladder, things went pretty well for the Anaheim Ducks last night.

Of the three games involving six teams ahead of the Ducks in the conference standings, all of them ended in regulation. And in each of them, the team the Ducks needed to lose -- as in, the three closest to them in the standings -- did just that. To recap: Nashville went down to the Kings 4-2 (yes, another night we were forced to root for LA), Dallas lost 6-3 to the Sharks and Calgary was edged 4-3 by Phoenix at home.

Because the pieces fell in just the right way, that leaves the Ducks with the same scenario they faced Sunday night vs. Phoenix: With a win tonight, they pull into the top eight in the West. That's eighth place to be exact, where they would be tied points-wise with Calgary, but will have two fewer games played than the Flames.

Standing in Anaheim's way are the St. Louis Blues, a team out of the playoff race that has a wild history with the Ducks this season. The last time the two teams faced off was February 19 in St. Louis, when the Blues had their way with the Ducks in a 9-3 win. (Trade deadline acquisition Brad Winchester played for the Blues in that game.) But the last time St. Louis was here, the Ducks knocked them out 7-4 on the strength of a Bobby Ryan hat trick. (Ryan is one of the Blackberry All Access Players to Watch tonight.) That game, like the other matchups with the Blues this season, had plenty of black and blue, as this happened:

and this happened:

Among the four total fights on that night.

Whether this one is another physical one or not, it's a game the Ducks absolutely have to have, especially coming off that loss Sunday night to the Yotes. Luca Sbisa, who is quickly enterting Todd Marchant territory as one of the team's best quotes, put it this way yesterday: “I think the most important thing is if you lose a game, the rule has to be never lose two in a row,” he said. “If you lose two in a row right now, you’re pretty much done. Obviously a lot of pressure comes with that. But we just don’t try to think too far ahead.” (By the way, Sbisa is the postgame radio guest in the JD Club if you're in the building tonight or listening on AM 830.)
The Ducks certainly aren't done if they lose tonight, but to keep making this playoff push, they want to take down a Blues team that is carrying a few more AHL guys with an eye toward the team's future.
Considering the fact that Ray Emery played the third period Sunday night in relief of Dan Ellis (who gave up four goals), it remains to be seen who will be in net for the Ducks. But this is what Randy Carlyle said yesterday of Emery's debut after more than a year away from the NHL:

“In the game, I thought it was a scramble for him the first couple of pucks. But then he made some saves by just being in strong position ... I think there’s some pucks that went through him that got a little hairy for him. But that’s to be expected in missing a year and a half of hockey. Some of those things are going to take some time to bounce your way. And that’s why we’ve been trying to be a little bit more cautious from a standpoint of throwing him to the wolves.”

Jonas Hiller offered what qualifies as good news these days on the subject of his recovery, telling media after working out during the morning skate, "I'm seeing the puck better and feeling better than I have. It's a relief that it's going in the right direction."

Here are the rest of Hiller's comments on video.

Updated March 14 at 12:41 p.m.

Long after most of the fans had shuffled out of Honda Center and the cleaning crews had already started their duties for the night, a song played over the arena PA. It was a somber rock song called "Outside" by the band Staind, its chorus including these lyrics:

I'm on the outside
I'm looking in

Granted, the rest of the song's lyrics had little to do with what went on in that building earlier in the night, but those two lines were sadly fitting. After a few weeks of hovering outside the top eight in the Western Conference, the Ducks finally had a chance to break into the playoff position party with a win last night. But Ilya Bryzgalov and a good Phoenix Coyotes team slammed the door on those hopes -- at least for a few more nights.

Bryzgalov had another solid game against his former team with 36 saves, and those were on the shots that a stingy Coyotes defense actually let all the way to the net. They took a page out of the Anaheim book by blocking a ton of shot attempts, notably in a third period in which the Ducks were trying to cut into Phoenix's two-goal lead. 

It was a lead built on this: "We made some mistakes," Todd Marchant said. "and they capitalized on them.” That's something the Ducks know full well that good teams do -- that's what makes them good teams. Andreas Lilja fanned on an attempt to send the puck up the wall, then lost an edge trying to retrieve it, and seconds later Taylor Pyatt whipped it into the net. Toni Lydman loses his stick later in the period, making it tough for him to defend Lauri Korpikoski, who took advantage by sending the puck under Dan Ellis. Marchant can't make contact with the puck trying to send it out of his zone and Korpikoski puts it in the back of the net an instant later. 

Corey Perry, continuing to be Corey Perry, scored twice to lift his career high in goals to 36 (third in the NHL), but each time he found the net, Phoenix came back to two unanswered. And on a night when Bryzgalov was sharp, coming back from that wasn't in the cards -- even when the Ducks created a late two-man advantage by pulling Ray Emery during a power play.

Ah yes, Ray Emery, who despite being part of the loss, had a mini victory of his own by simply getting in the game. Emery's appearance at the top of the third period was his first in a Ducks uniform and his first on NHL ice since February 1, 2010 with Philadelphia, as he completed a comeback from major hip surgery.

“I’ve been waiting to get in the net,” said Emery, who saved all nine shots he saw, but was on the bench when Shane Doan put the game away with an empty-netter. “I didn’t want it to be under that circumstance. Kind of get your feet wet and I tried to give the boys a chance to stick around in the game, too.”

The Ducks had put themselves in position going into last night with a convincing 6-2 win in Colorado. (That's something else good teams do -- go on the road and dominate a team they're supposed to beat.) But with last night's setback, they remain two points out of eighth, a total that could (and by the way things have gone in the West this year, should) increase by the time Anaheim faces St. Louis here on Wednesday night. And it goes without saying that's another huge one for the Ducks.

"These points are too important," Marchant said. "We certainly know what is at stake. Having faced it last year, not playing in April and May, we don’t want to get there again. It has to start here on Wednesday."

- - -

We've seen him do his thing so well and so often over the past several years, that we have a tendency to almost take for granted what Teemu Selanne is doing at the age of 40. So it's good to get a reminder from the outside once in awhile, like this piece entitled Why Teemu Selanne absolutely rules. A couple of snippets:

- Teemu Selanne is almost 41 years old. He's got two bad knees and has been playing hockey in the NHL for parts of 18 seasons. He's also one of just 15 guys in the entire league to have scored a point a game or better this season. No one else on that list is older than 35.

- The worst thing you can say about him these days is that he failed to register points between Dec. 26-28 and then again on Jan. 18-20. Those are the only two times this season he was held pointless in back-to-back games, which is just mindboggling.

- In fact, if Selanne finishes the year at better than a point a game, he will be the first person older than 40 to do so since 1976, and just the third ever. Johnny Bucyk was the last guy to do it, and some guy named Gordie Howe was the only other one.

- Teemu Selanne rules. I hope he plays forever.


Updated March 10 10:51 a.m.

In the space of a few hours last night, we got yet another taste of the brutality of the Western Conference -- and how it compares to the East.

Last night at Honda Center the Ducks rolled to a convincing 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers, the seventh-place team in the Eastern Conference. And those seventh-place Rangers beat the first-place Philadelphia Flyers 7-0 just last Sunday.

Those seventh-place Rangers remained in seventh place after last night's loss with 74 standings points. The Ducks, meanwhile, picked up two big points in victory to move to 77 on the season and springboard from 11th to ... 10th.

Remember the days when we used to laugh that in the West you could move up or down four or five spots with every win or loss? Those days are over. That's because we keep having nights around the league where we're afraid to look at the out-of-town scoreboard -- and for good reason. Last night was yet another one.

To take over the eighth spot, we needed the Kings to lose in Detroit. They didn't.

To stay closer to the Flames and Stars, we needed them to finish their game in regulation. They didn't.

Honestly, it's getting to the point where the only scoreboard watching we want to do is on one that has DUCKS on it.

Dan Ellis said it best last night after his 30-save performance, one save of which had a huge exclamation point on it (more on that later). "You hope along the way that other teams might give you some help," he said, "but you really can’t rely on that. Once you start relying on other teams' failures that is when you let your guard down."

“It’s amazing, that every team in every game this time of year seems to find its way into overtime,” Bobby Ryan said. “But it’s a very quick turnover. You come in, you look at the score, you acknowledge it and that’s it. We’re trying to worry about our own end.”

Their own end looked very sharp last night in an impressive victory that allowed them to keep pace (we have to take solace in that expression) in the playoff race.

The Ducks reacted to a relative early New York goal from Brandon Dubinsky by rattling off three unanswered before the end of the period, all three of which came on deflections. Corey Perry threw the puck on net from behind the goal line and it kicked in off Dan Girardi's skate. Lubomir Visnovsky's slapper from the point went in off Marc Staal's shoulder (though we're still not sure if that knuckleball didn't change direction in mid-air). And Visnovsky's second of the period clicked off Artem Anisimov's stick, bounced off the ice and darted past Henrik Lundqvist's shoulder.

And now let's take a moment to praise the Great Lubo, who has gotten to the point the last few games where every time he pulls his stick back, you think the puck is going in. Visnovsky had a heck of a chance to get his second hat trick in the last three games, but instead settled for the two goals, giving him five in that span. No Ducks defenseman has ever done that. Right now he's tied for the league lead among defensemen with 54 points, along with Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom and Phoenix's Keith Yandle, and he has fewer games played than both of them. Not to mention, he's a +9, while Lidstrom is -2 (couldn't believe that when I read it) and Yandle is even for the year. Last night Visnovsky was a +5, tying a team record.

Visnovsky is not only talented but endearing, as he was once again last night when Kent French interviewed him ater he got another No. 1 star. "I feel good," he said in his slightly broken English, "the whole team feels good, fans feel good. Everybody's happy."

(How good is this photo, by the way?)

Of his first goal, he said, "I was a little bit lucky. I didn't shoot it very well. The puck was like a butterfly and went in."

("Like a butterfly"! How, in this many years of writing about hockey, have I not compared a fluttering puck to a butterfly? Awesome.)

Of Ellis' performance, he said, "If the goalie saves the team, it's much easier for the whole team."

Indeed, Ellis did have yet another solid night, something that has been invaluable in Jonas Hiller's absence. And he made unquestionably his biggest save in a Ducks uniform early in the third period, when he flew across the crease to knock away a Dubinsky rebound try with a wide open net in front of him. That save ultimately turned into a two-goal swing, as seconds later the Ducks were on the rush and Corey Perry fed Ryan for the water bottle popper. (Watch the whole sequence here.)

“The other guy was streaking down also and so I just tried to throw anything back there at that point,” Ellis said. “When you have the whole net open, you try to get anything you can. Fortunately it hit me.”

Other positives from last night: Saku Koivu looking spritely in his first game back after missing the last six with a strained groin and winning six of nine faceoffs. Perry's two goals giving him a career-high 33 this season. Ryan tying a career high with four points. The top line scoring 10 points combined. Luca Sbisa banging bodies and playing yet another strong game in his own end while also making things happen with a couple of rockets from the point.

"Twenty guys contributed tonight," Ryan said. "All four lines got a chance to play down the stretch. The effort was all around. It was a great win. We felt pretty confident."

Or as Lubo said, "Everybody's happy."

Updated March 9 at 2:27 p.m.

Heaven knows we don't need any more reminders about the madness of the Wacky West, but we get another one tonight as the Ducks host a guest that doesn't drop by Honda Center too often.

The New York Rangers (that's right, the New...York...RANGERS) are here for the first time since 2008 -- so long ago, the world didn't even know what an iPad was (if you can imagine that). They haven't lost here since 2000, but then again, they haven't been here all that much. NYR comes in here tonight in playoff position in the Eastern Conference, which only underlines the discrepancy between the East and West.

New York has 74 points through 68 games, good enough for seventh in the East, a good seven points behind the Montreal Canadiens (who have actually played one fewer game). The Ducks (you know where this is going), have 75 points in 66 games, which has them in 11th place in the West. And yet they remain two short of the eighth spot, four shy of the seventh.

Last night, the second straight evening in which the Ducks didn't play, things continued to go bad when it comes to games involving the teams Anaheim is racing with:

- Minnesota downed Colorado 5-2 to move two points ahead of the Ducks.
- San Jose beat Nashville, but ... it was in overtime so the Preds get a point and moves ahead of the Ducks.
- Vancouver beat Phoenix, but ... it was in overtime so the Coyotes move four ahead of the Ducks.

So, another rough night if you're watching at home, but it certainly could have been worse. A win tonight for the Ducks could move the Ducks past the Kings if LA loses in regulation at Detroit because of the non-shootout-wins tiebreaker (the Kings have seven, the Ducks four). However, Anaheim can't move into eighth tonight because they lose the same tiebreaker with Minnesota, which is idle tonight.

Kevin Allen of USA Today has a small piece on the possible effect of the new tiebreaker rule, which includes this tidbit I was not aware of: It is possible that a team might pull its goalie for an extra attacker during a tie game to avoid a shootout, although there is risk involved in doing that in overtime because according to Rule 84.2, if a team is scored upon, it forfeits its guaranteed point.

It's the last notch on the seven-game homestand for the Ducks, who might have something tonight they haven't had during this stretch. Saku Koivu, who hasn't played since February 19 with a sore groin, took part in the skate this morning and Randy Carlyle declared him "probable." Meanwhile, Koivu was more optimistic, saying that if he feels tonight like he did this morning, "I'm in the lineup tonight. I felt comfortable in practice yesterday and the day before...It's not 110%, but this time of year it's rare for anybody to be feeling that well."

Jonas Hiller is still out, as is Jason Blake with that hand laceration. As far as who's in net -- after Ray Emery was recalled on Monday -- Randy Carlyle would only say that Emery was an option and that "he is very close" to being ready after two good outings in Syracuse.

Remember, tonight's game is at 7:35 instead of 7:05, to accomodate the Prime Ticket schedule. 

- - -

Yesterday was team photo day before practice at Honda Center, which as is tradition for the last six seasons, also included the team/staff photo. Usually we break it up into about a dozen different photos by department (with some smaller departments combining), but this year we went with the entire staffs of Ducks, Honda Center and THE RINKS all in one shot with the players. Just my luck, I happened to squeeze in next to the tallest guy in the world (who is on the Ducks medical staff), and a 5-foot-10 girl on our staff who was wearing 3-inch heels. Can you say "tiptoes"?

A couple more observations: Love the fact that the tiniest girl on our staff is made to look even smaller next to Jonas Hiller and his huge leg pads. Meanwhile, our IT guy in the orange shirt ended up in the middle of all the players, and when our photographer tried to move him, George Parros insisted he stay put.

Click the image for a much larger version.

Updated March 7 at 10:58 a.m.

After the unbridled emotion of the past two games at Honda Center, it was hard to know how to feel at the end of that one last night.

The Ducks didn't play their best, but they didn't play poorly, and were simply beaten by the NHL's best team, the Vancouver Canucks. You don't lose too many games when you hold the opposition to just 16 shots -- as the Ducks did to the Canucks last night. But you do when you can't generate enough at the other end of the rink and the opposing goaltender stonewalls anything you do get to the net, as Vancouver backup Cory Schneider did last night. Randy Carlyle put it simply: "We just weren't good enough."

Let's not forget this as well: Having 2/3 of your second line -- which has played so well all season -- doesn't help when it comes to scoring production. Saku Koivu missed his sixth straight game with a sore groin, while Jason Blake missed his second with a hand laceration that required stitches. He told the OC Register he is hoping for a return Friday night at Colorado.

As much as losses aren't a lot of fun, the fallout from that one last night hopefully doesn't overshadow too much the raw exhileration of the previous two wins at Honda Center (see Saturday's blog for some of that). Yeah last night was pretty sobering, but it was those two emotional victories that ensured that the Vancouver defeat wasn't a backbreaker when it comes to this feverish playoff race.

The Canucks are the type of team that won't let you get away with too many mistakes, and two of them ended up costing the Ducks in the early parts of each of the first two periods. Not long after the opening draw, they gave the puck away in the offensive end to set up a 2-on-1 in which Jannik Hansen fed Manny Malhotra for the one-timer.

The Ducks ensured that one goal was the extent of the damage in the first, but then just 17 seconds into the second, Cam Fowler tried to rim the puck around the back wall and didn't make good contact with the puck. Hansen picked up the loose change, and fed Malhotra again for the goal.

Again, the Ducks fought hard to keep Vancouver out of their net for the rest of the period, but they didn't do enough offensively to counter those early goals (0 for 4 on the power play in the first 40 minutes.) Still, with the way things had been going lately at Honda Center, you had to feel like that 2-0 lead going into the third period would soon disappear.

That's why Daniel Sedin's slap shot goal six minutes into the period -- which deflected off Andreas Lilja's stick and got under Dan Ellis -- was so deflating. A two-goal comeback against a team like the Canucks, that's doable. But three with 14 minutes left? That's a much tougher climb.

"We had opportunities to get back into this hockey game," said Ryan Getzlaf, who had an eye-popping 11 shots on the night. "We hit a few posts and a crossbar. That is the way things go some nights. We can’t get too high or too low. We have to get going here for the next one."

Yes, on to the next one, which comes Wednesday vs. the Rangers (game time changed to 7:35 to accomodate TV), the last Eastern Conference team Anaheim will face this year. (The Ducks have the day off from practice today.)

Despite the loss, the Ducks remain a point back of the eighth spot and two out of seventh, but that will change with Dallas facing the Kings tonight. Tomorrow night, Colorado plays Minnesota (tied with the Ducks at 75 points), a game in which we'll all become huge Avs fans for the night.

Updated March 5 at 3:59 p.m.

Not enough time to write a full blog today, but I did want to jot down something after that thrill-ride last night. No matter how many fantastic things the Ducks have done in that building over the years, I can't remember the last time I felt the way I felt last night when Lubo scored that goal (that is, of course, since June 6, 2007).

Obviously, Bobby Ryan's penalty shot OT winner two nights prior was exhilarating, but there was just something different about this one. Maybe it was because of the third-period comeback. Maybe it was because that last goal seemingly came out of nowhere. Maybe it was because it was a hat trick for one of the most likeable guys on this team. Whatever it was, I had a feeling in my gut and a smile I couldn't wipe away

And clearly I'm not the only one. We're holding a contest on Facebook asking people to submit their reactions when that goal was scored last night, and I urge you to take a look at the responses (including the revelation that someone threw a shoe instead of a hat on the ice). Feel free to offer your own. It's like living that moment all over again. Here they are.

Updated March 4 at 1:14 p.m.

What's the only thing you worry about when you beat your bitter rivals with a penalty shot goal in overtime?

The game after it.

It would be tough to duplicate the intensity and thrill of the way the Ducks beat Detroit here two nights ago. But they're hoping the momentum from that huge win -- and the confidence that they can beat any team in this league -- carries over tonight when they face Dallas at Honda Center.

The Ducks fell a couple notches to 11th place in the Western Conference without doing anything last night, thanks to wins by Minnesota and Nashville. But with a victory tonight, they could move back in the top eight.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned much in this space is that the tiebreaker for playoff spots is different this year for the first time. The first tiebreaker is number of games played, meaning if, for example, two teams have the same number of points, the team with the fewer number of games played wins the tiebreaker for that spot. The second criteria (new this year) is not wins but wins excluding games won in a shootout. That's a number that doesn't show up in most NHL standings (though it does in this one), so it's a little hard to determine where two teams with the same number of points and same number of games played rank against each other.

Of course, at the end of the season, the number of games played won't matter because each team will have 82. What will matter is the number of games won, excluding those won in shootouts. And you can guarantee with how tight the Western Conference is this year, playoff seedings, and whether one team is in and one team is out, will be determined based on that. The Ducks, by the way, have had four of their 34 wins decided in a shootout. Tonight's opponent Dallas, for example, has had five.

The Stars come into Anaheim tonight having won three straight after a nightmarish run in February that saw them go through a 1-8-1 stretch. That sent them tumbling out of the Pacific Division lead they held onto for much of the season. Now San Jose is in control of that top spot by six points over the Kings. The Stars moved briefly into playoff position with a win Tuesday night in Phoenix, but were knocked out of it by the work of other teams the last few nights. Right now they're in ninth, just a point in front of the Ducks with one fewer game played.

The Ducks have won twice in the first three meetings between the teams this year, and after tonight they will face off two more times. That includes a sure-to-be-fierce April in which the Ducks finish the regular season with San Jose, Dallas, San Jose and then back-to-back against the Kings. (I get tense just thinking about it.)

That's not the only tough part of the remaining schedule, as 14 of the final 18 games come against teams currently in playoff position (two of those are Dallas, who is just one point out). Just to compare: The Kings play 11 of their final 19 against playoff teams, Dallas faces 10 of 19 and Calgary plays just 7 of 16. Check out all the details here.

The Ducks have four back-to-backs left this season, while the Kings have one, the Stars have three and the Flames two.

Tonight Anaheim will have to go at it again without the services of Saku Koivu, who ruled himself out with a sore groin and told media he needs more practice time on the ice before he's ready to return. 

Dallas center Brad Richards was mentioned often in the hours leading up to the trade deadline, but was ultimately not dealt by the Stars. However, he hasn't played since February 13 with concussion-like symptoms and won't be in the lineup tonight.

Updated March 3 at 10:36 a.m.

It's a rule that's been around almost as long as the typewriter: No Cheering in the Press Box. But I have to admit I freely broke that one at 9:34 p.m. last night.

As soon as Bobby Ryan's lightning-quick wrister on the penalty shot dove inside the right-hand post, I let out a very loud "YES!!!" and threw an elbow at the guy sitting next to me.

It didn't matter, however, as I certainly wasn't the only one, and any shouts from the box were drowned out by what had to be the loudest roar we've heard in Honda Center all season. And for good reason. It was a penalty shot winner in overtime, something you don't see every day (though somehow it's happened four times in Ducks franchise history). And it came against the hated Red Wings, which made it all the more exhilarating.

Here's how it went down, for those of you who didn't see it (though if you're reading this, you probably did). Either way, it's kinda fun to write about:

With a little more than two minutes left in overtime, Ryan Getzlaf picked up the puck deep in his own end and made a gorgeous stretch pass to Ryan at the Detroit blue line. Ryan skated in on goalie Jimmy Howard on the breakaway but was tripped from behind by a diving Ruslan Salei. (And speaking of cheering in the penalty box, every last person on our side of it screamed "penalty shot!" as soon as Ryan went down. Howard would later dispute the call, but replays showed Salei did get the stick blade into Ryan's skate.)

That set up the penalty shot, and with the crowd already starting to get loud -- many of them with anticipatory chants of "Bobby! Bobby!" -- this happened:

Just as good as the goal itself was the reaction of those involved. We already talked about that roaring crowd, a few of whom got a close-up view of Ryan's elation when he jumped into the glass just before getting absolutely mobbed by teammates pouring off the bench. Meanwhile, Howard slammed his stick on the post and broke it in half, glaring at the referee as he skated off the ice. And on the telecast, Ducks play-by-play man John Ahlers' reaction was priceless, as he screamed "SCOOOOOOORRRRRRRRRRES!!!" at the top of his lungs. Then a few seconds later, he let out his signature phrase, one that these days he saves for special occasions: "LET'S TALK ABOUT IT!!!"

At one point In his interview with Kent French after getting the game's first star, Ryan looked up into the crowd -- many of whom had stayed cheer him one last time. "A lot of Red Wings fans," he said, "going home unhappy.”

A friend of mine sent me an IM this morning that said, I'm still kinda buzzing from last night. And I have to say, I feel the same way. I've watched the replay of that goal at least another half dozen times this morning and I'm sure I'll watch it a few more.

The euphoria of that moment [slight buzzkill alert] made it easy to forget the Ducks survived the night despite giving Detroit nine power plays, giving up a goal on one of them. The potentially most damaging of those was the too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty that came with 12.6 seconds left in regulation and carried into overtime. But the Ducks PK came alive yet again, thanks in part to the work of Dan Ellis, making his third start in a Ducks uniform.
“Our penalty kill won the game for us, and Danny played a great game in the backstop,” Ryan said. “Guys blocked shots, sacrificed their bodies and gutted it out for us.”
That's exactly what you have to do against teams like Detroit, which had won an impressive six straight games on the road coming into this one last night. That included a 7-4 victory over the Kings two nights prior. The only shame is, last night was the last of four games between the Ducks and Red Wings this season (Detroit had won the first three).
“One of the best teams in the league, not by mistake," Todd Marchant said of the Wings. "I think we proved to ourselves tonight that we’re capable of playing with the best teams when we play our game. Tonight we went out and we proved it.”

That they did, and they made up some important ground in the Western Conference in doing it. The win boosted the Ducks from 11th to 9th, just a point out of the eight spot and -- not to belabor this yet again -- just three points from the fourth spot.

And it's with that in mind that Ryan closed with this quote to reporters in the locker room. "We'll enjoy this tonight," he said, "and come back to work tomorrow."

Fair enough, Bob. But if it's okay with you, some of us are enjoying it for a little while longer.

Updated March 2 at 5:24 p.m.

It's always a big one when the Red Wings are in town, but this one looms even larger for the Ducks as the Western Conference continues to run wild.

It's the type of playoff race where you lose ground even when you have the night off, as Anaheim woke up this morning still in 11th place, but now three points back of the eighth spot. Last night was yet another example of why the Ducks -- and anyone else hovering above or below that eighth spot -- aren't going to get any help in playing hockey games beyond April 10:

- Calgary (5th in the West) whitewashed St. Louis (13th), 6-0.

- Dallas (three points ahead of the Ducks now) beat Phoenix (five points ahead), 3-2. On the bright side, Jamie Benn scored a power play goal with four seconds left in regulation to win it, so at least it wasn't a three-point game. That wasn't the case in these three Western Conference games:

- Edmonton beat Nashville in a shootout, but at least the extra point went to the Oilers (15th) and not the Preds (9th).

- San Jose edged Colorado in a shootout, putting nine points between the Sharks and the Ducks for the top of the Pacific Division.

- Vancouver took down Columbus in a shootout, but at least the Canucks, who are probably out of reach of Anaheim at this point, got the extra point against 12th-place Columbus (just two points back of the Ducks).

So yeah, another huge one tonight for the Ducks, as well as a chance to show they can play with the likes of a very good Detroit team. So far this season, that hasn't been the case, as Anaheim has lost the previous three meetings, two of which were 4-0 Jimmy Howard shutouts.

That last one came December 3 at Honda Center, and you could make the argument the Ducks are a better -- and different-looking -- team than they were back then.

By the way, to get a closer look at the madness, we are updating the daily Playoff Race document each morning around 10.

One team that didn't play last night was the Red Wings, who got some well-deserved rest after pinning seven goals on the Kings on Monday night in a 7-4 squeaker.

Jonas Hiller is still out tonight, though he did skate with the Ducks today as he continues to fight back from his balance issues. Saku Koivu did for awhile as well, but he declared himself out afterward as his sore groin is still bothering him. Corey Perry looks to be a gametime decision after leaving practice early yesterday with what was called a lower body injury. He did take part in a good portion of the morning skate.

Either way, it's Ducks-Wings at Honda Center. As Bart Scott would say, "CAN'T WAIT."

Updated March 1 at 1:24 p.m.

It was a Ducks practice that saw the debut of a new face and the return of an old familiar one this afternoon on the Honda Center ice.

Brad Winchester skated here for the first time since being acquired by the Ducks from St. Louis on a relatively quiet trade deadline day (more on that later). And Jonas Hiller practiced with the rest of the team for the first time since being put back on IR on February 16. Hiller had, however, worked out with goalie coach Pete Peeters prior to practices on a couple of occasions, which is what he did today as well. Afterward, he told reporters he's still not feeling 100 percent.

"I'm still having the symptoms and I'm still not feeling right," he said. "It still feels like something is slowing me down and I always feel like I'm behind the play. Nothing hurts, but it's just not a nice feeling. I'm just not feeling right."

(We'll have Hiller video later today.)

Winchester skated today with George Parros and Kyle Chipchura, forming a pretty good-sized fourth line. And that size is precisely what Bob Murray was looking for in shipping a 2012 third-round pick to the Blues for Winchester.

“We wanted to add a little more size today and I think we got that done," Murray said of getting the 6-5, 230-pound Winchester. "He plays both ends of the ice and he plays hard. We tried to get him last year in free agency and he wanted to go back to St. Louis. I told him, ‘Now we got you.’ ”

The 29-year-old Winchester is a banger who can occasionally provide some offense, chipping in nine goals in 57 games this year in St. Louis.

Meanwhile, the emergence of rookie Brandon McMillan has given the Ducks plenty of viability at the center position, and the acquisition of pest Jarkko Ruutu allowed Anaheim to deal Maxim Lapierre to Vancouver after he played 20 games here. The Ducks got back the third-round pick in 2012 it lost to St. Louis in the Winchester deal, along with center prospect Joel Perrault, a guy Anaheim drafted way back in 2001. The 27-year-old Perrault will stay with his current AHL club, the Manitoba Moose, while he recovers from an ankle injury. Murray also said he wanted to keep him there because the Moose are headed for the postseason.

“Max went and played hard for us,” Murray said. “But it was just the fit. With the centermen we had, we had this opportunity and we took it.”

Other than those deals, that was it for the Ducks, who like many other teams made more eye-catching deals in the days leading up to yesterday's deadline. (The biggest splash yesterday was the Kings getting former Duck Dustin Penner from Edmonton.)   
“We made our moves earlier,” Murray said. “I like our dressing room as I’ve said before. We’ve kind of just left it alone.”
You can find some analysis of the Ducks' and the rest of the league's deadline moves with Brian Hayward and Kent French in the video below. Meanwhile, we'll have video of Winchester on the site later today.

One more note: Saku Koivu did not skate with the team today as he continues to recover from that sore groin. He did, however, work out for 30 minutes prior to practice and Randy Carlyle said he is "a possibility for the near future." Whether that near future is tomorrow's game with Detroit (which beat the Kings 7-4 last night in LA) remains to be determined.

February Archive