Each game for the Ducks feels like a must-win, game seven, do or die situation. The playoff race in the Western Conference has never been so congested and so close. A mere eight points separates third place from tenth place and it has been that way for weeks.
A 2-1 victory over the Blues vaulted Anaheim into the eighth spot (for now). One down. 12 more to go.
The previous match ups between the two teams have been filled with fights and offense and lopsided results, the most recent a 9-3 drubbing of the Ducks at the hands of the Blues in February. Naturally, this one was a close one goal affair without a single fight.
Ray Emery, who relieved Dan Ellis in the Ducks’ previous game on Sunday, continued where he left off and got his first start in over a year. He made 30 saves and got his first win, extra sweet considering his long road of recovery and rehabilitation from serious hip surgery last April.
The only shot Emery could not stop was from Nathan Oystrick, who got his first goal of the year as an emergency call up from the AHL. His power play goal at 9:54 of the second period was heavily screened and Oystrick got a fortuitous bounce when his rebound came directly back to him. The second shot made it in the net.
The lead did not last long. Anaheim finally got on the board with a lucky bounce from Jason Blake at 11:28. Blake was aiming his shot toward the front of the net and it went in off the skate of Roman Polak and behind Jaroslav Halak. Not the prettiest of his 200+ goals, but it counted nonetheless.
The second of Blake’s goals came at 1:50 of the third period, tipping in Lubomir Visnovsky’s shot from the point. That was the game winner, but in a tight game, you knew it was going to go down to the wire.
“It’s definitely a good feeling,” said Blake, who missed four games with a hand laceration. “Every game right now for us is a playoff mentality and you have to be ready to play. I thought Ray played unbelievable tonight and made some great, key saves. It’s been a long time coming for him. He did a great job.”
Despite pulling Halak for the extra attacker, the Blues could not get anything more past Emery or the Ducks defense, who did a good job at remaining calm and preventing any good scoring chances.
“We are in the playoffs right now,” said coach Randy Carlyle. “Our message is now we have to earn the right to stay in. We found a way to win the hockey game tonight.”
They will need to find a way to win in Los Angeles on Saturday as well, when they meet the Kings at Staples Center. For now, all five Pacific Division teams are in a playoff position. The Ducks and Kings have never been in the playoffs in the same year, but this could be the year that changes. It isn’t just two points on the line, it’s four points.
“We’ll enjoy this one,” commented Blake, “but it’s obviously a huge game on Saturday against the Kings. We have to make sure that we do the same things that we did tonight, but even better.”