And a Merry Christmas to Ducks fans! Nine in a row now for the NHL leading team that was not predicted to do particularly well this season. Surprise!
Their final effort before Christmas was another come from behind victory, the Washington Capitals the latest victim of Anaheim's perserverance and never say die attitude. The 3-2 win was also a gift for their coach, Bruce Boudreau, who was fired by the Capitals in 2011 and hired by Anaheim two days later.
"You knew exactly what was going on and you knew how big this game was for him,” said Saku Koivu, who had one of the Ducks goals. “But he downplayed it in the morning and yesterday. He said this is a game he wants to win because he wants to get first in the NHL before Christmas. We wanted to get the ninth [straight] win. I’m sure this game meant a lot to him. I remember when I first went to Montreal. Even though it’s just the one game, you want to get the win. I’m real happy for him.”
It was the second game in a row that the Ducks fell behind early, but never count this team out.
Mikhail Grabovski and Nicklas Backstrom made it 2-0 by the middle of the first period and they had every intention of making a rout of it, if possible. Jonas Hiller, who made 17 saves, made sure that did not happen.
The rest of the Ducks also had other ideas and motivations.
Andrew Cogliano slashed the lead in half with a gutty effort from his line at 17:15. The scramble in front of the net allowed Cogliano to wrap around a rebound past Philipp Grubauer and give the team some hope.
Koivu tied up the game at 19:33 of the second period. A beautiful set up pass by Ben Lovejoy did the trick. Lovejoy had an assist in each of the four road games and has been a steady presence on an otherwise injury depleted blue line this year.
The third period continued to bring chances to both teams, but Hampus Lindholm, still a teenager for another month, got the eventual game winner with just over 5:00 left to play. Grubauer could not possibly have seen the shot with all the traffic in front of him.
"(Ryan) Getzlaf and those guys went hard to the net and the puck was bouncing right up the middle," said Lindholm, who also leads the league in plus-minus with +22. "I got the puck on my stick and tried to make a quick move to get away from my forward. I got the puck on net, I saw it go in, and it was a pretty good feeling. It’s a huge goal and it’s fun for Bruce and those guys coming here and winning against their old team. It was a blast. And now we come home and celebrate Christmas with nine straight wins. It’s great."
The goal stood up as the game winner, despite Washington's best efforts. A little luck played into it, too.
With three minutes remaining Alex Ovechkin, who just happens to lead the league with 30 goals, almost got another one. His shot hit the crossbar and dropped down without crossing the line. The light went on briefly and Capitals fans were celebrating loudly, but the referee said no goal. When play finally stopped, it was reviewed and the overhead camera confirmed that the puck undeniably stayed out.
Unfortunately, rather than show the overhead camera angle, the fans in the arena were shown the mid ice angle, which made it look like a goal. Near chaos and anarchy, and definitely a lot of energy for the Capitals.
Hiller stood fast and the score remained 3-2 when the final buzzer chimed.
"You always want to win the next game," said Hiller. "It definitely wasn’t easy. But at the same time, we knew that if you can get through this pretty good, we’re going to have a pretty good chance at doing well this season. But at the same time, we have to keep going and working hard. That’s what has made the difference so far. We need to do the same thing during the second half, even though the schedule might be a little easier. You can’t take anything lightly."
Anaheim now has three days of Christmas joy and rest. The key will be keeping that momentum for their next game on Saturday against the Phoenix Coyotes and going forward.
With the way the Ducks are play, they seem unflappable and unstoppable, but you can't take anything for granted.
For now, enjoy being on top, boys. You've earned it!