Every game is the biggest one. Every game is "the most important one." Saturday's game between the Ducks and the Flames really was. Only two points separated Anaheim from Calgary, who held the 8th and final playoff spot going into the game.
Huge did not even begin to cover it. This was a must win for the Ducks, especially as the first of two back-to-back road games. Somehow the Ducks did not get the memo in the 3-1 loss to the Flames.
With Detroit and Dallas both winning their games and leaping over Calgary, the Ducks had not two but three points to chase for the 8th spot. At the end of the evening, Calgary bounced back over again and the Ducks found themselves four points out of 8th place. It does not take long for things to change.
The Ducks were fortunate to get the first goal of the game, apparently a stealth goal that no one saw but the guys in Toronto. Troy Bodie had deflected Scott Niedermayer's shot into the net behind Miikka Kiprusoff at 12:25, but it took a couple more minutes until a stoppage in play when the play was reviewed. Usually on the ice, there is protest that a puck went in or did not. There was none of that. At least someone caught it.
It was the only thing they got behind Kiprusoff all night, who stopped 26 shots.
The Flames, on the other hand, understood the necessity of winning the game. Eric Nystrom tied up the game at 16:42 of the first period. In the second period, Ryan Carter, who had five shots on goal, missed finishing off a Teemu Selanne rebound. Instead of 2-1 Ducks, it ended up 2-1 Flames with Calgary racing down the other end and Jarome Iginla putting the puck in the net at 2:42.
Later in the period, in a case of deja vu, Iginla got goal #2 at 13:58. Chance for the Ducks at one end, Iginla racing down the other and converting. 3-1 Flames. Game essentially over.
"Nobody on our team played to their best level -- me included," said Jonas Hiller, who stopped 35 of 38 shots. "I could have stopped at least one of the goals that they scored."
Not only did Hiller not stop the goals, his teammates in front of him could not get anything going at the other end of the ice to score any themselves. Even in the third period, there was a lack of desperation and desire.
Less than 24 hours later, the Ducks will have to face Edmonton again, a team they have struggled against in that building. Somehow, some way, the Ducks have to dig deep and find it in them to defeat the Oilers for the second time in a week. If they play as poorly against them as they did last Wednesday at home, the Oilers will walk out with two points and the Ducks will slip further in the standings and their race to get in the playoffs.
The next one is even bigger and more important for the Ducks.
In other notes: Ryan Getzlaf still sat out with a sprained ankle, even though he is skating more. There is still a chance that he plays against Edmonton on Sunday night. If not, Steve Yzerman will have no choice but to replace Getzlaf on Team Canada's hockey roster.