After an emotional shootout victory in Montreal that saw the first return of Saku Koivu to his former team, a game against the Blue Jackets could have been a letdown. Certainly there was not the same media presence or hype surrounding the match up. Nonetheless, the Ducks rose to the task and got the job done.
There have been two keys to the Ducks victories of late. The first is the All-Star goaltending of Jonas Hiller, who stopped 35 more shots to add to his ever burgeoning totals. The second is the power play. Second overall in the NHL, it continues to produce, even while missing captain Ryan Getzlaf, who is out with fractured nasal passages until after the All Star break.
The Ducks added two more power play goals to their recent tallies, thanks to a five minute major penalty taken by Derek Dorsett. Dorsett got a boarding penalty for carelessly taking Corey Perry into the boards hard. Perry was in a vulnerable position and headed to the locker room while Dorsett headed to the penalty box.
The Ducks took advantage and Teemu Selanne put the first goal in at 4:12 and Cam Fowler added insult to injury at 5:13. With another 3:30 left to go on the penalty, Selanne nearly made it 3-0 shortly thereafter. Columbus managed to hold on and did not let the Ducks inflict more damage, even though it would have been sweet justice to have Perry score after returning to the ice midway through the power play.
Columbus has been making a habit of coming back from two goal deficits and they persevered in this one as well. The Ducks handed Columbus a 5 on 3 power play late in the first period and Rick Nash brought the Blue Jackets back within one goal at 17:42, just as time had erased the first penalty. Nash's shot popped over Hiller's shoulder and into the net.
"It was a tough start there giving up two goals right away," commented Columbus coach, Scott Arniel. "Hiller was outstanding and we had a lot of opportunities to get that game evened up when it was 2-1. We played hard. We got behind the 8-ball, but didn't stop playing."
How the other pucks remained out of the net in the second period still remains a mystery. Both teams had some good chances and near misses and a couple of pucks ringing off the post. And as usual, Hiller remained velcro man with the pucks sticking to him. Steve Mason managed to hold the fort at his end as well.
Finally in the third period the Ducks got the insurance marker they were looking for. Playing in his 800th career game, Jason Blake scored his 200th career goal (10th of the year to keep things well rounded). It turned out to be the game winner.
The Ducks continued to play with fire by taking penalties and Derick Brassard made it 3-2 at 9:54 on the power play. Brassard happily finished off the rebound behind Hiller.
Despite their best efforts, Hiller stood firm and the Ducks wisely stayed out of the penalty box for the remainder of the game. The victory gave the Ducks an 8-3-0 record in the month of January and puts them eight games over the .500 mark with a 28-20-4 record.
The Ducks now head to the All Star break, hoping to resume momentum on February 2 when the return home to play the Sharks. It will be a brief visit, as the Ducks have yet another four game road trip with three games in Canada (this time Western Canada).
"Obviously, we've played a lot of hockey," said Selanne. "I always think the break is good, but the team has played well lately. Even those nights when we haven't played that well we've still found a way to win the games. That's a sign of a good team."
If they stay this good, there is a chance the Ducks will make it to the playoffs this season after missing last year.