After losing three games in a row, stumbling to the Olympic break, the Ducks finished on a strong note with a 5-2 victory over the Nashville Predators. It was not pretty, but there are not extra points for beauty. The Ducks will now spend the next two weeks still on top of the NHL with a 41-14-5 record and a 87 points.
"I think it was a real big win," said coach Bruce Boudreau. "We didn't want to spend the next 19 days with you guys telling us we lost four in a row. That, and it puts a little distance between us and San Jose again."
The Ducks are seven points ahead of the Sharks in the Pacific Division.
Most important for Anaheim was to go into the break with a win so they would not spend the time off ruminating about what was wrong and having to wait that long to try and fix it. Now they can just move forward.
Nashville came out hard and played hard the whole evening. Fortunately Jonas Hiller, who is heading to Sochi to represent Switzerland, was on the top of his game, making 36 saves.
Hiller did not stop everything, including the first goal from Viktor Stalberg at 11:35 of the first period. After that, the bounces, weird as they were, seemed to go in Anaheim's favor for a change.
"We knew they were going to be coming," said Hiller. "I think they had a lot of shots. They almost throw everything at the net, which is sometimes easier as a goalie to kind of get into it. I think we're a little lucky on our first goal but we'll take it right now."
That lucky goal was credited to Ryan Getzlaf at 18:49 of the first to tie things up. In reality, Roman Josi accidentally batted the puck in the net behind goaltender Carter Hutton. (With a name like that, Hutton sounds like he should be an underwear model or actor, not a netminder).
The Ducks took the lead in the second period with a power play goal from Corey Perry at 11:45. The shot went off a Predators skate and in the net. Lucky bounce #2.
"You work hard, you create your own bounces," said Perry. "A garbage goal takes the monkey off your back."
Going into the third period the Ducks had something they had not had in a long time - a lead.
Nashville refused to yield and Mike Fisher tied the game at 1:05 with a power play goal. The Ducks were equally tenacious and were rewarded for their efforts.
Emerson Etem, recalled from the AHL just a couple games ago, gave the Ducks back the lead at 4:51. His stick got a piece of Hampus Lindholm's seeing eye shot. Although Etem claimed to not have touched the puck, the NHL still credited him with the goal nonetheless.
"Saw it go in," said Lindholm. "A lot of fun."
Mathieu Perreault extended the Ducks lead at 8:04. Daniel Winnik picked off the puck from the Predators and found Perreault unencumbered in front of the net.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz made a gutsy move by pulling Hutton early for the extra attacker, but was unable to get even one of the two goals needed to tie things up.
An empty netter from Getzlaf with less than a minute remaining that went from the corner at one end to dead center of the empty net at the other end sealed the deal and the win for the Ducks.
"They came out really hard," said Etem. "They were backchecking and getting to loose pucks first. Once we turned that around, we were all right. It was a great win to enter the break."
Certainly better than the other option.
"Their big guys stepped up and scored goals," said Trotz. "Getzlaf and Perry are world-class forwards. They're a good hockey team. They found a way to win."
Getzlaf and Perry are now headed to the world stage in Sochi to play for Canada. They will be joined by five other Ducks - Cam Fowler (USA), Hiller (Switzerland), Teemu Selanne and Sami Vatanen (Finland), and Jakob Silfverberg (Sweden).
For now, teammates will become competitors. Let the games begin....