ANAHEIM -- A return to the top eight was just 60 minutes away.
All the Ducks needed was a victory Sunday evening against the visiting Vancouver Canucks and they would leapfrog over the eighth-place Kings in the Western Conference standings.
But the Vancouver Canucks have a way of putting things in perspective.
A day after winning in Los Angeles, the Canucks backed up that performance with a model of efficiency, deflating Anaheim by scoring in the opening minute of the first and second periods and ending their hopes of winning four in a row by scoring a power-play goal in the third.
Vancouver took just 16 shots in the game but that was enough to secure a workmanlike 3-0 victory at Honda Center.
“We didn’t seem to find any emotional level,” said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “I don’t remember us having any extended periods of grind shifts in the zone, and we didn’t do a very good job on the forecheck.”
Everything was in place for the Ducks to move up in the standings.
They were facing a Vancouver team that was playing its second road game in two days. Nevermind the Canucks were 7-1-2 on the season with zero days rest, they would surely be heavy in the legs after killing six penalties the day before, right?
To make conditions ever more favorable, the Canucks decided to suit up second-string goalie Cory Schneider and give Roberto Luongo some rest after securing his 300th career victory against Los Angeles.
Schneider is probably best known for his offensive skills, getting two assists earlier this season against Tampa Bay to tie a franchise record, but he gave a Luongo-type performance while stopping 26 shots for his first career shutout in his 29th career game. The Ducks gave themselves some good looks but just couldn’t find the net.
“We weren’t as crisp as we wanted to be,” said Ducks leading scorer Corey Perry.
Any excitement the home team built coming into the game was dulled when Manny Malhotra scored his 100th career goal 42 seconds into the game on a 2-on-1 breakaway with Jannik Hansen.
“The guy with the puck was right in the middle of the ice, so you can’t kind of cheat or anything,” said Ducks goalkeeper Dan Ellis. “You try to make a read and [Malhotra’s shot] hit the back of my glove instead of the inside of my glove … chalk it up as a good shot.”
And a good sign for the Canucks. Coming into the game, they had won 81% of the games in which they scored first.
The Ducks managed to avoid any further damage the remainder of the period, but 17 seconds into the second, Malhotra and Hansen teamed up again after stealing the puck from Ducks rookie defenseman Cam Fowler, who was also on the ice for Malhotra's first goal.
“Certainly, they had timely goals at the beginning of periods,” said forward Brad Winchester. “In these playoff-type games, it’s all about momentum and it seems like they were able to create momentum at key times.”
Now the Ducks get a couple days of practice before hosting the New York Rangers on Wednesday. With the way the standings shuffle by the day, the Ducks might have more than just Los Angeles to pass by then.