ANAHEIM—The Ducks were coming off an immensely successful eight-game road trip, one in which they posted a 5-1-2 record. Yet, when the puck dropped Sunday afternoon against the visiting Chicago Blackhawks, they were still eight points back of the final playoff spot, the same margin as when the departed 18 days earlier.
A brick wall on the momentum highway?
Not a chance.
After a slow start, the Ducks proceeded to dominate the Blackhawks over the final 41 minutes, scoring a 3-1 victory in front of 17,601, the largest crowd to watch a regular-season game at Honda Center.
The victory moved the Ducks back within six points of the eighth-place Dallas Stars, who scored in the final minute earlier Sunday to tie the score against the Vancouver Canucks and then won in overtime.
“We didn’t get much help, but you know what?” said Teemu Selanne, who scored the third goal for the Ducks to move into 20th all time in NHL scoring. “Don’t worry about that. Just worry about the things we can control. Everything is in our own hands.”
It was just two months ago that the 41-year-old Selanne was rumored to be on the trading block. On the eve of the NHL trade deadline, it appears general manager Bob Murray has no choice but to keep his core group together and see what other magic they can pull out of their hats. Twenty points back of the final playoff spot on Jan. 5, the Ducks are officially in the Western Conference race.
“Within our group, it was a far goal for us but we set some short-term goals and we’ve reached a lot of them,” said team captain Ryan Getzlaf. “That’s what we have to continue doing. We haven’t accomplished anything yet. We’re just in the hunt, that’s the only thing we’ve done.”
Since the calendar turned to 2012, the Ducks have earned more points (38) than any other NHL team and have the best goal differential (+23).
“It’s a completely different team in this locker room right now,” said winger Bobby Ryan. “I don’t think there’s any defining moment that changed things around. We started to get some bounces and, when that happened, you start to get a little confidence and things tighten up defensively for you.”
A big reason for the turnaround has been the play of goalie Jonas Hiller. He was sharp again Sunday, stopping 18 shots in his 21st consecutive start to improve to 15-3-4 in his last 23 games.
“Jonas has come on and become the best goalie in the league over this stretch,” Ryan said. “If we hadn’t given away November and December, we’d be in a great position right now. We dug our own hole so we’re trying to climb out of it.”
Even if it’s one point at a time.