Over the last two games, the Anaheim Ducks have looked like the team that made it within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals two seasons ago. Their 4-3 shootout win over the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night was reminiscent of the 2014-15 Ducks squad that was nearly unbeatable in one-goal games. It’s no surprise that they followed that win on home ice with a road shutout of the Chicago Blackhawks, winning 1-0 in yet another one-goal game. With just 15 games remaining in the Ducks’ regular season, there are signs that the team is moving in the right direction.
Goaltenders play a huge part in a team’s success or failure. Knowing that you have a capable backup helps team confidence, especially in the postseason. Jonathan Bernier’s 2.72 goals-against average and .910 save percentage aren’t spectacular but he has a winning record, going 12-7-2 in 22 starts this season. He is playing well while John Gibson recovers from an undisclosed injury.
His shutout performance against the Blackhawks is particularly impressive. The Blackhawks were riding a seven-game win streak and peppered Bernier all night. He stopped all 43 shots, many of which were high quality, earning his 100th career win and the Ducks’ first consecutive wins since mid-January.
Orange and Black Equals Black and Blue
The Ducks have begun to play a very physical game. They out-hit the Blackhawks 44 to 15 Thursday night. All it takes is a quick look back at the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals to see how effective a team can be when regularly dominating opponents physically. The Boston Bruins out-hit the Vancouver Canucks 247-214 over their seven-game series and the success of the Bruins’ physical play was evident in Game 7.
While I am not at liberty to name names, a veteran NHL officiating supervisor with four decades of experience at the NHL level compared the Ducks to the Philadelphia Flyers of the 1970s during a recent Ducks game. “They beat you up for a period or two, then go and win a hockey game,” he said.
A quick look at the list of teams with the most fighting majors this season suggests the comparison is accurate. Playing like the Broad Street Bullies does come with consequences. However, provided the Ducks continue to be one of the League’s best on the penalty kill, they stand to do well with this style of play in the postseason.
The Hated One
Corey Perry has started to play like the Corey Perry of old. His game-winning goal Thursday night was vintage Perry, picking up the puck on the left-wing boards and cutting to the middle before beating Crawford low-blocker. While many in Anaheim have been critical of Perry’s play this season, I don’t see it as a concern for the Ducks. Goal-scorers have rough patches, but they don’t forget how to get it done. You simply can’t teach the type of skill that it takes to score 50 goals in an NHL season.
Perry’s “on-the-edge” antics that he’s known for is a sign that he may be getting his mojo back. One of the Predators players was chirping Perry after he was called for a blatant slash at the end of the first period of the Ducks game against the Predators Tuesday night. As the teams skated towards their tunnels, you could clearly read Perry’s lips as he responded “And? I don’t care. What are you going to do about it?” We all know that an arrogant, abrasive Perry is a more effective Perry. I much prefer the 40-grit version over the 150-grit.
The Home Stretch
The Ducks leapfrogged the Edmonton Oilers, reclaiming second place in the Pacific Division. They have opened up a ten point lead over the first team outside of the playoff picture, the Los Angeles Kings. This puts them in a good position with only 15 games remaining. The Ducks control their own destiny from here on out.
Of their last 15 games, six are against divisional opponents and eight are against teams that they are competing against for playoff position. They’ll have no excuse should they fall short of the playoffs, as they play nine of their last 15, including the final three games of the regular season on home ice.