One Goal Wonders: How Long Can Ducks Win Close Games?

With just one game before the All Star Break, the Anaheim Ducks sit in first place in the league. But look up and down the NHL team statistics page, and the Ducks aren’t in the top-10 in any of the key categories, such as goals for, goals against, power play or penalty kill.

So how do that work? Well, the Ducks have been strangely resilient in one-goal games this season, and, after last weekend’s come-from-behind win against the Los Angeles Kings, the Ducks are now 22-0-6 in one-goal games. That means 50 of the Ducks 66 points have come in games decided by one goal, which isn’t exactly a confidence booster.

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

But Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau is appearing to be confident with his team’s close wins.

“We find a way,” Boudreau recently told reporters. “I guess that’s the No. 1 thing, but you sure don’t want to just find a way all year long, you want to do it playing perfect.”

Turning Their Fortunes

With the Ducks’ recent success in one-goal games, it’s hard to believe the close games were actually the team’s struggle in November. But in a stretch from Nov. 7-18, four of those six one-goal losses came in games that the Ducks ultimately led in, but fell in either overtime or the shootout.

“We had a talk that we have to learn how to play in these one-goal games because we were panicking like crazy,” Boudreau said. “Then we started being more relaxed in the games and understanding what we had to do, how to play. Lately we’ve been behind and we’ve been pushing pretty hard. We were a panicked team when we had a lead. I think we’ve learned.”

(Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports)
(Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports)

So far, the Ducks look like they’ve learned. They’ve won 15 of 16 one-goal games since Nov. 20, which includes wins over the St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators and Los Angeles Kings. And to date, the Ducks have had 12 players score game-winning goals, providing a lot of depth behind just the normal star players of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.

And just last week, the Ducks dominated two Eastern Conference opponents at home – the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-0, and they followed that up by a dominating 5-1 victory over New Jersey. But while those games are nice, they don’t happen often in the playoffs, especially in a deep Western Conference that has some of the game’s elite goalies.

Can They Sustain It?

With all of these one-goal game victories, the question now remains if the Ducks will be able to sustain it when the playoffs come. Under Boudreau, the Ducks are just 1-2 in playoff series, and one goal games have been their ultimate doom in those two playoff series.

In the first round against Detroit in 2013, when the Ducks were eliminated in Game 7, all of Detroit’s victories came in one-goal games, – three of which were in overtime – while the Ducks only won one game that was within one-goal. Then, against Los Angeles in Round 2 last year, where the Ducks were also eliminated in Game 7, they were 2-2 in one-goal games with the Kings, but the two they lost hurt. In Game 1, with the Ducks just seconds away from coming away with a win, Los Angeles’ Marian Gaborik scored with just seconds remaining to tie the game, and the Kings eventually won in overtime (pictured below). Then, in Game 6, with the Ducks having a chance to eliminate Los Angeles, the Kings won 2-1 to set up Game 7.

As soon as Gaborik joined the Kings, the offense was ignited (Robert Mackson- USA TODAY Sports)
(Robert Mackson- USA TODAY Sports)

In the one playoff series the Ducks won under Boudreau, against the Dallas Stars in the First Round of last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Ducks were 3-0 in one-goal games, including the dramatic Game 6 where the Ducks were down by two with just over two minutes remaining and they were able to come back and eliminate Dallas (video below).

So, with more experience, and success, in close games under their belt, is this team more prepared for the close games that will inevitably come in the playoffs? Boudreau would like to think so, but even he isn’t sure.

“Because it’s happening we’re saying it’s good preparation for the playoffs, but I don’t know if it is,” Boudreau said. “You’re trying to find positives. I’m saying, ‘Oh yeah it’s good preparation for the playoffs,’ but who knows. Once the playoffs happen everything is ramped up and we’re hoping it’s good, but until we get there I have no idea.”