By Stu Hackel
The glut of teams that clogged the Western Conference playoff picture for most of the season seems to have shrunk to four clubs — Anaheim, Chicago, Calgary and Dallas – with two spots remaining. The Ducks, who have been up and down within that pack like the other three clubs, are hitting their stride at the right time. They’re 11-3-1 in their last 15. Five of those wins have been in overtime.
They didn’t need overtime Monday night against Colorado. All they needed was 40-year-old Teemu Selanne.
The Finnish Flash, a certain Hall of Famer when he retires, scored three goals and added two assists in the Ducks’ 5-4 victory. It was his 22nd career hat trick and gave him 28 goals on the season, plus 47 assists and those 75 points put him in a tie for eighth place in NHL scoring this season.
His penalty shot goal got the Ducks started in the first minute of the second period after they fell behind 2-0 in the first. He set up Jason Blake to tie the game four minutes later. His wrist shot five minutes later gave them the lead. After the Avs tied the game 3-3, he assisted on the go-ahead goal by Cam Fowler early in the third period, then notched the eventual game-winner on the power play with just under five minutes left in the game.
While he was being interviewed live at rinkside after the game, the Ducks fans chanted, “One more year! One more year!” Selanne won’t make any decision on next season just yet, but nights like this one — seasons like this one — indicate he still has a great deal left.
The Ducks’ hot streak has vaulted them into the west’s seventh spot — at least for the moment. Anaheim has done it without its outstanding goalie, Jonas Hiller, something that would have seemed impossible a few months ago. Until dizziness and vertigo set in after the All-Star Game, Hiller looked like a Vezina, if not Hart Trophy, contender. Now when talk turns to Hart candidates from Anaheim, the name in the whirlwind belongs to Corey Perry.
Perry, who was selected as Second Star of the Week by the NHL, scored five goals in three games and added three more plus a pair of assists in the two matches before that. He’s got 13 goals so far this month, and has scored in eight of the Ducks’ nine games. He’s now tallied 44 on the season, and passed Steven Stamkos for the league lead. Stamkos has been stuck at 43 for two weeks and has only five during the last two months.
The case for Perry as the Hart Trophy-winner is not shabby, although the Ducks will have to make the playoffs for him to get serious consideration. Along with his status as the league’s leading goal-scorer, Perry has put the puck in the net when it has mattered most: 20 of his goals have come in the third period, a league-leading total. Ten have been game-winners, tied for tops in the NHL with Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin. And Perry’s 85 points rank fifth in the league.
The goals that Perry has scored in the last couple of weeks have not been insignificant. Three of the five were game-winners. Two were in OT on consecutive nights, first this slap shot to beat the Kings 2-1 on March 19…
…then the next night, on a deflection that doused the Flames 5-4…
…after the Ducks had blown a 3-0 lead and fallen behind, 4-3.
Perry’s third game-winner came this past Saturday night, when he scored both of the Ducks’ third period goals (here’s video of the tying goal off the rush and the winner on the cycle), both set up by linemates Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan as the Ducks again came from behind for a 2-1 victory in Chicago. This line can score lots of ways.
Getzlaf has 11 assists in his last five games, including one on Selanne’s power play goal Monday night. Ryan has five assists in his last four.
But on Monday, as Selanne said after the game (video), he wanted to give the big line the night off. He’s hardly had any nights off himself this season. He scored the tying goal in the Calgary game that Perry won in OT, and has four game-tying goals in the last three minutes of games this season. In fact, Selanne has tallied them all in the past six weeks.
No player in NHL history had ever scored as many as four tying goals that late in games during any one season. And Selanne’s four meant a great deal to the Ducks’ playoff chances. They came twice against Calgary, on Feb. 11 and March 20, and twice against Dallas, on March 4 and March 23. The Ducks won all four games in overtime.
That’s four points in the standings that Selanne grabbed for Anaheim by securing regulation ties, which led to four more points in victories over their closest pursuers. Without those points, the Ducks would be out of the playoff picture. And Selanne’s goals, of course, also wound up denying the Stars and Flames precious points in those games.
It seems as if Selanne has been in the NHL forever, first exploding on the scene in 1992-93 with the Winnipeg Jets when he set the record for most goals by a rookie, passing Mike Bossy’s mark of 53 with a hat trick in his 60th game of the season…
…and finishing with 76, which still remains unbroken. He’s now scored 631 career goals, which rank first among active players and 14th all-time. He’s also got 1,330 points, third among active players and 30th all-time. Selanne talks of retiring every season, but he keeps coming back, and here’s one voice that hopes he’s playing in the NHL next season. He hasn’t forgotten how to do what he does best and we haven’t forgotten how big a treat it is to watch him.