COLUMBUS, Ohio – There are 20-some games and seven weeks left in the NHL season. Yet the Anaheim Ducks consider each night important enough to make or break their season.
Corey Perry had a goal and two assists, four teammates also scored and the Ducks ended a three-game slide, beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 on Saturday night.
“We described it as the most important game of the year,” coach Randy Carlyle said about his decision to go with Jean-Sebastien Giguere in goal for the second night in a row. “So are you not going to play your best people? Simple as that. It makes the decision easy.”
The game pitted two of the 11 teams within 10 points of the final four playoffs spots in the Western Conference at the start of the day.
Perry said all the Ducks know they can’t afford any more slip-ups.
“We know what’s ahead of us and who’s ahead of us in the standings,” he said. “We’re chasing some teams that we’re playing next. We have to have the two points every night.”
Chris Pronger, Brendan Morrison, Chris Kunitz and Bobby Ryan also scored for the Ducks, who showed no ill effects from playing back-to-back nights to start a season-long six-game trip. Ryan Getzlaf and Scott Niedermayer each had two assists, and Giguere stopped 26 shots while squaring his record at 15-15-4.
Giguere had been manhandled in a 5-2 loss in Detroit on Friday night.
“This feels great. After a tough loss yesterday, tonight was a must-win game,” he said. “We answered the bell. We were physical, we fought, we scored some goals. It was a big road game. We have to have that kind of effort.”
Rick Nash had a goal and an assist, and Kristian Huselius also scored for Columbus, which had picked up points in its previous seven games.
Clinging to a 2-1 lead late in the second period, the Ducks picked up two quick goals to put the game out of reach. They came on the Ducks’ only two shots of the period. They had eight shots in the opening period and only five the rest of the night – but scored on three of them.
“We scored on our chances, that’s really the difference in the hockey game,” Carlyle said. “Tonight pucks went in for us. We were fortunate. We made the most of our opportunities.”
First, Perry beat Columbus defenceman Jan Hejda to a loose puck in the offensive zone and swooped in on goalie Steve Mason, beating him with a low, hard shot between his leg pads for his 21st of the season. Less than four minutes later, Perry collected the puck behind the goal and, while two Blue Jackets collided trying to get to the puck, he slid a centring pass that Kunitz jammed in.
The Ducks couldn’t score in their only previous meeting against Mason, a rookie sensation who shut them out on New Year’s Eve in Anaheim. But they needed only 3:26 to get on the board this time.
Midway through a power play, Pronger netted a hard one-timer from the right point that sliced under Mason’s glove.
Anaheim then added an even-strength goal. Brian Salcido, playing in his second game, picked up his first NHL point when he drove the puck along the boards to Morrison behind the Columbus net. Morrison tried a wraparound that bounced off the stick of Blue Jackets defenseman Mike Commodore and past a surprised Mason.
“Mason would probably like to have a couple of them back, but he’s saved our bacon more than anybody could imagine,” Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said.
The Blue Jackets were playing their sixth game in nine days – and ended up with their only regulation loss (4-1-1).
“We can’t use that as an excuse,” Mason said. “Every team in this league has the same kind of schedule. We have to take it for what it is and get ready for the next game. It wasn’t a very good game at all – pretty brutal.”
Late in a chippy first period in which there were 34 penalty minutes, four fighting majors and a couple of other altercations, Giguere stopped but could not immediately cover a slap shot by Jason Williams. The Blue Jackets’ R.J. Umberger took a couple of whacks at it, but the official blew his whistle while the puck was still loose beneath the prone Giguere. One more try by Umberger put it in the net, although it was disallowed – touching off a chorus of boos from a capacity crowd.
On the road, with little room for error, the Ducks know they have their backs against the wall.
“They’re all big from here on in,” defenceman Scott Niedermayer said.
Notes: The Blue Jackets claimed C Chris Gratton off waivers from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, and also placed D Ole-Kristian Tollefsen on injured reserve and recalled D Aaron Rome from Syracuse (AHL). … The Ducks, the most penalized team in the NHL, gave the Blue Jackets five consecutive power plays in the first and second periods. Columbus, last in the league on the power play, was unable to convert until the last one. … Anaheim improved to 17-12-3 against Columbus, with wins in six of the last seven meetings. … Getzlaf took a shot off an ankle in the third period and hobbled to the dressing room.