ANAHEIM, Calif. – Teemu Selanne and Corey Perry vividly remember how it felt six years ago when the Anaheim Ducks went to the rink every day feeling they just couldn’t be stopped from raising the Stanley Cup.
That feeling hasn’t been around Anaheim much in the past few years, but it’s all rushing back during the Ducks’ spectacular 21-3-4 start to the lockout-shortened season.
“Winning is everything,” said Selanne, the 42-year-old forward who hasn’t lost a stride. “That’s how there’s sun, even if it’s indoors.”
Deep, balanced and brimming with confidence, the Ducks have compiled the NHL’s second-best record, a sizable lead in the Pacific Division and a 12-game home winning streak during a roll Anaheim hasn’t matched since that championship season.
One year after the Ducks missed the playoffs, second-year coach Bruce Boudreau has turned a roster with impressive parts into a merciless machine boasting four scoring lines, the NHL’s second-best power play and two standout goalies.
Hockey is a blast again in Orange County, and the Ducks head into Wednesday night’s showdown with league-leading Chicago (24-2-3) quietly confident this good feeling will last.
“It’s definitely a change from last year,” said Perry, who joined captain Ryan Getzlaf in signing an eight-year contract extension with the Ducks this month.
“You go back to that year when we made the run, and it definitely has the same feeling. Guys in that dressing room that aren’t really talking about our record. We go out, play every night and hopefully come away with the two points.”
Regular-season games don’t get much bigger than the second meeting between Chicago (.879 points percentage) and Anaheim (.821), who have the best records in league history for two teams facing each other at least 25 games into a season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, two NHL teams with a points percentage over .800 have never met this far into a campaign.
The Ducks share the hockey world’s respect for the mighty Blackhawks, with Boudreau claiming they “scare the bejeebers out of you.”
Yet Anaheim is responsible for one of their five losses, winning a 3-2 shootout last month in Chicago, and the Ducks haven’t lost at Honda Center since their opener Jan. 25.
“The (Blackhawks) have an unbelievable record, and honestly, it’s been good that we’ve been in the shadow a little,” Selanne said.
“Just play our game and not have to think about too much of anything. I think that’s good for our style. But you want to (beat) the best, and they’re No. 1 in the league. It’s going to be exciting.”
While Chicago won the Stanley Cup in 2010, the Ducks raised it back in 2007, when many of their current players weren’t even in the NHL.
Although mainstays Perry, Getzlaf and Selanne have headlined talented rosters each season since, the Ducks have won just one post-season round in five years, failing even to make the playoffs in two of the past three.
The Ducks always looked talented on paper, but poor starts to every ensuing season put them in a hole they couldn’t escape.
Anaheim wasted no time out of the lockout, winning seven of nine largely “on pure emotion,” according to Boudreau. They haven’t slowed down at all, earning points in their last 11 straight games capped by Monday’s 5-3 win over San Jose.
“We felt pretty good about ourselves coming into this season, but obviously nobody expects to start the way we did,” said Getzlaf, who has bounced back from his worst NHL season with one of his best.
“But good teams find ways to win even when they shouldn’t probably win. We’re off to a good start, and that’s all we wanted. It’s not a matter of setting records or anything.”
Anaheim’s superlatives are numerous. Although Perry is suspended for Wednesday’s game, he has 24 points in 25 games; centres Saku Koivu (22 points), Andrew Cogliano (18) and Daniel Winnik (16) have raised their two-way games considerably; and defenceman Francois Beauchemin is having a career year with 18 points and a plus-19 rating matched by newcomer Sheldon Souray, who has sparked Anaheim’s power play.
Veteran goalie Jonas Hiller and newcomer Viktor Fasth have been similarly effective behind the Ducks’ revamped defence and four lines with scoring power, even if Boudreau changes his combinations daily.
Yet when asked if the Ducks inspired the same fear as the Blackhawks across the NHL, Boudreau said: “I doubt it. I don’t know.”
“I think we just keep chugging along,” he added. “It’s not like we blow every team out of the water. We don’t have 8-1 games. Every game is right down to the wire, so I don’t think there’s a lot of teams afraid of us. I think they’re starting to respect the way we play. With the short training camp, we did a lot at the beginning of the season on emotion. Now we’re starting to get a little bit better in other ways.”
Boudreau and Selanne say the Ducks are getting steady leadership from Getzlaf and Perry, two veteran scorers finally ready to make big contributions beyond the box score.
Ducks owner Henry Samueli rewarded his two cornerstones with eight-year contract extensions in the past two weeks, keeping Getzlaf and Perry off the free-agent market this summer and removing one potential distraction from the stretch run.
With all the contracts signed and nearly everybody healthy, the Ducks are focused on a big 20-game finish over the next five weeks. If they keep the same work ethic and keep getting the breaks that eluded them last season, Selanne is confident the Ducks are good enough to join the 2007 club on the side of the Stanley Cup.
“There’s a lot of similarities, and that’s a good sign,” Selanne said. “All cylinders are hitting. It doesn’t matter if we’re two goals down, it seems like we’re going to find a way to win the game. We have to enjoy it a little bit, but still keep pushing ourselves. Don’t look at the stats or standings. This is a great league when you’re playing well.”