ANAHEIM, Calif. – From his pre-game ritual to his last-minute saves, Ray Emery showed he hadn’t forgotten a thing about NHL pressure during his first big-league start in over a year.
The Anaheim Ducks’ new goalie also won’t soon forget how it felt to put his club into playoff position.
Jason Blake scored two goals, Emery made 30 saves in his first win for Anaheim, and the Ducks climbed into an eighth-place tie in the Western Conference standings with a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night.
“We all knew what was at stake, so it felt great to get those two points,” said Emery, who hadn’t started an NHL game since returning from last year’s career-threatening hip surgery. “I don’t control when I play or who I play against, but I wanted to make the most of it.”
Blake scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period of the Ducks’ sixth victory in eight games, pulling them even with Calgary at 81 points. Anaheim also has two games in hand on the Flames, who visit Honda Center on Sunday.
“We’re in the playoffs right now,” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said “Our message now is that we have to earn the right to stay in.”
Although Blake provided all the offence in his first multigoal game since Dec. 31, the veteran left wing placed the credit solely on Emery, whose steady puck-stopping prevented St. Louis from taking control during long stretches in which the Blues outplayed Anaheim.
“He was the reason we won,” Blake said. “I thought Ray played unbelievable tonight and made some great saves. It’s been a long time coming for him.”
Nathan Oystrick scored and Jaroslav Halak stopped 22 shots for the Blues, who opened a four-game trip with their ninth loss in 13 games. The loss capped an unsettling day for the Blues after Chairman Dave Checketts announced the franchise is for sale.
Coach Davis Payne said the news back home wasn’t a factor for his team, which outplayed the Ducks for long stretches. Checketts’ group and a private equity firm that owns a majority of the Blues say they can’t agree to terms on a deal for Checketts to purchase control of the Blues, forcing them to sell the franchise after five years of ownership.
“No, it’s a non-factor in what we have to do,” Payne said. “We had our chances, and we just needed to find a way to finish, or find a way to grab one when the goalie was out of position.”
After Blake tied it in the second period, he put the Ducks ahead with 18:10 to play on an artful deflection of Lubomir Visnovsky’s shot.
Emery took it from there through the final minutes of his first NHL victory since Feb. 1, 2010. He made his first appearance for the Ducks three days earlier in relief of Dan Ellis.
Emery, who signed with the Ducks last month, had surgery that ended the longtime Ottawa netminder’s comeback with Philadelphia last season after just 29 games. He had the same bone disorder that ended Bo Jackson’s multisport career, but recovered with the help of a bone graft.
“The last year, however many months, he’s been working hard in Toronto and trying to get back to this level,” Blake said. “It’s great to see him get rewarded for that.”
Anaheim signed Emery and acquired Ellis to fill in for All-Star Jonas Hiller, who has missed 13 straight games and 16 of 17 with a persistent case of vertigo. Hiller is working out on the ice, but still prohibited from playing.
Carlyle said Emery played solid positional defence throughout the game.
“It came down to Emery having a great night,” Blues defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “We had some good chances, but we’ve got to bury our chances. They’re playing very desperate right now. They’re obviously fighting for a spot, and they’re a pretty big team. They’re very physical, and their top two lines have a lot of skill. It’s a pretty deadly combination.”
After a scoreless first period, Oystrick capitalized on a series of poor Anaheim shifts with a power-play goal from the slot. Oystrick, who played three games for Anaheim last season, was an emergency callup by the Blues on Tuesday to fill in for injured Nikita Nikitin.
Oystrick hadn’t scored an NHL goal since the 2008-09 season with Atlanta, but his score seemed to snap the Ducks out of a funk.
Blake tied it 1:34 after Oystrick’s goal when his pass to Teemu Selanne got caught underneath Halak and slipped into the net.
NOTES: Visnovsky’s assist was his 57th point, moving the Slovak into a share of the scoring lead among NHL defencemen. He has 11 points in the last seven games. … Oystrick is allowed to play for St. Louis despite being under a six-game AHL suspension for coming off the bench to instigate a fight for Peoria last week. He has 41 points in 56 games with the Rivermen this season. … Brad Winchester faced his former St. Louis teammates for the first time since getting traded to Anaheim on Feb. 28. The veteran forward got in a shoving match with two Blues near the benches in the final minutes.