ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Anaheim Ducks realize they’re in for plenty of tight defensive games in the next seven weeks while the rest of the NHL attempts to catch them atop the standings.
In their first game back from the Olympic break, Jonas Hiller and the Ducks handled the pressure splendidly.
Hiller made 18 saves in his fifth shutout of the season, Andrew Cogliano scored in the opening minutes, and the NHL-leading Anaheim Ducks returned with a 1-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Friday night.
With help from a few Blues shots off his posts, Hiller came back strong from the break after posting two shutouts for Switzerland in Sochi. Cogliano’s early goal off a neutral-zone turnover stood up in a hard-hitting, choppy game between two of the NHL’s best teams.
“We learned we can keep up with one of the toughest teams in the league,” said Hiller, who matched his career high for shutouts in a season. “On a close game, everybody tries to play as tight as possible. You know you can’t let up at all.”
The Ducks were the NHL’s final team to resume play, giving extra rest to gold medallists Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and bronze medallist Teemu Selanne. Anaheim likely needed the break after losing three of its last four before the Olympics, getting shut out twice during just its second significant skid of the entire season.
Coach Bruce Boudreau earned his 300th career victory as Anaheim swept the season series with the Blues. With 89 points from 61 games, the Ducks are five points ahead of St. Louis, Chicago and Pittsburgh in the overall NHL standings.
“It was a good first game for us in terms of the competition,” Cogliano said. “It was really high-paced. It’s good to jump into a game like that. … To hold them to 18 shots is something we’re proud of.”
Cogliano put the Ducks ahead just 3:39 in with a breakaway goal set up by Saku Koivu’s pass. The speedy Cogliano’s goal was his 18th, matching his career high with 21 games left in the regular season.
Brian Elliott stopped 18 shots for the Blues just a few hours after St. Louis acquired star goalie Ryan Miller in a five-player trade with the Buffalo Sabres that included goalie Jaroslav Halak.
St. Louis still hasn’t scored after the break, taking its first two shutout losses of the season. Vancouver also beat the Blues 1-0 on Wednesday night.
“We’ve just got to put a couple in the net and we’ll get going,” Blues defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “We’re creating the chances. We’re doing a great job of that. But they’re one of the toughest teams. That’s a team we’re probably going to have to compete against down the road.”
The Blues made a major move for their post-season stretch about three hours before the puck dropped in Anaheim, acquiring Miller and agitator Steve Ott from Buffalo in a deal for Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, two draft picks and Halak, the Slovak Olympian who has been with St. Louis since 2010.
“It’s tough when friends leave, when you get to know families and get in personal relationships with those guys,” said St. Louis captain David Backes, Miller’s teammate with the U.S. Olympic team. “But from a hockey standpoint, the management and ownership is really committed to winning, and winning now, and that’s partly shown in the move we’ve made. Ryan Miller is an all-world goalie that has shown it time and time again.”
Miller and Ott won’t join St. Louis until this weekend in Phoenix, so the Blues’ backup goalie was Jeff Tyni, the Ducks’ locker room attendant.
Both teams attempted to make up for their post-break rust with aggressive physical play. Backes and Perry fought in the first period, extending their personal feud. Adding to the Canada-U.S. rivalry vibe, Getzlaf and T.J. Oshie also nearly dropped gloves during the same prolonged scuffle.
NOTES: Ducks C Mathieu Perreault left the game early in the third period with an upper-body injury after taking a big hit. … Stewart was traded on a Blues-Ducks gameday for the second time. St. Louis acquired Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk from Colorado on Feb. 19, 2011, and Stewart made his Blues debut against Anaheim later in the day. … The Ducks scratched F Jakob Silfverberg, who won a silver medal for Sweden last weekend. D Sami Vatanen, who won bronze with Finland and led the Olympic tournament with five assists, is back with Anaheim’s AHL affiliate in Norfolk.