DENVER – The Anaheim Ducks are counting on Teemu Selanne’s return to rejuvenate them.
Selanne celebrated a personal milestone – he became the Ducks’ career leader in games played Saturday – by scoring the winning goal in Anaheim’s 4-3 win over the struggling Colorado Avalanche.
“I think it’s very important,” Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller said. “First, he’s a great player and second, in the dressing room, he’s a great guy and the young kids can learn from him. He knows how to score. He showed it again there in the third and it was the game-winner.”
In his second game back since missing six weeks with a lacerated left thigh, Selanne scored the tiebreaker in the third period, the 90th winning goal of his career.
“I think we got a pretty good breakout and a couple of good bounces and I wound up with a puck in front of the goalie,” said Selanne, who has appeared in 617 games with Anaheim, one more than Steve Rucchin. “I got off a pretty good shot. It was nothing special.”
The Avs would sure take a humdrum winner about now.
They’ve lost a season-high four in a row, seven of eight and are 1-5-0 on their season-high eight-game homestand that they had hoped would serve as the catalyst for salvaging a season quickly turning sour.
“They’re all important and we’re playing a team today that’s in the same boat as us,” Avs coach Tony Granato said. “We’re all desperate for points at this part of the season and we put ourselves in position with two pretty solid periods. The second period was probably our best period in a while, and in the third period, they made the play that was the difference in the game.”
With each close call, there’s a growing sense the Avs’ season is quickly getting away from them.
“We have a long home stretch and we’re not collecting points,” Milan Hejduk said. “It would definitely help us because if you look at the whole month of February, we’re pretty much on the road. It’s really frustrating.”
Selanne’s goal five minutes into the third period made a loser of Peter Budaj, who returned to goal by default more than anything else.
Budaj had gone 1-4-0 with a 3.88 goals-against average in his previous six starts, and he had been pulled early in the second period of his previous start, on Jan. 21 against Los Angeles, after he allowed four goals in 15 shots.
Andrew Raycroft, who allowed seven goals on 30 shots in a 7-4 loss to Toronto on Thursday night, has lost five straight starts with a 3.97 average during that span.
Meanwhile, the Ducks have had their own issues in goal. Hiller started for the third straight game in place of Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who’s 1-5-2 with a 3.68 average in his last nine starts. Hiller helped the Ducks win for just the second time in five games.
Budaj left the ice with a minute to go, and the Avs had several chances to tie it but couldn’t put the puck past Hiller in the frenetic final seconds, making their solid showing just another painful experience.
“We did a lot of good things tonight, but we didn’t find a way to get points and it’s getting old,” Avs winger Ian Laperriere said. “We have to realize we don’t have that many games left. We need to get on a roll and get back in the playoff race because we’re falling behind right now. Teams are winning behind us and teams are winning in front of us. It’s going to be tougher and tougher for us if we don’t realize that right now.”
Bret Hedican didn’t have a good second period for Anaheim. First, Hejduk stole the puck from him at centre ice for a short-handed goal. Then, Hedican left with a blood-soaked towel covering his face after an inadvertent elbow by Avs forward Chris Stewart.
On the steal, Hedican spun, looking to pass the puck when Hejduk came up from behind, swiped the puck and put it past Hiller to tie it at two.
Laperriere’s goal less than two minutes later gave Colorado a 3-2 led, but Scott Niedermayer tied it again with a power-play goal, and Selanne finished off the Avs in the third.
“We’ve been in position in a lot of these games where you think the big play to go your way will make the difference,” Granato said. “Obviously they’ve made the plays with the game on the line for the opposite to happen. We’ll keep working, we’re not going to go away and hide.”
Notes: The Avs have played in 28 one-goal games, most in the NHL. They are 16-11-1 in those games. … Ryan Getzlaf’s first-period goal gave him 19 points in January.