ANAHEIM, Calif. — PRAISE BE THE HOCKEY GODS! THEM DEMONS HATH BEEN RUN OUT OF HONDA CENTER.
After four straight years of Games 7 losses at home, the Anaheim Ducks finally won a Game 7 in front of their home crowd. The Ducks narrowly defeated the Edmonton Oilers 2-1, and now move on to the Western Conference Final to face the Nashville Predators.
The victory on Wednesday night was the Ducks’ first Game 7 win since 2006 when the then-Mighty Ducks beat the Calgary Flames in the same round.
To be honest, the bar was set pretty low for the Ducks coming into the game.
Not only did they have the ghosts of Games 7 past haunting their nightmares, but they were also coming off an absolute thumping in the previous game as the Oilers beat them 7-1.
Ducks fans felt the vomit start to rise in their throat when rookie defenseman Shea Theodore misplayed the puck while taking it out from behind the net. Drake Caggiula capitalized to give the Oilers the lead just 3:31 into the first period.
“I think we got used to [flukey goals]. There was quite a few that series,” said goaltender John Gibson. “Hopefully they’re out of the way now. There’s nothing you can do. Stuff like that is going to happen, whether it’s a bad bounce or a good break for them, it happens. It’s about responding. I think we all responded the right way.”
In the past being down a goal in Game 7 would cause the Ducks to curl up in the fetal position and let the game overtake them. Not this group, though.
Following Game 6’s beatdown, Andrew Cogliano came forward and called on his teammates to do better. That included himself.
“We needed other guys to step up and contribute, said Cogliano. “I’m the first guy to admit that … [Ryan Getzlaf] can’t score every night. He’s been phenomenal in this playoffs. He’s been the difference for us, and we’re going to need other guys to step up along the way.”
Practicing what he preaches, Cogliano tied the game for the Ducks.
“I’ve got [Ryan Kesler] there and I just came in and picked up the garbage,” said Cogliano. “Those are goals we should be scoring. It was about time I got one.”
“Anytime somebody steps up and wants to talk to the team … then go out there and back it up, it’s big for our group, said Getzlaf. “[Cogliano] did that tonight. [He] got a big goal.”
The Ducks controlled the second period, outshooting the Oilers, 16-3.
With the score tied 1-1, the Ducks had 20 minutes between them and catapulting that monkey on their back into the sun.
They didn’t have to wait long to take the lead.
Randy Carlyle elected to move Nick Ritchie up to a line with Getzlaf and Corey Perry early in the second. “I thought about doing it before … I just wanted to see the temperament of the game and how it was going,” said the coach. “I just felt that the way [Leon] Draisaitl-[Milan] Lucic-Caggiula line had performed, specifically in the last game, if felt it was important to have more size there. That was the only thing. It was about Nick Ritchie’s size.”
It worked. Like Cogliano, Ritchie became the next unlikely Duck to step up and score a huge goal for the team, 3:21 into the third, and against the matchup Carlyle wanted on the ice.
Anaheim continued to press the attack. In the final five-ish minutes, the Oilers became even more aggressive in an attempt to tie the game.
Gibson, who has been shaky at best throughout the series, showcased why Bob Murray gave him the final rose over Frederik Andersen. Gibson stayed calm as the Oilers pressed.
“Guys have pride in here and guys want to win. I think the difference tonight was [Gibson], said Cogliano. “He had a bad game last game and I think he knew that. He played a phenomenal game tonight.”
The final buzzer ticked down and Honda Center let out a collective sigh of relief before returning to celebrating their team’s victory.
“Tonight the building was awesome,” said Cogliano. “Edmonton, a place like Calgary, all the other markets get a lot of the credit for the fans, but tonight ours was as good as theirs, even better. It was as loud as you could get. And you feed off that. We need that, the energy from the fan
“I try to think of it as we’re in it as a team, as an organization, we’re in it as one, with everyone. We’re going to need everyone.”
They are going to need everyone as the Ducks head into the Western Conference Final against a surging Nashville Predators team. The Preds handed the Ducks a first-round exit last season (in a Game 7, at home) that would cost Bruce Boudreau his job.
Speaking of Boudreau, it’s hard not to think of Gabby when the Ducks break a streak that started under his watch.
Carlyle was asked about an interview that Bruce did where the former-Ducks coach summed up his four years of playoffs losses in Anaheim as “your best players need to be your best players.”
To which Carlyle responded, “Well, I have a difference of opinion than Bruce had. I like our guys, and I’m looking at it and saying that they have done a lot of things that we have asked of them from a leadership standpoint and accomplished a lot. So I’m never going to downgrade our players.”
The Ducks will celebrate this and move ahead to preparing for Nashville. Game 1 of the Western Conference Final starts on Friday in Anaheim at 9 p.m. EST.