Originally posted on Red Light District Hockey | Last updated 2/20/12
By Bill Whitehead
SUNRISE, Fla. -- With his club clinging to a 1-0 lead Sunday and a little over half a period away from climbing to within five points of a playoff position, Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau couldn't help but cringe as one of his former players skated in on Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller with the possible tying goal.
Handling the puck was Florida's Tomas Fleischmann, a skillful winger Boudreau coached while behind the bench for the Washington Capitals. Hiller stood tall in the tense moment, though, watching Fleischmann's shot whistle in from the high slot and gloving it up near his shoulder, much like a first baseman snaring a hooking line drive destined for a double in the right-field corner.
"I know Fleisch too well, I was scared every time he touched the puck," admitted Boudreau. "He's just so shifty and knows holes and where to go. I think he's a great player."
Yet another leathery save on a glovely night for Hiller. And 11 minutes later when ex-Panther Niklas Hagman added an empty-net goal for a 2-0 win to improve Anaheim's record to 15-3-4 in this calendar year, the question had to be asked -- again. One more time, you know, just for the record.
Just who -- really, what is more like it -- are these Anaheim Ducks?
Like dead ducks in a pond after a morning shoot, the former foul fowl were floating face down, oh, six weeks ago in 2011. "Terrible" and "underachieving" weren't strong enough words to describe a team that was 9-21-6 yet had the talents of Hiller, Teemu Selanne, Bobby Ryan, Ryan
Getzlaf and Corey Perry, plus up-and-coming, smooth-skating defenseman Cam Fowler.
Anaheim's success since has ranked right up there with Detroit's and St. Louis's as of late, and Minnesota's in the first half of the season. The Ducks (25-24-10) entered Sunday's game with 32 standings points in the 2012 calendar year, tied for second with Nashville, while holding a +19 goal differential, also second (St. Louis, +25).
Much of the success of Anaheim -- playing its sixth of an eight-game road swing -- revolves around Hiller and Selanne.
Hiller braced himself and turned aside all 31 shots the Panthers fired on him, including some excellent scoring chances in the final 30 minutes, to record his 22nd win, third shutout this season and 14th of his career. The Swiss netminder is 13-2-4 in his last 19 games.
"He was phenomenal," said Boudreau, who ran his Anaheim coaching record to 18-11-6. "It's another where he won't get Player of the Week or one of the stars because it's Anaheim, but he's 3-0-1 with a 1.1 goals against average, all on the road. But that's my little spiel. I think him (getting a shutout) is fabulous. He's had the 1, 1, 1, then goes to a 2 and now to a zero. That's pretty good. He's held some good scoring teams to few goals, and he did a lot of it tonight on his own."
Anaheim's renaissance, not his individual achievement, was on Hiller's mind, saying, "Confidence) is the biggest difference now and two months ago. Now everybody's trusting each other and helping each other out. We're a team. Weeks ago, one line wasn't there or I wasn't there. Right now it seems like everybody's picking everybody up."
Selanne's 20th goal in the first period -- the 17th time he's scored 20 in a season -- proved to be the game-winner. After Bobby Ryan's shot was kicked aside by Florida goalie Jose Theodore, the 41-year-old Selanne cleaned it up to give Anaheim the early edge.
"It's amazing. (Teemu) still has the passion to play and enjoys coming to the rink every single day, always with a smile on his face. It brings the spirits up for the other guys, too, and he works hard," Hagman said.
"He's a wonder," Boudreau said with a slight smile. "He could've had a couple today. Florida's where older people come, right?"
Right now the Sunshine State's just another place where Selanne and the Ducks keep winning.
By Bill Whitehead
Florida Panthers Credentialed Correspondent/Hockey Columnist
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