When you've made 23 straight starts in net, you're going to endure your fair share of situations where forwards are barreling down at you at full speed, looking to will the puck into the net with brute force.
When all 205 pounds of Patrick Kaleta steamrolled into Jonas Hiller on an unsuccessful two-on-one Wednesday night, Hiller shrugged it off, returned to his feet, posted a scoreless third period, and following the game showed reporters the tear in his sock where Kaleta's skate blade made contact with his leg.
"I was worried to get cut or whatever. But it just hit my kneepad. I'm doing all right," Hiller said after Anaheim's 2-0 loss to the Buffalo Sabres dropped the club to seven points out of the eighth playoff spot with 18 games remaining.
It's all part of a well-earned paycheck by Hiller, who will likely make his franchise-record 24th consecutive start on Friday when the Calgary Flames visit Friday for another matchup between two teams desperate for points. He equaled J.S. Giguere and Guy Hebert's jointly held team record by stopping 22 of 24 shots in his 23rd consecutive start on Wednesday.
"It has definitely been a lot of games played," Hiller said. "I think Bruce Boudreau is doing a good job of giving me days off and taking care of me. Sometimes it's more the mental part, kind of like being able to focus again, focus again, especially like nights like tonight where you feel like you're playing well and doing good, but you still can't win."
Hiller was bested by Ryan Miller for the second time this season, the first coming in Buffalo's 4-1 win in Helsinki on October 7, both teams' season opener. This time around, Miller's 43 saves marked one of the strongest performances by a goaltender against the Ducks this season.
"I thought he was pretty good controlling rebounds, making that extra save," Hiller said of Miller. "He got some bounces as well, but as long as you're feeling good and fighting for everything, things go your way, and that's what he did. It's definitely tough for us."
Hiller compared the body of work he's produced over the last two months to something that might be more expected in a European club our tournament schedule.
"In Switzerland you normally play most of the games, but it's normally like 40 something games or 50 games. The only thing kind of similar to something like this would be the Spengler Cup where you play like five games in six days, stuff like that. It's definitely a lot of games, especially on the road with the travel, which isn't easy."
"But I'm feeling well."
Wouldn't we all say.
Since his consecutive games streak began with a 1-0 overtime loss at Calgary on January 12, Hiller has posted a 14-5-4 record with a 1.84 GAA and a .928 save percentage, allowing between zero and two goals in 18 of his 23 starts. He has consistently given his team a chance to win, marking one of the best runs in net by any Boudreau-coached team.
"Right now, he's as good as anybody I've had anywhere," Boudreau said. "You know when you're down that you can take chances because you've got the guy back there that's just not going to let the next one go in. And he didn't tonight. He had two two-on-ones in the third period, and he was there to stop em. He's as good as you can get."
Anaheim will need him to re-kindle the best efforts of the season in which he turned 30 years old on February 12. Seven points out of a playoff spot and with a pair of games against playoff hopefuls on Friday at home against Calgary and Saturday at Los Angeles (7:30 PT FOX Sports West), Hiller is likely to get 120 minutes of work over 24 hours in which the direction of the Ducks' 2011-12 season will be clearly identified.
Without four points out of the next two games, there won't be enough time for Anaheim to realistically leapfrog over the four teams that separate them from the elusive eighth playoff spot.
"We can't win every game, and we've got to focus on the next one," Hiller said. "We've got two really important games coming up. If we win both, we're right back in the battle again."
NOTES: According to a report in the Syracuse Post-Standard on Wednesday, it's likely that this will be the final year of the Syracuse Crunch's affiliation with Anaheim. "This was not a surprise," GM Bob Murray said through a team spokesman. "We have known about this for quite some time. We will have options for next year and are currently exploring the possibilities. We hope to have a strong finish to the season and certainly wish Syracuse well in the future." The Crunch are 22-25-4-4 and have the second fewest points in the AHL's Eastern Conference this season. Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf has only four goals in his last 55 games.