There are many signs that something special is happening with the Anaheim Ducks this season. One of them was on the boards near their bench in Pittsburgh, during their 2-1 victory over the Penguins on Wednesday night: a bottle of Heinz ketchup.
It harkens back to a hypothesis Teemu Selanne popularized over the years, with regard to goal-scoring: The Ketchup Theory.
"Sometimes you try and get the ketchup out of the bottle, it doesn't come. When it comes, it really comes," he said six years ago. "You have to be patient. As long as you keep getting your chances, you feel it's going to happen."
The ketchup's now out of the bottle and, as a team, the Ducks are feeling it's going to happen. That they're going to defend well, and have competent goaltending behind them. That their star players are going to score with regularity. That a playoff seed, an afterthought as of New Year's Day, is now six points away on Feb. 16.
For this, Bruce Boudreau deserves much of the credit and, perhaps, even Jack Adams consideration if the Ducks rally. But he's not the only reason they've risen from the Western Conference cellar.
When Boudreau stepped on the ice for his first practice as Anaheim Ducks coach on Dec. 2, 2011, he was taking over a team that had 7 wins in 25 games and sat 10 points out of a playoff spot.
They now have 24 wins in 57 games; and, with a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night, they've closed to within six points of the No. 8 seed in the West.
The Ducks are 14-2-3 in their last 19 games under Boudreau. Only the Detroit Red Wings have earned as many points (31) as the Ducks have in 2012. They have a plus-20 goal differential since then as well, which is the best in the NHL.
Boudreau has been bold in some of his decisions. He took captain Ryan Getzlaf off a power play to make a statement earlier in the season, and benched Teemu Selanne during a win against Minnesota because "it just looked like it wasn't his night."
Selanne responded with goal No. 656 for his career against Pittsburgh, tying Brendan Shanahan for 12th on the NHL's all-time list. His line also shut down leading MVP candidate Evgeni Malkin, as Boudreau matched them up.
Boudreau will, and should, get the credit for this surge. It's the second time he's come into a losing situation and dramatically changed a team's fortunes: He went 37-17-7 in his first season with the Washington Capitals, leading them to a postseason berth in 2007-08. He's gone 17-11-5 with the Ducks.
It's also the second straight season the Ducks have surged. From Jan. 2-March 30, the Ducks went 24-11-1 to finish No. 4 in the Western Conference.
Getting the majority of the credit for that run: Corey Perry, who won the Hart in leading a team with goaltending issues to the playoffs.
This time, however, the goaltending is the essential component.
Since Jan. 4, Jonas Hiller has given up more than two goals in a game just four times in 19 starts, going 13-3-3 in 2012. In Nov. 2011, in contrast, Hiller went 2-7-3 and gave up more than two goals in 9 of 12 starts. And with that, Randy Carlyle bids you a good evening.
Earlier in this run, Boudreau put Hiller over to the OC Register:
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau wondered aloud last week why Hiller wasn't selected as one of the NHL's three stars from games played from Jan. 9-15 and now he figures he has more ammunition to state his case.
"In this run, he's been spectacular," Boudreau said. "I'm putting my dibs in right now. If he's not player of the week, player of the month here. ... It's bad enough they don't even sometimes know we exist out here in Anaheim that I'm learning quickly.
"I hope they do take notice of how well he's played and give him some recognition."
If nothing else, it reinforces the old adage that a team's only going to be as good -- and a coach as smart -- as their goaltender plays. Hiller's back to being one of the best goalies in hockey. The Bobby Ryan-for-Ryan Miller trade talk has morphed into Patrick Kane-for-Ryan Miller trade talk. The Ducks are winning at a clip that has them, and fans, believing the playoffs are in reach.
The ketchup's out of the bottle, as they say in Finland …