NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—The Anaheim Mighty Ducks are doing their best to end this season well, even if it’s nowhere near as good as last year.
With the win, the defending Western Conference champs avoided being eliminated from the playoffs—for at least one more game.
“Unfortunately, it’s a little too late,” Anaheim captain Steve Rucchin said. “We want to play, but it’s pretty disappointing. We’re happy about the win, but it’s tough to go out here knowing we’re out of the hunt. We’re playing for pride right now.”
Vaclav Prospal added a goal and an assist, Sergei Fedorov scored an empty-netter and Rucchin had a pair of assists for Anaheim, which avoided being swept in the four-game season series between the teams.
The Predators could take a lesson from Anaheim in their quest for the six-year franchise’s first playoff berth. Nashville remained tied with idle Edmonton for seventh in the West and needed this win with only four home games left. But the Predators, who tied the franchise record with their 34th victory at Calgary on Saturday, couldn’t have come out flatter.
“That’s not the team we’re accustomed to seeing,” Rucchin said. “They’re a fast and a skilled team.”
But Anaheim scored on two of its first three power plays and outshot Nashville 18-7 in the second period alone in taking a 3-1 lead. Nashville goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who stopped 26 shots, couldn’t explain the lack of emotion.
“I wish I knew. We were sorely mistaken if we thought they were just going to pack it in and let us win, because nobody’s going to do that,” he said.
Coach Barry Trotz tried to liven up his Predators by shortening shifts and giving rookie Jordin Tootoo, who leads the team in penalty minutes, extra shifts. But he isn’t ready to worry yet.
“Our margin of error is nothing. It’s a six-game sprint right now. That’s what it amounted to,” he said of the loss.
The Predators had plenty of chances, but went 1-for-9 on the power play and 0-for-5 in the third period, which included a five-on-three in the final seconds. Anaheim goalie Martin Gerber stopped Nashville’s best chance when he used his left leg to stop Steve Sullivan midway through the period.
Anaheim coach Mike Babcock had some advice for the Predators.
“They’ve done a great job to get themselves in this situation, and they’ve just got to allow themselves to play and they’ll be fine,” Babcock said.
Prospal put the Mighty Ducks up when he scored a power-play goal on the first shot of the game at 2:28 of the opening period. His 19th this season came as he put back a rebound of Rucchin’s long shot.
But Ozolinsh broke the tie with his fifth goal this season on a one-timer in the high slot near the blue line midway in the second period for a 2-1 lead. Sykora padded the lead as he took advantage of Vokoun being pulled away fromthe net with 23 seconds left in the period and scored into the open cage.
^Notes: Fedorov has eight points (six goals, two assists) in his last five games, and Rucchin has 11 points in his last 13 games. … Nashville defenseman Jason York returned to the lineup after missing 13 games with a cracked cheekbone. … Nashville defenseman Shane Hnidy missed the game because he flew to Ottawa to be with his infant daughter who was having surgery. … Nashville now is 4-22-2-1 when trailing after two periods.