ANAHEIM, Calif. – Corey Perry looked slow shift after shift in the second half of Anaheim’s 3-2 Game 5 series-clinching win over Calgary.
At the 4:13 mark of the second period Flames forward Matt Stajan slammed into Perry with a hip check that sent the Ducks star limping to the bench. He threw his gloves in the air and yelled in pain. Weight was absent from his leg. A knee injury? Hip injury?
Perry returned, but he didn’t look quite up to speed … until he scored the game-winning goal at the 2:26 mark of overtime. When Perry finished jamming the puck under Flames goaltender Karri Ramo, he celebrated like a maniac. It was Perry's playoff-leading 15th point.
“It was huge, you see him go down and hold your breath and hope he’s fine,” Ducks forward Matt Beleskey said. “He’s a guy who takes a beating every night, comes back and scores big goals, that’s why he’s one of the best players in the league.”
There was a certain aura around Perry after the Stajan hit. Was Perry hurt? Was he faking it? After he returned, would he score the game winning goal and give the perfect ending, from a Ducks perspective, to this game? And he delivered. Though Perry didn’t skate well after the play, his hands, which are his best asset as a player anyway, still worked fine. Also to note, Perry did not have a noticeable limp from the press podium after the game.
“The shifts were short by they were effective,” Perry said of how he got his legs back under him.
What was his problem? He wouldn’t say. Did he harbor ill will on the Stajan hit? “Just incidental” Perry added.
When Perry stepped back on the ice near the end of the second period, the 17,284 people at Honda Center erupted and chanted his name.
In some ways, Perry’s goal saved the Ducks this game, and maybe this series. Anaheim has been the better team than Calgary throughout this series. The Flames’ only win came after a fluky set of events triggered an altering in the space-time continuum in Game 3.
On Sunday, Anaheim again was better. Calgary’s only real, legit goal was Jiri Hudler’s power play score on the second part of a four-minute double-minor on Ryan Kesler for high sticking in the first period. Johnny Gaudreau’s goal at the 5:55 mark of the second period that put Calgary up 2-1, deflected off Ryan Getzlaf’s stick and past Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen. It was a good hockey goal, but not a clean goal.
Matt Beleskey equalized for the Ducks at the 59 second mark of the third period.
The Ducks out-shot the Flames 47-19. From an advanced stat perspective, the Ducks’ out-Corsi’d the Flames 76-32 even strength per Naturalstattrick. They beat the Flames in advanced metrics except for Game 3.
In the NHL, the margin of victory and defeat is so small that all teams have a chance. The Flames did and were a goal in overtime away from sending this series back to Calgary for a Game 6. Fortunately for Anaheim, the Ducks players realized this and knew it was probably a bad idea.
“In the third period and OT, we had no answers,” Flames coach Bob Hartley said.
The Ducks now face the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final. The Winnipeg Jets were supposed to be a test for the Ducks in the first round, and Anaheim swept them in four games. The Flames weren’t and the Ducks showed they were a better team. The old adage on good teams is that you beat the teams you’re supposed to beat. The Ducks have done so.
The Ducks haven't been this far since 2007, the year of their only Stanley Cup win. This is virgin land for coach Bruce Boudreau.
The Western Conference Final will be a toss-up. But at least, the Ducks know that if Perry’s legs can’t work, he can still score goals, and that should give them some confidence.
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