The Anaheim Ducks are playing their best hockey of the season, after three months of their worst hockey in years.
They hope it’s not too late for them to get back into the Western Conference playoff race.
Jonas Hiller made 31 saves, Corey Perry scored, and Lubomir Visnovsky was credited with a goal that Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson knocked into his own net during the Ducks’ 2-1 victory over the Senators on Saturday.
”You go through peaks and valleys throughout the season,” said left wing Jason Blake, who returned from a lengthy stay on the injured list two games before this stretch of wins began. ”It wasn’t the start that we were looking for. We dug ourselves a pretty big hole. But when you win a couple of games, you start feeling good about yourself and you get some confidence.
”The whole team is buying into what we’re trying to do in here, and it seems to be working.”
The Ducks (17-22-7) are 7-0-1 in their last eight and 10-9-3 since Bruce Boudreau took over for fired coach Randy Carlyle on Nov. 30. Anaheim is still stuck in 13th place in the West.
”When we started the roll we’re on right now, we were playing some non-playoff teams. And that definitely gave us the confidence that we could also play against the best teams,” Hiller said.
Craig Anderson made 27 saves for the Senators, who got their only goal at 8:51 of the third period. Chris Neil, playing in his 700th NHL regular-season game, converted his own rebound after Nick Foligno set him up from behind the net.
”It would have been nice to score another one to tie it up and send it into overtime, but you can’t expect to play just 20 minutes in the third period and win a hockey game,” Neil said. ”We wanted to get some traffic in front of Hiller and make it tough for him to see the puck. He’s a good goaltender, and if he sees the puck he’s going to make the save.”
Ottawa, which lost for the third time in 13 games, had earned at least one point in a club-record, 11 straight road games.
”We knew that if we played our game, we had a chance,” Hiller said. ”Everybody went out there and believed that we had a chance, and that’s the way we played. We played a really solid game. Everybody was sacrificing and playing for the team, and that’s the way you win. If we keep playing that way, we can pretty much beat anybody.”
The Ducks took a 1-0 lead at 6:15 of the second period when Bobby Ryan beat Ottawa defenseman Filip Kuba to a loose puck in the left corner right off a faceoff and fed Perry in front for a short backhander. It was the 22nd goal for Perry, the same total he had through 46 games last season when he lead the NHL with 50 and was named the league’s MVP.
”That line is something special and they communicate well,” Blake said. ”It was a great play on Bobby’s part. When you’ve got the Hart Trophy and Rocket Richard Trophy winner sitting in front of the net, you know he’s going to put it away.”
Niklas Hagman started the play that led to Anaheim’s second goal when he carried the puck behind the net and fed it to Visnovsky at the top of the right circle. Anderson made a sprawling save on Visnovsky’s snap shot, but the rebound fluttered high in the air. Karlsson tried to bat it away, but it bounced off Anderson’s left shoulder and into the net at 17:00 of the second.
”It was just a reaction, and it was just bad luck. It was a bad bounce, and there’s really not much you can do about those,” Karlsson said. ”We moved past that right away and did everything we could to get back, but unfortunately, we fell a little bit short.”
Anaheim left wing Mark Bell, suspended for the first 15 games of the 2008-09 season because of an alcohol-related arrest, played in his first NHL game since April 5, 2008, with Toronto. The Ducks signed Bell as a free agent in July.
”It felt great. It’s been a long time coming,” Bell said. ”You always hope it becomes a reality when you have a dream like that, to come back and play after being out for four years. You just try and keep your eye on the prize, and today it became a reality.
”It’s pretty sweet to be a part of this and get the win.”
NOTES: Anaheim LW Matt Beleskey was scratched because of a swollen right hand after blocking a shot in Wednesday’s win over Phoenix. … The Ducks have won four of five meetings with the Senators since beating them in the 2007 Stanley Cup finals. … The Senators haven’t allowed more than two goals in their last seven games, and have killed off all 20 opponents’ power plays during that stretch. … Ottawa coach Paul MacLean was an assistant coach with the Ducks under Mike Babcock when they made it to the 2003 Stanley Cup finals.