ANAHEIM, Calif. — A game that was billed as a potential Stanley Cup preview was lacking some of playoff-type atmosphere. The score, a 3-2 shootout win by the Penguins, might have shown otherwise but it was really the Ducks’ game to lose.
The Ducks spent the better part of the game pelting the Penguins with shots but had only two goals to show for it. Instead, it was Brandon Sutter, the Penguins’ sixth shooter of the night, who found the back of the net on the shot that mattered the most, backhanding one around Jonas Hiller’s pad. Ryan Getzlaf failed to answer on the other end.
It was the Ducks’ second shootout loss in as many games.
"We followed the game plan to a tee, I thought, and we played really good," said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. "We just lost in the shootout."
"Our last two games were very different," Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. "The Montreal game, we probably didn’t deserve. They took it to us and we weren’t ready right away. Tonight, both teams were ready from the get-go and they were able to come out with the win."
A season-high crowd was on hand as the best team in the Western Conference outshot the best team in the Eastern Conference 31-17. After 40 minutes, the shots-on-goal deficit was an uncharacteristic 23-7. The Ducks dominated most of the game, maintaing possession nearly throughout but goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stonewalled the attempts, allowing only two goals, both by Corey Perry, both set up by Getzlaf.
The Penguins logged only seven shots through the first 40 minutes of play. But in the first period, Hiller failed to pick up on Deryk Engelland in the slot as he snapped one past and Evgeni Malkin scored on the power play in the third.
"They’re a heck of a team and they took it to us for the first part of the game," said NHL points leader Sidney Crosby of the Penguins. "But I definitely like how we responded."
On paper, it seemed like the Ducks should have won and won big, but they came away with only a point and questioning the system.
"Those two teams could kill each other all night playing," said Lovejoy. "The fan in me enjoys the shootout. It’s too bad it ends that way but nobody left early."
"Sure, you could try to play it out, but at the same time it doesn’t really make sense to go like triple-overtime in the regular season," said Hiller. "But that’s how the game is played and you’ve got to find a way to win those shootouts."
The Ducks’ best opportunities came on the power play but their inability to convert further exposed the inconsistencies in the special teams play.
"I wish our power play would have been a little better. I thought we had a lot of opportunities there," Hiller said.
Despite the loss, Anaheim (43-14-7) maintains its position as the top team in the league with 93 points. But St. Louis is right behind in the standings only three points away and on a three-game win streak. There’s just one more game at home before the Ducks go out on the road when the Big West Conference Championship Tournament comes to town and their next opponent, the Maple Leafs, are just as unforgiving as the last two.