Sami Vatanen, the Anaheim Ducks’ imposing defenseman, weighs in at a generous 183 pounds soaking wet. All 5-foot-10 of him. So while he was out with an injury the last few weeks, he hit the weights and hit them hard.
Maybe a little too hard, he says, since a puck slipped off his stick in the third period of Friday night’s game against Colorado at the Honda Center, and he wasn’t able to catch Ryan O’Reilly on the breakaway.
O’Reilly backhanded a snipe past Frederik Andersen to give the Avalanche a 2-1 lead, and Vatanen decided to scale back on the weights. Wouldn’t want him to get too ripped.
"I think I’ve been lifting too much bench press at the gym so my hands were a little bit frozen there and it bounced over my stick," he said. "Sometimes that happens and you’ve got to just refocus and do your thing again. It was my bad, but we got the W."
For the 17th time this season and their third game in a row, the league-leading Ducks were able to overcome a third-period deficit and go on to win. Vatanen, in his first game back from a lower-body injury, made up for the blunder when he assisted on Corey Perry’s overtime game-winner that gave the Ducks a 3-2 win and their fourth victory in a row.
Anaheim is really making a habit out of third-period comebacks.
"I know I don’t expect to win, but we dig down and work harder and harder," said Ducks’ coach Bruce Boudreau. "I think the belief that it’s possible is the thing that always gives you a chance. If you never thought it was possible, it doesn’t have to be. But if you think that no matter what’s going on, whether you’re playing good or bad, and you think that you can win, and you go out there and work your butt off, then you usually have a good chance of having success."
There’s a lot of belief in the team’s ability to roll all four lines right now, but it’s the third one in particular that has been a veritable spark-plug in the last month. The third line, centered by Rickard Rakell with some combination of Jiri Sekac, Tomas Fleischmann or Emerson Etem on the wings, has added energy, forechecking and most importantly, goals.
It was responsible for two Friday night: The first period goal from Fleischmann to Sekac that was set up after an unbelievable possession effort by Rakell, and the game-tying goal by the centerman himself less than two minutes after O’Reilly gave Colorado the lead.
.@RickyRakell93 on playing with @sekacjiri: "We both like to play with a lot of speed. It's gone pretty well over the last few games."
"He’s got great speed and he always wants to play the puck and make plays and it’s the same thing with me," Rakell said. "We play with a lot of speed and puck control. We knew that if we get the puck down, and start twisting and turning, we’d get a lot of chances. That’s what happened."
Colorado is a desperate team and that is still clinging to an unlikely belief that a playoff spot is within reach. The Avs are officially out of the race in the Central Division, and with 78 points they’re still five behind Calgary in the Wild Card.
But the Ducks, as they tend to do, believed just a little bit more when it counted.