Ducks face critical stretch

Ever the optimist, Teemu Selanne doesn’t believe that the Ducks are running out of chances in their valiant quest to remain in the playoff picture.

The hard, cold fact is that time is running out on them.

Scores coming in from around the NHL on Thursday night were in their favor but the Ducks didn’t help themselves any with a 3-1 loss to the white-hot St. Louis Blues, leaving them seven points out of the final spot in the Western Conference.

It was a tall task for sure to defeat a team that improved to 28-4-4 at home and now leads the NHL with 93 points. But the Ducks (29-29-10) have to stretch wins together regardless of who they are playing.

And the final nails in their coffin could be hammered in if they lose to Dallas and Colorado to finish off this all-important three-game road trip.

“Obviously the next two are going to be the biggest games of the season,” Selanne said. “We all know that. We all know what the number is going to be to make the playoffs and how many we can lose and how many we got to win.

“But we keep fighting.”

Not only did the ninth-place Kings lose, but 10th-place Colorado fell while Phoenix (seventh) and San Jose (eighth) managed only a point with shootout losses.

But it appears that the Ducks are running out of steam, having lost for the fourth time in six games. Goalie Jonas Hiller might have had the quote of the night.

When asked about his right leg after being clipped by a falling Blues captain David Backes near the crease, Hiller said he was “a little sore” but reported himself fine.

But after taking another hit to their barely flickering playoff hopes, Hiller simply said, “But I think the heart hurts more right now than the actual leg.”

NOTES, QUOTES

   –Nick Bonino left the game early in the second period due to a lower-body injury that could be his knee after being on the receiving end of a hit by St. Louis defenseman Roman Polak. Boudreau said that the young center will be re-evaluated to determine the seriousness of the injury. “We’ll know more (Friday morning),” Boudreau said. “It looks like he got hit in his knee or his thigh or something. You could see it on the replay. Somewhere in the lower body.” Bonino, who played just over four minutes while centering the fourth line, entered the game with four goals and eight assists in 37 contests as he’s getting the chance to become an everyday NHL player.
   –Corey Perry logged the second-most ice time among forwards in the NHL last season. Ryan Getzlaf was fifth. There’s no real discernible change with the Ducks’ linemates and the amount of minutes they’ve played this season but Coach Bruce Boudreau is trying to do what he can to shorten their shifts and keep them from creeping into the 25-minute range. “If they’re not on the power play, it’s about 50 seconds (per shift) now,” Boudreau said. “I’d still like it to get it to 45 seconds.” Perry’s average ice time is 21 minutes, 46 seconds this season compared to 22:18 a year ago, putting him fourth in the league. Getzlaf remains in the top five at 21:43 this season, only slightly down from last season’s 21:51 of ice time.
   –A slumping Jason Blake was moved down to the Ducks’ fourth line for Monday’s contest against Edmonton. Blake’s response: His first goal in 12 games as he got a feed from Bobby Ryan on a terrible line change on the Oilers, converting a two-on-none rush for the game’s first goal in a 4-2 victory. Blake was playing very well after coming back from surgery to repair torn tendons in his left wrist but the veteran has struggled to re-gain his form after suffering a foot injury in late January. “It’s funny how things work out,” Boudreau said. “As far as confidence goes, he had a jump in this step after that, which you could see. And it’s all because he scored the goal. It makes you feel so much better. That you just feel like you’re walking on air and compared to ‘Oh, I’m going to try’ and trudge along.”

QUOTE TO NOTE: “We didn’t take advantage of the power play, that’s for damn sure… At this stage of the game, all we see it as is a loss. No matter what happened. Five on five, we were just as good as they were. But our special teams, which have been our Achilles’ heel for the last month, snuck up on us again and killed us. We’re sort of at a little bit of a loss there. Same guys doing mostly the same things. I know goals are down and power plays are down for the most part. Perplexing is a good word.” — Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, on a power play that’s fallen from third to 18th this season and went 0-for-3 in a loss to St. Louis.

ROSTER REPORT
PLAYER NOTES:
   –RW Corey Perry is staying hot for the Ducks during the second half of the season. Perry scored his 12th goal in his last 16 contests with a second-period tally against St. Louis, giving him a team-leading 34. He’s tied for third in the NHL with Toronto’s Phil Kessel.
   –LW Matt Beleskey got an assist on Corey Perry’s goal, lifting him to double digits with 10 helpers for the season. The assist total represents a career high as he had seven in each of his previous two seasons. It was his first point since Feb. 15 at Pittsburgh, represent a span of eight games.
   –C Saku Koivu is stuck in a scoring drought, as he has now gone scoreless in his last eight games. Koivu’s overall numbers have been declining as he has 11 goals and 21 assists, which will make it tough for him to reach the 40-point total. If that’s the case, it will be the first time he doesn’t break that barrier since 2001-02 when he was sidelined for all but three games due to his fight with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

MEDICAL WATCH:
   –G Dan Ellis will be out for four to six weeks after undergoing sports hernia surgery on Friday. Ellis had torn his groin muscle during a Jan. 7 practice.

GOALTENDERS:
   –Jonas Hiller
   –Jeff Deslauriers

DEFENSEMEN:
   –Francois Beauchemin, Cam Fowler
   –Luca Sbisa, Lubomir Visnovsky
   –Toni Lydman, Sheldon Brookbank

FIRST LINE:
   –LW Niklas Hagman, C Ryan Getzlaf, RW Corey Perry

SECOND LINE:
   –LW Bobby Ryan, C Saku Koivu, RW Teemu Selanne

THIRD LINE:
   –LW Andrew Cogliano, C Nick Bonino, RW Matt Beleskey

FOURTH LINE:
   –LW Jason Blake, C Rod Pelley, RW Devante Smith-Pelly