Finnish line lifts surging Ducks
Outside a familiarly quiet locker room after the Anaheim Ducks' 3-1 loss to San Jose on Jan. 4, coach Bruce Boudreau spoke of seeing something in his team's effort after a third period in which they outshot the division leaders 16-7, hitting two posts and doing seemingly everything right except for getting a couple past red-hot goaltender Antti Niemi.
"I told them, 'I know it's no consolation, but that's maybe the hardest you've worked since (their last two victories),' " Boudreau said. "That's something that's got to be commonplace. That can't be something you just do when you're playing a team after hard practices for two days. You have to have the will to do that every day."
Consider that message heeded. The Ducks, buoyed by a nearly healthy roster and the added chemistry of Finnish linemates Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu and Niklas Hagman, have gone 4-0-1 since the San Jose game and boast all kinds of newfound confidence and direction heading into Sunday's game at conference-leading Vancouver.
"I've always said, I don't care who you are, what you do, if you don't have the confidence, you can't be good enough," Selanne said to reporters after Friday's 5-0 win in Edmonton.
The chemistry has come naturally for the three players who have a combined 12 Olympic appearances for the Finnish national team. All three players are a plus-5 over the
Ducks' five-game points streak, while Selanne and Koivu have posted identical four-goal, seven-point stretches.
On a team that ranks second-to-last in the Western Conference with a minus-27 goal differential, Koivu is a plus-10 in just 35 games, and the point-a-game Selanne a plus-five. At 41 years of age and faced with occasional speculation over his future beyond just the next game, Selanne hasn't missed one this season and leads the club with 43 points.
Hagman, acquired off waivers from Calgary earlier in the season, has shown a spark around the net and a good compete level in the offensive zone while digging pucks loose and finding his teammates.
"I think Haggy's really played well when he's been put on that line," Boudreau said to Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register. "Except they talk in Finnish on the ice and I have no idea what they're saying. So they come to the bench and they're talking Finnish. I don't know if they're giving me crap or not."
Health finally appears to be on the Ducks' side. While Dan Ellis is sidelined with a strained groin, Jonas Hiller's lower-body injury doesn't appear to be a nagging concern, and his 33-save shutout performance over Edmonton would seem to confirm that.
Jason Blake has returned from an arm laceration suffered during the first home game of the season and opened the scoring Saturday with his first goal of the year. He's been seeing ice time opposite Andrew Cogliano, giving Anaheim more depth and experience when the Finns and players like Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are off the ice.
Fifteen points out of a playoff spot and needing to jump over five teams in order to secure a daunting first round series, the Ducks are facing a Mount Whitney-sized challenge in their goal to return to the playoffs for the seventh time in the last nine seasons.
"The last four or five games, that's the way we were supposed to have played all season," Selanne said to AnaheimDucks.com. "Hopefully we can keep pushing, and you never know."