First, Corey Perry was down. Then he was out. Then he was back. Then finally, he was victorious.
Perry led the Ducks to a 4-3 overtime win over the Calgary Flames in overtime, advancing Anaheim to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2007. And almost as if scripted, the Anaheim Ducks’ star right winger came back from what had initially looked to be a series-ending injury to score the overtime game-winner.
"He’s a warrior," Anaheim center Ryan Kesler said. "He came back and scored the winning goal."
Despite the extra time in the game, it all seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. That’s playoff hockey: A game of inches, a game of seconds. In this case, maybe even milliseconds.
Down 2-1, the course of the entire game completely changed with 7:46 left in the second period after Matt Stajan stuck his hip out and clipped Perry’s knee with puck nowhere near him. A knee-on-knee shot sent Perry crawling back to the dressing room, leaving behind his stick and gloves on the ice.
"Didn’t feel great when it happened. I didn’t know what was going on," he said. "I didn’t know what to think. I was just trying to get back and play that next shift as quick as possible."
The circumstances suddenly seemed dire. The Ducks went from a lock to advance to no-chance; the Flames from underdogs to Game 7 heroes. Coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t even bat an eye. How could he? With the Ducks still down a goal and Flames goaltender Karri Ramo letting nothing through.
"Your level of concern when you see a player going off the ice like that was, ‘What do we do next and who is coming out for him?’" Boudreau said. "As far as him coming back, once he’s off, as much as we need him, I’ve got to think of what we have, so if he comes back on I’m not thinking about him. It wasn’t like there was an extra period, so I didn’t get the chance to go in and ask a doctor how he was."
Boudreau wasn’t given any information, because just as fast as he left the ice, Perry returned.
Was it a cheap shot? Was Perry faking it? Maybe both, maybe neither.
"Just incidental," he said. "It calmed down after a few minutes and I started walking around. You do anything to come back and help the team win at any point in the season, especially the playoffs."
It was at this point that time began to run out on Calgary.
For the second-straight game, the Ducks capitalized on a power play that opened the third period. Matt Beleskey got a stick on Francois Beauchemin’s shot from the blue line and the game was tied at 2-2. It was the fifth goal in as many games for Beleskey, establishing a new club playoff record.
"The same situation happened in Calgary, we had a power play to start the period with the fresh ice," Boudreau said. "We knew how important it was to get one on the board because the longer the game went, it would have been a little dicier because we would have had to take more chances, which would have allowed them an opportunity for an odd-man break somehow."
With the game tied, Perry began digging deeper with each shift he skated in the third period. He dug almost as deep as he could in that final period in regulation, averaging nearly a minute per shift. Midway through, he skated for a full 1:52 shift as the top line generating quality chances and Ramo finally looked ready to crack.
Somewhere in the third period, they reached the 40-shot mark, another new playoff record. With one of their leaders playing through pain and their offensive attack overwhelming the Flames, they pressed on with their mission.
"We didn’t want to go back to Calgary," Perry said. "We really didn’t want to go back there and I think our play dictated that."
The villain on so many occasions, the hero Sunday night, both roles fit Perry all too well.
The Chicago Blackhawks await the only team that has won eight of the last nine. Chicago will have a deep, relentless and maybe somewhat villainous group to contend with.
"You’re going out there to do everything you can to help this team," he said. "There’s a lot of character in that room. There’s guys who can step up at any point in the game and guys have been doing that. When you have four lines going like you do, it’s a great feeling."