The Anaheim Ducks should have played Sunday’s game against the San Jose Sharks in a boxing ring. They were handed their first loss, 4-1, in the last seven games.
It only was Anaheim’s second loss of the season but it was an ugly performance in a game full of ugly brawls. The Sharks were coming off of four straight losses, including one at home to bottom-dwelling Buffalo, while the Ducks had gotten sloppy in recent wins.
"They came out real hungry and at the end of winning streaks, we’re usually not playing very well," said head coach Bruce Boudreau. "And we weren’t playing very well today. We weren’t moving our feet, we weren’t playing pretty."
"It was two teams at different emotional levels," said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan. "They were cruising along and playing really well and we were frustrated because we had been losing. Paths kid of crossed and things flipped over."
This was something the team was trying to be conscious of coming into this game. With the exception of the Kings, by this time next week, the Ducks will have played all of the Western Conference’s playoff teams in a brutal six-game stretch. They wanted to set a better tone and take some momentum with them on the road. But Boudreau warned that their wins from the last week weren’t quality ones and yet the team failed to shake whatever funk they were marred in.
"We started winning the wrong way," said goaltender Frederik Andersen. "We weren’t playing the best we can play, we still got the two points every game the last seven games but it starts to get probably a little too easy and then stuff happens.
With San Jose out to a quick 2-0 lead and the Ducks struggling to find a rhythm, the frustrations turned into tensions. Ducks’ defenseman Sami Vatanen was hit in the face with Scott Hannan’s stick and slapped with an embellishment penalty that Boudreau thought was excessive.
The #NHLDucks admitted tonight got out of hand, but everyone admired the way the team stuck together. #SJSvsANA
"We got wound up when we got the embellishment penalty," Boudreau said. "It was just two teams that competed hard against one another. One wasn’t used to losing recently and we couldn’t do anything to match what they were doing. We were frustrated. When you’re frustrated, stuff happens."
The "stuff" he’s referring to is the fights. Captain Ryan Getzlaf and his alternate captains, Corey Perry and Francois Beauchemin, were all baited into fights. The officials, who seemed so intent to keep the fighting at a minimum as they attempted to break up all of the early ones, had no control over what turned out to be a massive melee that involved nearly every player on the ice and even one on the bench in the third period.
John Scott climbed over the boards. Adam Burish had his helmet ripped off. There were 24 penalties assessed in the third period alone and while Boudreau didn’t feel that some were handed out fairly, Getzlaf felt that his group stood tall and made the necessary statement.
"I’m not going to play the guilty thing here. There’s nothing that they did that we didn’t do back," Getzlaf said. "Tensions ran high for both teams, we dealt with them. We stuck together as a group and that’s the main thing."
It’s a heated Pacific Division rivalry and the Ducks know they’re going to have to take every team’s best punch. It’s hockey – sometimes that punch is both metaphorical and physical.
"The whole game was pretty deflating for us," Getzlaf said. "We didn’t come out and play our best game. We’ve been playing pretty good hockey as of late and you’re going to play one of those games every once in a while. It just sucks it had to be against these guys."