ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Ryan Kesler blocked a shot in front of the Anaheim Ducks’ net in the waning seconds of their playoff opener, and then the All-Star center simply sat down on the puck.
Three Calgary Flames frantically tried and failed to dislodge him from his casual perch. Only a referee’s whistle for a delay-of-game penalty could get Kesler to stand up — but by then, the Ducks’ 3-2 victory had just 0.9 seconds left in it.
“I was in the slot. I didn’t know what was around me,” Kesler said with a wry grin. “I wasn’t doing anything else but sitting on that thing. I was trying to (run the clock out). I almost did.”
The play was comical to watch, but it also demonstrated a remarkable veteran savvy that has been hard-earned by several Ducks. Anaheim is hoping this is finally the year when its previous playoff disappointments will provide the knowledge necessary to go farther.
“This group has been together for a while, and we’ve been tested in a lot of different situations,” said Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf, who had a goal and an assist. “We’re going to have to earn everything. That’s a great hockey team over there. We’re going to have to continue to get better at certain areas, but we found a way.”
The Ducks haven’t always been able to find those ways. In fact, their struggles for playoff resilience have been their defining feature over the previous four campaigns, but they’re hoping this year will be different.
They’ve infamously blown a 3-2 series lead and lost a Game 7 on home ice in four consecutive seasons, repeatedly failing to come up with the intangible advantages that could get them through. Anaheim was stunned in the first round by Nashville last season, leading to coach Bruce Boudreau’s firing despite winning four consecutive Pacific Division titles and falling one game short of the Stanley Cup Final one season earlier.
The Ducks added a fifth division banner this season under coach Randy Carlyle, who led them to their only championship a decade earlier. Carlyle hasn’t made a wholesale overhaul of any aspect of Anaheim’s approach, but he’s counting on the Ducks’ veteran leaders to show the intangible toughness necessary to get postseason victories.
In their opener against the less-experienced Flames, the Ducks showed impressive poise. Until the final three minutes of Game 1, Calgary’s Dougie Hamilton alone had committed as many penalties as the Ducks’ entire roster: three apiece.
Anaheim resisted the urge to take a run at Calgary captain Mark Giordano, who injured All-Star defenseman Cam Fowler last week with a knee-on-knee hit. Getzlaf still delivered a crushing check on Giordano in the third period, but only because it was a normal part of the game.
“It’s nothing against him,” Getzlaf said. “He was just the guy that had the puck.”
The Ducks got their tying goal when defenseman Kevin Bieksa alertly spotted a terrible Calgary line change and got the puck up to Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell. Anaheim got its other two goals on the power play, cashing in when the Flames’ mistakes left them short-handed.
“We did a nice job making the most of our opportunities,” said Jakob Silfverberg, who scored the winner. “We just need to keep doing that.”
NOTES: Carlyle revealed that the Ducks are hoping Fowler will resume skating within a week. They don’t know when he’ll be ready to play. … Ducks power forward Nick Ritchie is expected to make his NHL playoff debut in Game 2 after serving a two-game suspension. Ritchie was impressed by his teammates’ poise in the opener from his press box seat. “There was a lot of emotion with these teams because of the way the season ended,” he said. “I thought we handled it really well.”