Ducks 3, Kings 1.

The roller-coaster ride is over. Now the fun begins.

The Ducks couldn’t be happier about their position after 82 games — fourth place in the Western Conference, and guaranteed home-ice advantage for the first round — thanks to their win and losses by the Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators earlier in the day.

The end result is that the Ducks will either host the Chicago Blackhawks or the Predators in the first round beginning no earlier than Wednesday.

“We found a way to get ourselves into a good position from thinking about where we were a couple months ago,” head coach Randy Carlyle said. “You’ve got to credit our players; they’re the ones who put it out on the line night in and night out. It’s about a team that’s trying to work its way through all the hurdles that it’s been presented and now we have an opportunity to play at home.”

Here’s what the roller coaster looked like: The Ducks sat in third place in the West on Feb. 13. They fell as low as 11th and were there as late as March 8. They rejoined the top 8 on March 20 and did not leave. They began the day Saturday in seventh place and had risen to fourth by the end. Along the way there were subplots galore — skill, luck, 50 goals, 40-year-olds, vertigo — and it’s been fascinating to watch it all unfold.

The playoff scenarios are simple. If Chicago beats the Detroit Red Wings Sunday, the Ducks will play the Blackhawks. If Chicago loses, the Ducks play the Predators. That and more in tomorrow’s editions.

Here are a few more notes:
Continue reading

Ducks 4, Dallas 3, OT.

The two points were necessary, but not sufficient, to tide the Ducks over until the end of the regular season.

The confidence they gained by winning in overtime for the second straight game might be.

“We want to use this as a confidence boost for us – and the Detroit game,” Teemu Selanne said after the latest OT thriller. “It was a good sign. Hopefully we can keep rolling. This is what we need now because everyone’s playing well.”

None were better Friday than Lubomir Visnovsky, who recorded the first hat trick by a defenseman in franchise history. He capped the trick (pun intended) with the game-winning goal on a booming slapshot past Kari Lehtonen with 3.6 seconds left in overtime. Visnovsky also had an assist on Selanne’s game-tying goal with 1:03 left in regulation.

Visnovsky’s 51 points rank third among all NHL defensemen and his 12 goals now rank fifth among league blueliners, but he had been slumping — just one goal in his last 18 games prior to Friday. And he knew it.

“Last month was not very well for me,” he said. “After the All-Star break, it was a couple tough games. I needed to wake up. This is the best wake-up for me.”

Visnovsky’s second career hat trick came against the same Dallas Stars team he torched for his first, back on Nov. 2, 2005 as a member of the Kings.

The rest of the game had its share of ups and downs for the Ducks. In short, the second period was down, and the other 45 minutes were up. Dan Ellis hung tough to make 23 saves, including a biggie on the breakaway against Trevor Daley with 1:29 left in overtime.

More in tomorrow’s editions. Here are a few notes that won’t make the paper:
Continue reading

Ducks 2, Detroit 1, OT.

Bobby Ryan’s overtime penalty-shot goal — the first OT goal and penalty-shot attempt of his NHL career — lifted the Ducks to a much-needed win. It also lifted the crowd of 15,098 at Honda Center, which might not see another game this good until the playoffs.

Other than Ryan’s goal, defense and goaltending were the story Wednesday. Dan Ellis (28 saves) and Jimmy Howard (26) put on quite a show.

So did the Anaheim penalty-killers, who allowed one goal (and just five shots on net) in nine power-play shifts for the Wings. That included a 1:33 stretch of 5-on-3 play in the first period, and a 1:47 stretch of 4-on-3 play to begin overtime.

Todd Marchant (17:48, 16-10 on faceoffs, three hits) did the yeoman’s work. His ice time probably was going to increase after Saku Koivu (groin) ruled himself out of a fourth straight game. Then the Ducks kept taking penalties, his teammates started struggling in the faceoff circle, and all of a sudden the savvy veteran had to pull more than his own weight in a playoff-type atmosphere.

Jason Blake also scored for the Ducks, on a rising 37-foot slapshot early in the third period that Howard probably didn’t see. Ryan’s goal was his 30th, giving him 30 goals in each of his first three NHL seasons. The Ducks couldn’t have picked anyone better to take the penalty shot, as Ryan went to his trusty forehand to beat Howard glove-side.

“Bobby Ryan is a great player and has a great set of hands on him,” Howard said. “It was a good deke. He capitalized on it.”

More notes in tomorrow’s editions. A few notes that won’t make the paper:
Continue reading

First look at Brad Winchester.

Brad Winchester was on Bob Murray’s radar last summer, but it doesn’t take an electronic device to spot the 6-foot-5, 230-pound forward.

Winchester, who arrived Monday from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a third-round 2012 draft pick, projects primarily as a bottom-six winger. Not surprisingly, he was skating at left wing on a line with Kyle Chipchura and George Parros on the same morning he arrived in Anaheim.

But the Madison, Wisconsin, native is more than strictly an energy-line tough guy.

“He’s been used in front of the net on the power play in St. Louis a little bit,” head coach Randy Carlyle said. “We think that he’s a guy who can move up and down on our left side, if we feel that there’s a necessity to have a bigger body with (Ryan) Getzlaf and (Corey) Perry.”

In addition to his 86 penalty minutes and eight major penalties this season, Winchester has nine goals in 57 games. He also has a 13-goal season under his belt in 2008-09.

“Part of the reasoning with the acquisition of the player, is he’s been able to provide a level of offense … he can play on the third line, fourth line, move up on your power play, play a front of the net position,” Carlyle said. “If you get players who can score 10-plus goals in that position, you’d like to utilize that.”
Continue reading

No setback, Hiller says, just the same strange symptoms.

The nature of Jonas Hiller’s injury, and a timetable for his recovery, seem about as clear as they were a month ago.

Asked after Tuesday’s practice to describe exactly what he had, Hiller said the latest diagnosis of something called “positional vertigo” was ruled out.

“They can cure that pretty easily through different positionings and turning you around, and get rid of that pretty quick,” he said. “They tried that a couple times. it didn’t work on me so they ruled that out. So it’s a kind of vertigo. Nobody can really tell me where it’s coming from. Some people think it’s a virus in my inner ear. Other people say that my inner ear got concussed. Nobody can really tell me. Sure I want to know what caused it. I want to get better.”

In so many words, Hiller said he’s been advised to provoke the feelings of panic that are often triggered by turning his head or passing the puck, “to realize that it’s a normal situation.”

The scariest aspect of this is that, since he doesn’t know the source of the problem, Hiller has no assurances that it isn’t something he will have to deal with long-term.

That potentially bleak outlook contradicts what appeared to be a big sign of progress –Hiller’s first practice with teammates since he was placed on injured reserve Feb. 16.
Continue reading

Ducks acquire Brad Winchester from Blues. Update.

As first reported by Bob McKenzie of TSN, the Ducks have acquired left wing Brad Winchester from the St. Louis Blues for a third-round draft pick. Multiple reports on Twitter indicate the pick is from the 2012 draft.

Update: The team has confirmed the trade.

Winchester is a rare commodity for a fourth-line winger – he has a 13-goal season under his belt (2008-09) and already has nine goals this season. He also has five assists and a minus-9 rating in 57 games this season.

Winchester ranks third on the Blues with eight major penalties and second with 86 penalty minutes.