Nashville 4, Ducks 3.

If it’s as easy to get open shots against the Ducks as the Nashville Predators made it seem Friday, you can toss goals like this, and assists like this, out the window. And you can toss the Ducks out of the playoffs.

With all due respect to Jerred Smithson (previous career playoff goals: 1) and Jordin Tootoo (previous career playoff assists: 2), the ending to the Ducks’ Game 5 loss was as inexplicable as it was stunning. Let the record show that Mr. Smithson caught the Ducks’ defense napping and deposited a pass from behind the net by Mr. Tootoo into the net to send the Ducks to the brink of elimination.

Catch all the game details in tomorrow’s editions.

My notes and observations that didn’t make the paper:
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Ducks 5, Colorado 4.

There’s really no such thing as a ho-hum win in Anaheim these days.

Monday could have been, given the matchup between two teams on opposite ends of the playoff picture. But an early 2-0 lead by the Avalanche, and the first three-goal, five-point game by an NHL player over the age of 40 changed that.

Teemu Selanne did not so much steal the show — he was the show, figuring into all five Ducks goals on a night when they needed every one.

“I’ve been feeling great all year,” he said. “I’ve been able to play with great players all the time. It has been fun. That’s the only reason I’m still around.”

The questions of whether or not Selanne will retire, but Monday’s game could only nudge him in the “should-I-stay” direction.

Here are some of the milestones Selanne achieved, courtesy of the Ducks’ PR staff:
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Ducks 2, St. Louis 1.

Ray Emery is back.

That was the takeaway from his 30-save performance Wednesday that preserved a 2-1 victory in an often ugly game for the Ducks.

Jason Blake scored both Anaheim goals, finishing a second-period breakaway with a backhand shot that went in off a Blues defenseman, and deflecting a Lubomir Visnovsky shot down and in in the third period. But even he was in a deferential mood after Emery’s big breakthrough.

Emery’s reflexes did not look like those of a man who had not started an NHL game since Feb. 1 of last year. Nor did the time off leave him any less feisty — Emery was shoving players out of his own crease before assuming the butterfly position in the blink of an eye. It takes a special athlete to do that under ordinary circumstances, but even more so when you have a piece of bone from your leg lodged in your right hip.

Between Emery and Dan Ellis, the Ducks can breathe a bit easier about Jonas Hiller’s slow recovery time. The goalie told reporters at this morning’s skate that he “is going in the right direction” but still can’t see the puck well enough to play.

With only 12 games left in the season, the Ducks occupy the eighth position in the West but still have Calgary and Nashville nipping at their heels. Both the Flames and Preds play tomorrow, and the Ducks could find themselves back in 10th place after their day off.

But should the Ducks make the playoffs (and should Hiller be healthy by then), they could have three goalies capable of starting Game 1 of a first-round series. It’s a good problem to have, one that seemed unlikely when Curtis McElhinney and Timo Pielmeier were manning the nets.

Get all the game details in tomorrow’s editions. Some notes and observations:
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Coyotes 5, Ducks 2.

Seeing Ilya Bryzgalov face the Ducks is no longer a novelty. Sunday marked the 22nd start for Bryz against the team that placed him on waivers in Nov. 2007. Statistically, the 30-year-old goalie has had better starts in Anaheim, but the Ducks have rarely looked so frustrated against their former backup goalie.

The biggest reason: Their own goaltending wasn’t so spectacular. Dan Ellis was off, allowing four goals on 21 shots over two periods before giving way to Ray Emery. Emery, making his first start since Feb. 1, 2010, played the entire third period and appeared to be on, stopping all nine shots he faced.

By then it was too late. The Coyotes (36-23-11, 83 points) denied any notions of another third-period comeback by the Ducks (37-37-5, 79 points), and gained a four-point cushion on their rivals with a 5-2 victory.

“They sat back and played a defensive-style game,” Ducks center Todd Marchant said of the third period. “They put the puck around the boards, around the rim quite a bit, chipped it by our defense. We had a tough time in the third sustaining any kind of forecheck. You can point your finger at Bryz. He played really well for them. We put 39 [actually 38] shots on net, a lot of them were point-blank opportunities, and he made some good saves. That’s not an excuse, but it’s a reality of the game.”
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Vancouver 3, Ducks 0.

The Canucks have that look about them.

Seeing as many (if not more) Canucks sweaters than Ducks sweaters in the stands at Honda Center is one thing — chalk that atmosphere up to a rare Saturday-Sunday Kings-Ducks doubleheader that allowed fans to come down from Vancouver for a weekend of hockey and (mostly) sunshine.

The best magic is taking place on the ice. The last two days have seen Vancouver beat the Kings and Ducks each at their own game. Sunday’s 3-0 win required only 16 shots on goal and a strong performance by backup goalie Cory Schneider. Following his first shutout of the season, Schneider has a better goals-against average (2.14 to 2.21) and save percentage (.928 to .925) than starter Roberto Luongo.

Two goals by third-line center Manny Malhotra off a pair of Ducks miscues, and a power-play goal by Daniel Sedin that went off Andreas Lilja’s stick, proved the Canucks are more than just a two-twin pony. They outmuscled the Kings in a 3-1 win Saturday. On Sunday they frustrated Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan into submission (Getzlaf put 11 shots on goal but converted none), and took their chances with everyone else while capitalizing on a couple mistakes by Lilja and Cam Fowler.

It’s a good strategy against a Ducks team that is still missing two-thirds of its second line. Jason Blake (hand) and Saku Koivu (groin) have now missed back-to-back games. The Ducks did well to gain two points against two teams ahead of them in the standings, Dallas and Detroit, in their last two games.

Stopping the Canucks right now seems to be getting harder with every game. Are they the best team the Ducks have seen this season?

“They’re definitely one of them,” Getzlaf said. “The standings will show you that before you get on the ice. It’s not a trick in this league to get to the top of the standings, it’s hard work and they’ve been doing it all year.”

A few more notes:
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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:
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Ducks 3, Avalanche 2.

One second remained on the clock in a 3-2 game, a perfect time for divine intervention.

“All of a sudden the puck came out of nowhere and hit me on the side of the head,” Ducks goalie Dan Ellis said. “I heard it hit a post. I was just praying that it hit the right post. Thank God it stayed out.”

Indeed, in a game the Ducks had to win, Milan Hejduk’s late shot off the post might have been the turning point. Should Anaheim reach the playoffs, it will be a moment to remember. So too will Todd Marchant’s first goal of the season, Brandon McMillan’s game-winner, and Erik Johnson’s bone-headed giveaway that led to Ryan Getzlaf’s goal in the first period.

Often, the rest wasn’t pretty. Ellis finished with 22 saves but he was outplayed by his counterpart for the second time in as many games as a Duck. Peter Budaj made 11 of his 29 saves on the power play and could hardly be blamed for the Avs’ 13th loss in their last 14 games.

The Ducks snapped a five-game losing streak and won for the first time without injured goalie Jonas Hiller since Curtis McElhinney backstopped a 5-4 overtime win in Calgary. They remained one point behind the 72-point cutoff for the eighth and final playoff spot.

With the Ducks on the power play at 11:23 of the third period, McMillan broke a 2-2 tie, scoring on a putback after Budaj came out aggressively after allowing a rebound to the right of the net.

The rookie center was only out on the power play because Saku Koivu missed his third straight game with a groin injury. Yet he, Bobby Ryan and Jason Blake (and defensemen Luca Sbisa and Francois Beauchemin) turned it into a minute-long cycle play that wore down the Colorado PK with Brandon Yip serving a double-minor for high-sticking Beauchemin.

Considering the Ducks were outshot 23-19 at even strength –and only had one power-play goal to show for their previous six games –it was a badly needed goal.

“We found a way to score a big power play goal to win us the hockey game,” head coach Randy Carlyle said. “That is what you have to do. You have to find ways to get points at this time of the year. Hopefully this is a springboard for our hockey club to get back to playing the way we are quite capable of playing.”

Marchant’s goal ended a streak of 70 games without a goal. The goal, the 186th of his career, came at the end of a give-and-go with Sbisa. The defenseman jumped up in the rush and backhanded the puck to Marchant, streaking down the slot; Marchant needed only get a sliver of stick on the puck to re-direct it past Budaj.

“It’s certainly the longest drought of my career,” Marchant said. “I’m not sure what it was prior to this, but it wasn’t anywhere near this. I didn’t let it get me down mentally. I know I’ve got many other roles on this team besides scoring goals. The bottom line is it’s about wins this time of the year. It’s not about how many goals or assists I get. It’s about winning hockey games, getting into the playoffs and see how far it takes you.”

A few more notes:
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Wild 3, Ducks 2, OT.

Setting aside Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s breakaway goal in overtime for a moment, the Ducks did well to salvage a point against the Minnesota Wild on Friday. Two minutes away from a regulation loss on home ice, the Ducks forced overtime to remain one point behind eighth place in the Western Conference.

However, the three teams ahead of them– Chicago, Dallas and Nashville –all have one game in hand. And their slide from first place in the division (and third in the conference) on Feb. 13 to fifth place in the division (11th in the conference) shouldn’t sit well.

Remember 10 days ago how there was that 2-point gap between first and fifth place in the Pacific Division? It’s a 9-point gap now.

“We have to look at the positives,” said defenseman Francois Beauchemin, whose putback goal with 2:00 left in the third period allowed the Ducks to tie the game at 2 and force overtime. “We got one point. That is not enough, but we’ll take that. We’ll have a good practice tomorrow and go back to work on Sunday. We have to take it one game at a time.”

One positive is that it’s looking easier to blame the goaltending. Even with Saku Koivu’s groin injury keeping him out of the lineup a second straight day, the Ducks put 48 shots on Jose Theodore — two off their season high.

Is Dan Ellis an upgrade over Curtis McElhinney as a temporary starter? Obviously Bob Murray thought so before making the trade with Tampa on Thursday (and was rewarded today with a four-year contract extension). Clayton Stoner’s go-ahead goal with 4:57 left in the third period might disagree.

Ellis stopped 28 of 31 in his Ducks debut, a respectable .903 save percentage. He could hardly be blamed for John Madden’s first-period goal at the end of a 2-on-1 rush, but all three goals he allowed came on the rush with nobody standing between him and the shooter.

So why is being able to isolate the goaltending a positive again? Jonas Hiller is working his way back from what he’s been told is a case of vertigo, and that’s treatable. Hiller doesn’t even have to board a plane for a while; the Ducks are at home until March 9, play once in Denver, then come back to Southern California for their next four games.

In the meantime, all the Ducks really have to do is keep it close in the standings. That should be the plan, at least. Maybe this team can win without Hiller — it’s now 0-4-1 since Hiller last went on IR — but as Corey Perry said, “it’s a matter of finding those bounces again that we were getting early on when we were winning.”

A few more notes:
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Ducks 4, Vancouver 3.

Ryan Getzlaf and the Ducks didn’t ease into anything in Vancouver.

The captain played 21:45 in his first game since Dec. 28, and the Ducks used a big lead to help hold off the Canucks. Getzlaf’s only point was this beautiful assist on Bobby Ryan’s first goal of the game, which gave the Ducks a 3-0 lead at 4:12 of the second period.

He also made an impact on Dan Hamhuis, planting the defenseman dangerously into the end boards on this shoulder-on-shoulder check. There’s already a debate raging over whether or not it was a clean hit.

Ryan had two goals, Jason Blake and Brandon McMillan had the others, and Curtis McElhinney made 16 of his 36 saves in the final period.

A few more notes:
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Ducks 7, St. Louis 4.

As much two games can be mirror images of one another, the Ducks and the St. Louis Blues certainly flipped roles in their second meeting of the season Wednesday.

Anaheim exacted revenge for a 5-1 loss in St. Louis on Oct. 11 – what seems like a long three months ago after they completed a 5-1 homestand with Wednesday’s win. Bobby Ryan notched his third career hat trick, his second of the season, and Jason Blake, Lubomir Visnovsky, Corey Perry and Brandon McMillan also added goals for the Ducks.

“We’ve realized that on a homestand you really need to come out and put your best foot forward,” Ryan said. “The month of December was a little bit ugly. We’ve gone on streaks all year long. We need to come out at home, establish the forecheck and our identity.”

No one can speak to streaks better than Ryan, who has six goals in his last three games after scoring just one in the previous 10. All three of his goals came within spitting distance of the crease – and off fine primary assists from Joffrey Lupul, Perry and Andreas Lilja – which marked a significant evolution in Ryan’s transition from wing to center.

“It didn’t come as smoothly as we all liked, but we persevered and he has persevered,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said. “Hopefully that is just a springboard for him to continue on with the offensive threat that he is.”

In that Oct. 11 game, their third of the season, the Ducks were outshot 53-14 and Ryan collected 17 penalty minutes (and no goals). Call Wednesday’s outing a measuring-stick game – a measurement against the Ducks’ former selves.

Jonas Hiller got burned by lapses on defense and allowed four goals on 34 shots, seeing his shutout streak end at 178:34. The Ducks took advantage of an off-night for Ty Conklin, who stopped just 17 of 24.

A few more notes:

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