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 6, Nashville 3.

The Ducks played like a different team in Game 4 compared to Game 3. In part, they were.

Sheldon Brookbank, Kyle Palmieri and Brad Winchester came out of the lineup; and Andy Sutton, Andreas Lilja and Jarkko Ruutu went in — but the biggest difference in the 6-3 win seemed to be the Ducks’ resolve.

Goals by Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Brandon McMillan in the third period broke a 3-3 tie, and the series shifts back to Anaheim on Friday tied at two games apiece.

Goals by Cam Fowler and Saku Koivu staked the Ducks to a 2-0 lead in the game’s first 5:14. Patric Hornqvist answered 34 seconds later for Nashville, and Joel Ward’s power-play goal at 5:44 of the second period tied the game at 2.

Teemu Selanne deflected a Getzlaf shot past Pekka Rinne with the Ducks on the power play at 11:41 of the second period to temporarily restore the one-goal lead. But Kevin Klein and Matt Halischuk caught the Anaheim defense napping, with Klein setting up Halischuk for the equalizer at 14:15.

A delay of game penalty to Nick Bonino with 31.5 seconds left in the second period carried over to the third period, and could have given the Predators the break they were looking for. Instead, Perry scored short-handed 1:17 into the third period to give the Ducks all the momentum they needed. Nashville put only three shots on Ray Emery (19 saves) in the entire third period.

The Ducks outshot Nashville 38-22 in the game, and Rinne wasn’t around to see the end of it. He was lifted for Anders Lindback after McMillan’s goal at 6:46 of the third period.

“We just felt that the way we played the other night, we needed a little bit more size on the back end,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said. “We hadn’t played Sutton and Lilja in a while. We thought that some of our younger players — specifically Sbisa and Bonino … McMillan and Beleskey, those are all very young players — we just felt they would be more comfortable with a 6-foot-5 defenseman and another 6-foot-3, 220-pound defenseman on the back end.”

A few more notes and observations:
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Ducks will open 2011-12 in Helsinki.

Teemu Selanne has heard the “one more year” chants from the fans. Now he might be hearing it from the NHL.

The league probably wouldn’t mind seeing the Finnish Flash on the ice in an Anaheim uniform, rather in the stands, when the Ducks open the 2011-12 regular season in Helsinki’s Hartwall Arena against the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 7.

The Ducks were one of four teams (the Sabres, Kings and Rangers are the others) chosen to take part in the “NHL Premiere” and “NHL Face-Off,” a now-annual tradition of opening the season overseas. It’s the first time the Ducks have started a season in Europe since back-to-back games against the Kings in London to open the 2007-08 season.

The European schedule begins with an exhibition game on Tuesday, Oct. 4 against Jokerit of the SM-Liga at Hartwall Arena. After the Friday game against the Sabres, the Ducks play the Rangers in Stockholm on Oct. 8.

The Ducks roster currently features three other Finns, Saku Koivu, Jarkko Ruutu and Toni Lydman. Only Koivu and Lydman are signed beyond this season, however.

After winning the second of the two London games in 2007, the Ducks lost eight of their next 11. Then-GM Brian Burke later said he would have chosen the team’s post-European schedule differently, and it will be interesting to see how Bob Murray does it this time around.

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:
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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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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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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.
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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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