ANAHEIM, Calif. - The notoriously slow-starting Anaheim Ducks have recovered substantially from another early stumble, and are just one victory from matching the longest winning streak in franchise history.
Ryan Getzlaf got the go-ahead goal early in the third period, Saku Koivu scored his fifth in five games, and the resurgent Ducks extended their winning streak to six with a 4-2 victory over the Dallas Stars on Friday night.
They are doing it with an equal mixture of execution and confidence.
"It's one of those things that goes hand-in-hand," coach Randy Carlyle said. "When you win, you gain confidence, and when you have confidence it's easier to win. It's just like that chicken and the egg—which comes first? We've clawed ourselves back into respectability. That's all it is."
The victory put Anaheim one point behind the Los Angeles Kings for the Pacific Division lead.
"We're a quarter of the season in, and we're just respectable," Carlyle reiterated. "We've got a tough road ahead of us, but we know this group can continue to grow as a team. Now we have an identity. We have to play a strong forechecking game and we have to be on the puck. That is going to be the mandate for us game in and game out."
The Ducks, who got off to a 4-7-1 start before beginning this surge with an overtime win against Tampa Bay on Nov. 3, have won six straight for the first time since a six-game stretch from Feb. 12-March 3, 2008. The 1998-99 squad won seven in a row, and the only current Anaheim player who was on the roster that season was Teemu Selanne.
"It's all about confidence," goaltender Jonas Hiller said. "These days, the level of the teams is so high and almost equal. Every team has a chance to win every night. So at the end, it's the mental part. If you're not feeling comfortable going out there every night and thinking you're going to win, it's tough. Now we have a good feeling, and that's what makes the difference."
Hiller was back in the nets for Anaheim and stopped 26 shots—including a penalty shot by Jamie Benn midway through the third period—after watching backup Curtis McElhinney beat the New York Islanders 1-0 on Wednesday night for his first NHL shutout.
"I kind of lamented over the decision to play Jonas because Curtis had just pitched a shutout for us," Carlyle said. "But we felt that in this situation, against a division rival, we'd go with our number one guy. And he delivered again for us. He's been rock-solid, and we need that steady level of goaltending. Both of them have been very very strong. It's probably been the strongest part of our game."
Hiller made his most spectacular save with about 12 minutes left in the second, robbing a wide-open James Neal from close range with his right arm while sprawling forward after Neal was set up perfectly by Brad Richards' cross-ice pass.
"It was a huge night," said Bobby Ryan, whose two goals included an empty-netter. "Our guys made heads-up plays all night and we got through the neutral zone, which is tough against a trapping team. Tonight we didn't give up a whole lot of momentum swings, which we're done in the past few games."
The Ducks outshot Dallas 18-5 in the opening 20 minutes. They had a 30-14 advantage after two periods, but all they had to show for it was a 1-1 tie until Corey Perry grabbed a loose puck behind the net and fed Getzlaf at the edge of the crease for his seventh goal 1:53 into the final period.
"We knew they played a tough game last night and were in a physical battle with the L.A. Kings, and these are advantages that you have to take advantage of," Carlyle said. "Dallas is a stubborn group. It was a 1-1 game going to the third period, and all that we really asked of our guys was just to collectively be 10 per cent better in the third so we could sneak out with a win."
Brandon Segal and Brad Richards scored for the Stars.
Ryan had a power-play goal with 10:26 to play and added his seventh of the season with 14 seconds left.
Ryan beat Kari Lehtonen to the glove side with a one-timer from about 55 feet for a 3-1 lead—moments after Stars defenceman Trevor Daley lost his stick while battling Perry for the puck behind the net.
"We gutted it out and we got better as the game went along," Dallas coach Marc Crawford said. "Unfortunately, we made a couple of miscues. But I don't even want to call them miscues. One guy loses his stick on a penalty kill, and that's what gave (Ryan) that great scoring chance."
Koivu had to wait out a video replay ruling after Selanne's centring pass caromed in off his left skate at 13:56 of the first. The lead lasted only 56 seconds, however, as Daley set up Segal in the low slot from behind the net and the puck trickled between Hiller's pads after he dropped to his knees.
NOTES: The Ducks begin a three-game road trip Sunday night against Chicago, the first of four scheduled meetings this season with the NHL champion Blackhawks. Anaheim's record against teams defending a Stanley Cup title is 9-25-1 with six ties. ... Dallas C Mike Ribeiro does not have a goal in Dallas' first 15 games, his longest drought from the start of a season in 12 NHL campaigns—and eight games longer than his previous worst. ... Dallas was coming off consecutive losses against the last two clubs Crawford previously coached—a 5-0 defeat at Colorado and a 3-1 decision at Los Angeles.