The Ducks’ Game 7 curse is dead.
They are alive and headed for the Western Conference finals against the Nashville Predators thanks to a skillful snipe by a brawny winger with a battered nose, and to the clever adjustments made by a coach who was rehired last summer for his ability to make the kinds of crucial maneuvers he pulled off on Wednesday.
Their four-season streak of Game 7 misfortune on Honda Center ice ended Wednesday with a nail-biting, seesawing 2-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers. “It’s just a phenomenal feeling,” said left wing Andrew Cogliano, who brought them even at 8 minutes 55 seconds of the second period and promptly let out a primal scream that vented years of frustration. “You can’t really describe it.”
The Ducks, built to win now, gave a lesson in perseverance and patience to the dazzling young Oilers, who will be back at this level — or higher — soon and often in years to come. Despite having lost the first two games of this series at home and despite having lost Game 6 by a ghastly 7-1 count, the Ducks outwitted and outlasted the Oilers and held NHL scoring champion Connor McDavid scoreless in the last two games. Equally impressive was that they held Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl scoreless on Wednesday after he had pushed them to the brink of summer with five goals and 13 points in the first six games.
The decisive goal was scored 3:21 into the third period on a wicked shot by Nick Ritchie, who had taken a hit on the nose in the early minutes of the game and — true to the sport’s credo that a little pain never hurt anyone — came back with gauze packed in one nostril.
Ritchie, usually valued more for his physical presence than his skills, was on the ice for that shift because coach Randy Carlyle, so adept at making in-game changes, had reconfigured his lines in the second period to put Ritchie in what had been Rickard Rakell’s spot alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Cogliano had said after their Game 6 loss that the team needed goals from players other than Getzlaf and Jakob Silfverberg and Rakell, and on Wednesday they got those goals.
“That’s one thing that Randy’s always been effective with, making in-game changes,” Getzlaf said. “He has a great attention to detail throughout the game and that’s what he’s here for.”
Ritchie’s hard-nosed style worked, and so did his decision to rifle the puck toward Oilers goalie Cam Talbot from the right circle. He said he wasn’t sure it was in until he saw Getzlaf raise his arms in celebration, a joy he and the Ducks shared with the standing-room-only crowd.
“We had a terrible game up there in Edmonton and got beat pretty good. I think it did kind of help us. It was a good wakeup call,” Ritchie said. “We had a couple days to regroup and came out and played our defensive hockey that we’re capable of playing and gutted a 2-1 win. And I think we’re going to need more games like that if we’re going to keep going.”
They were able to rebound on Wednesday because John Gibson was able to recover from a horrible performance Sunday in Game 6 and make 23 stops. What turned out to be the only goal the Oilers would score came early, 3:31 into the game on a misplay by Ducks defenseman Shea Theodore, but the Ducks recovered from that, too.
“It feels good. We grinded hard tonight. It was a hard-fought series and I’m glad we were able to come out on top,” Getzlaf said.
“I thought our learning process was good, the way we’ve played the last half of the season where we’ve learned to deal with adversity and we had to do that tonight. We gave up an early goal. We gave up a lot of goals the other night. And our team came back and played great. Our goaltender played unbelievable.”
Believe it. The curse is over. “I think we deserved to win that game. I really feel like that,” Cogliano said. “From the first guy to Gibby, that was one of our best games of the season in terms of how we competed. We could have gotten down on ourselves after letting the first goal in. I think we played a great game tonight and we deserved to win because we kept coming and kept playing and it just was awesome.”