ST. PAUL, Minn. — It happened so quickly, with so many bodies converging on the net, Ducks goaltender John Gibson wasn't sure what occurred after Minnesota's Nino Niederreiter shot the puck near the left post in a frantic attempt to erase a one-goal deficit in the final minute Friday.
"At the end of the game you just do whatever you can to keep the puck out of the net," Gibson said. "A lot of scramble and throwing pucks to the net. So whatever you can do to keep it out."
The puck ended up in Gibson's glove, the most crucial of his 32 saves in a 2-1 victory that ended the Ducks' three-game losing streak. Their 27th one-goal triumph this season also gave them the NHL points lead and stood as a blueprint for how they must play now and into the playoffs in order to get beyond last season's two-rounds-and-out disappointment.
"It wasn't a great game for us as far as if you're looking for a perfect game," Coach Bruce Boudreau said, "but it was a character game in that we all hung in together, I thought, and did a good job that way."
Francois Beauchemin and Jakob Silfverberg reached career highs in goals, Beauchemin with his ninth and Silfverberg with his 11th as the Ducks scored once on Devan Dubnyk in the first period and once in the second to subdue the Wild, which was 8-2 in its previous 10 games. The game at the Xcel Energy Center was a dramatic turnaround from the Ducks' messy 6-3 loss Wednesday at Calgary. They showed extra effort Friday by blocking shots, killing four of five penalties and outhitting the Wild, 22-14. Gibson was sharper, too, though he wasn't really to blame at Calgary. His confidence grew when he stopped 16 shots in the first period Friday and his teammates rewarded him by performing the gritty tasks they had neglected against the Flames.
"We knew we weren't going to be able to score many goals with the way their goaltending has been and their team has been playing, so I think everybody kind of bought in and really played well on defense," Gibson said. "I just tried to do my job, and I knew the team would bail me out, and I just tried to bail them out when they needed it."
Beauchemin, who scored at 19:13 of the first period on a drop pass from Silfverberg, said with a straight face Gibson was "OK," then broke into a smile. "He was big all night," Beauchemin said. "Especially the way they came out in the first."
Zach Parise tied it at 11:31 of the second period after a theatrical dive by Dubnyk drew a penalty on Corey Perry, but Silfverberg put the Ducks ahead with a quick, instinctive play. Ryan Kesler's alert forechecking pressured Wild defenseman Matt Dumba into a turnover, and Kesler nudged the puck back to Simon Despres. His long shot was deflected by Silfverberg, and the Ducks protected their lead in the third with the help of two blocks by defenseman James Wisniewski.
"We talked about it," Beauchemin said. "We needed to sacrifice our body blocking shots. Wisniewski made two big blocked shots at the end of the third there and that's how you've got to win games. And especially at the end and in the playoffs, winning the board battles, the one-on-one battles and make sure you come out with the puck from the corners, and stuff like that. Those are details of the game you need to do if you want to be a championship team."
They looked nothing like a championship team Wednesday. They were closer to that level Friday. "Tonight was a typical playoff game and I think this is the way we have to play if we want to be a successful team," Silfverberg said. "Play hard in both zones and play solid defensively and we did that tonight and we came out on top and that's great news for us."