As Guy Hebert found out, it isn't always lonely at the top.
Hebert had company inside a month after becoming the Mighty Ducks' No. 1 goalie after Ron Tugnutt was traded to Montreal.
He faltered just enough to let Mikhail Shtalenkov get a skate in the net, and suddenly Hebert's only save in three games came when an errant dump-in pass landed in his lap on the bench.
But Hebert recovered some Saturday night, making 32 saves as the Ducks beat the Hartford Whalers, 3-2, in front of a sellout crowd of 15,635 at the Hartford Civic Center. It was Hebert's first victory since March 4--ending a four-game personal losing streak.
"I think in my mind, I thought the whole scenario would be that I became the No. 1, and pretty much only a disaster would unseat me as No. 1," Hebert said. "I don't think that ever happened, but since we've been so close to the playoff drive, losing a couple of games was big enough to make the change just to see what would happen."
The Ducks have nevertheless been relegated to longshot status in the chase to catch San Jose for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. They trail the Sharks by eights points with nine games left.
"We had a long meeting yesterday and talked about some of the little things we've gotten away from doing," said Coach Ron Wilson, whose team hit a low point by giving up five goals in a period in a loss to Boston on Thursday.
"With the air going out of the playoff balloon--or tire--we just wanted to make sure we regroup and keep it interesting for ourselves."
Shaun Van Allen, who was scratched the game before, helped the Ducks beat Hartford with his first two-goal game of the season. He had gone 14 games without a goal until he blocked a shot with his skate in the first period, picked up the puck and took off on a shorthanded two-on-one break. He kept the puck himself and beat Jeff Reese for a 1-0 lead at 19:15.
The Ducks took a 3-1 lead in the second after Van Allen's second goal and another by Todd Ewen.
The key was that Hartford had not come from two goals behind to win in 43 tries this season. Even though Ted Drury cut the lead to one late in the second, Hebert made 13 saves in the final period, including a tense few with an extra attacker at the end.
"I've been feeling good the whole time," Hebert said. "I just think it was like early in the season where tough breaks and bad bounces led to some losses."
Wilson said Hebert "pouted a little" at first about his three-game benching in favor of Shtalenkov.
"I don't think it's pouting," Hebert said. "That's pretty unprofessional. If you don't appear to be disappointed, I think there's something the matter. I think any coaching staff should be happy a player's not ecstatic he's not in the net or playing in the game."