The puck was in the net, the game in the bag and so Garry Valk skated a little jig to celebrate.
In a moment, the Mighty Ducks' three-game losing streak would be history with a 6-2 victory over Winnipeg and Valk decided to vent a bit of pent-up emotion.
"We treated it like a must-win situation," Valk said after scoring two goals Sunday at The Pond.
Seven games into the season and already the Ducks seemed to be on the brink of disaster. A fourth consecutive loss wouldn't exactly have knocked them out of playoff contention. It is October after all.
But "we sort of let out a collective sigh of relief," Coach Ron Wilson said. "Whenever it seems bleak, as I've learned as a coach, your team will dig down and come up with a win."
It was a group effort Sunday.
Paul Kariya had a goal and two assists, rookie Chad Kilger scored his first NHL goal and Peter Douris and Todd Krygier also scored. And the crowd of 17,033, which ended the team's streak of 51 consecutive sellouts, went home happy.
Valk's second goal of the game, on a two-on-one break against Winnipeg goalie Tim Cheveldae with four seconds left to play, merely provided the left wing with a chance to do his dance.
It was Valk's first two-goal game since March 27, 1994, and it had the Ducks feeling good about themselves. It had been a while, what with their 1-5 start and the news that Milos Holan, one of their top young players, has been diagnosed with leukemia.
"I haven't even looked at the paper," Wilson said. "We certainly have enough to be depressed about without looking at the standings. [Holan's illness] puts everything in perspective."
The Ducks had known of Holan's condition for some weeks, but only announced it publicly Sunday.
It was the capper on a rough past few days for the Ducks. They were handled with ease by Vancouver, 5-1, in the home opener Wednesday and by Philadelphia, 4-2, Friday.
"We deserved to win tonight," Valk said. "This was a good team win tonight."
It was difficult to find any fault with the Ducks' game Sunday, which certainly was not the case the past two games.
Goalie Guy Hebert, criticized by Wilson after Friday's loss to Philadelphia, picked up his first victory of the season. He stopped 42 of 44 shots, one short of his career high set last season against Edmonton.
He also survived three defensive lapses that allowed Teemu Selanne two breakaways and Darren Turcotte one. He stopped each player once and Selanne sent one shot high and outside.
"We had three clean breakaways, but didn't score and that was the difference," Winnipeg Coach Terry Simpson said.
The Ducks broke the game open late in the second period when Kariya scored on the power play for a 2-1 lead at the 16:25 mark. With 10 seconds left in the period, he slipped a backhander to Kilger for the rookie's first NHL goal and a 3-1 lead.
"It was a perfect pass," Kilger said. "It was a two-on-two and he got it right through. Not a lot of players make that pass."
Kariya leads the Ducks with six goals and eight points.
"We have three different styles of player," Kilger said of linemates Kariya and Krygier. "The chemistry of the three is working really well right now."
Winnipeg's Keith Tkachuk cut the lead to 3-2 midway through the third period, but Valk countered, redirecting a rebound into an open net 28 seconds later.
In the game's final minute, Krygier scored an empty-net goal and Valk beat Cheveldae for the winning margin.
"We needed a big home win," Valk said.
Joe Sacco was scratched for the second consecutive game by Coach Ron Wilson, who has been disappointed by Sacco's play. He is scoreless in four games and has a plus-minus rating of minus five. . . . The Ducks are 8-2 lifetime against Winnipeg, their best record against any opponent. . . . The Ducks went 1 for 5 on the power play Sunday and are 5 for 44 (11.5%) overall.