It wasn’t quite do-or-die for the Mighty Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday. But it was pretty much do or don’t wonder why if you aren’t playing come late April.
The once-resurgent Ducks had lost four of their last five games and were beaten on the road last week by the last-place New York Islanders and the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have the worst record in the NHL.
But the Ducks came home and regained their footing with a 5-2 victory over Toronto in front of 17,714 at the Pond, moving back into a tie with Chicago and Calgary for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
“As bleak as it looked five hours ago, we’re right back in it,” Duck Coach Ron Wilson said. “We’re going through a period of injuries and we’re run down from travel, but we’re in the eighth spot now.”
In a welcome change of pace, Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne got scoring help from a couple of forwards who have been in droughts.
Jari Kurri and Roman Oksiuta each had a goal and an assist, and Brian Bellows scored late in the game to make the victory decisive.
“We finally got some guys up front going,” Wilson said.
Oksiuta--in the doghouse for much of the season for defensive lapses and a disputed work ethic--scored his first goal since Nov. 17, making the score 2-0 at 16:18 of the first off a circle-to-circle pass from Kurri, who had gone 10 games without a point and had only one goal in the previous 18 games.
Kurri--inching toward his landmark 600th NHL goal--ended his drought in the third period, giving the Ducks a 4-1 lead after taking his time in front of the net before lifting a backhand past Felix Potvin for his ninth goal of the season and 592nd of his career.
“That’s the kind of thing, I’ve been looking for it since the start of the season,” Kurri said of his approaching milestone. “I wanted to be past that some time ago.”
Oksiuta’s span of games without a goal covered only seven appearances because he has been either injured or out of the lineup on coaches’ decisions. With the spate of injuries that have hit the Ducks lately, though, if a player’s healthy, he’s in the lineup. The Ducks were without regulars Warren Rychel, David Karpa, Ken Baumgartner and Kevin Todd on Wednesday and had six rookies in the lineup.
During the game, they lost defenseman Jason Marshall to a sprained right thumb. The Maple Leafs also lost a defenseman when Mathieu Schneider left because he aggravated a groin injury that has cost him 27 games this season.
Fortunately for the Ducks, the backbone of their defense was feeling fine.
Goalie Guy Hebert made 39 saves, none more spectacular than when he left 32-goal scorer Mats Sundin incredulous with a brilliant sprawling glove save in the second period.
Hebert was hugging the right post after losing his balance, then scrambled to the other on his knees when the puck went over to Sundin. Hebert stacked his pads and Sundin lifted his shot, but Hebert snagged it with his glove pointing to the rafters.
“I think it takes a perfect shot to beat him when he’s in that zone,” Wilson said.
Even Sundin looked around in disbelief.
“I thought I had that one for sure,” Sundin said. “He robbed me there.”
It wasn’t all easy skating for the Ducks, whose lead was a shaky 2-1 going into the third after Doug Gilmour was credited with a goal on a scramble in front of the Ducks’ net at 16:21 of the second.
But Kariya helped put the tension to rest, scoring 22 seconds into the third when he picked up a loose puck and skated down to rifle a shot into the far corner of the net for his 25th goal of the season.
The Ducks also started quickly in the first, when defenseman Dmitri Mironov scored only 44 seconds into the game.
“What hurt us was the third goal,” Toronto Coach Mike Murphy said. “It was a marginal goal. We needed a save there.”