Ducks' Timing Is Just Right

Times Staff Writer

There were a lot of things for the Mighty Ducks to feel good about Wednesday night.

Almost all of them came in the first period.

Top of the list were goals by rookies Stanislav Chistov and Alexei Smirnov, who put the Columbus Blue Jackets in a hole and quieted the 17,385 at Nationwide Arena.

The Ducks spent the rest of the game scrambling to preserve a 4-3 victory that wasn't secure until the horn sounded ... a second or two before the Blue Jackets' Rick Nash banked a shot off goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere and into the net.

So their third consecutive victory, which left them two points behind eighth-place Colorado, wasn't easy. The Ducks broke from the gate like Secretariat and stumbled home like Mr. Ed.

But a win is a win, of course, of course.

"It was a must win for our hockey team ... ," Coach Mike Babcock said. "We got prepared, went after them and we won."

That's the Reader's Digest version. The unabridged copy is more involved.

Before the game, Babcock told Chistov and Smirnov that they needed to score, even using a not-so-veiled threat on Chistov.

"He said I had to go out and score a goal or I was not going to play," Chistov said, grinning. "I scored."

As did Smirnov a minute later, which got the Ducks off to a 2-0 lead 13 minutes 10 seconds into the game. Steve Rucchin made it 3-0 with a nifty back-hander on a breakaway two minutes later. The Ducks had a 20-6 advantage in shots after one period.

The Ducks had to kill eight penalties against the NHL's fourth-best power play. The Ducks, on the other hand, received only two power plays, both of which came when the game was scoreless.

The Blue Jackets out-shot the Ducks, 24-12, in the final two periods.

"Guys would be hacking and slashing you when we were in their end and nothing," said Duck forward Rob Valicevic, whose first goal of the season gave the Ducks a 4-1 lead five minutes into the third period. "Then one of their players would fall down and it was a penalty. It was sort of hard to understand."

Not for Babcock.

"I thought this game tonight, we should have slammed the door," Babcock said. "But ... did you notice anything that happened? Did you notice anything?

"Absolutely unbelievable. Before this game, we were the fourth least-penalized team. When we got ahead, we started laying the boots to them. I don't know."

The Blue Jackets made it a 4-3 game on third-period goals by Andrew Cassels and Mike Sillinger.

"Those are what I call fly-bys, where our guys were like a sea gull coming down on a piece of meat and then taking off," Babcock said. "All we had to do was stop and there is no goal."

The Ducks wasted little time getting started.

Chistov raced to the puck, tipped it around Columbus' Derrick Walser, then lined up a wrist shot for a 1-0 lead 12:14 into the game. Smirnov then beat everyone to the puck at the blue line, bulled his way to the net, carrying the Blue Jackets' Paul Manning on his back, and scored for a 2-0 lead.

"Coach told me before the game that I was going to score," Smirnov said. "Everyone told me that. I did."

It was Chistov's second goal in 24 games. For Smirnov, who spent December at minor league Cincinnati, this was his first NHL goal since the season opener.

"They have high skill levels and we need contributions from them," Babcock said. "The tough part for them, with all young guys, is to get them to come to the rink every night."

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