Riding alongside each other atop the Pacific Division standings for much of the season, the San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars have had the Ducks squarely in their sideview mirrors.
It might be time for a warning as the object is closer than it appears.
Two nights after a dramatic comeback victory over the Sharks, the Ducks pulled even closer to the division leaders with a thorough 4-2 victory over Dallas to finish off a four-game homestand without a defeat Tuesday night at the Honda Center.
Scott Niedermayer had a goal and two assists in his best game since he ended his hockey sabbatical on Dec. 5 and returned to the defending Stanley Cup champions. Todd Marchant, Ryan Getzlaf and Todd Bertuzzi also scored as the Ducks (25-17-6) jumped past the Stars into second place, one point behind the Pacific-leading Sharks.
Now that the Ducks have their affairs in order at home, they will try to keep up their winning ways on the road where they’ll play 12 of their next 13 games. A three-game trip starts Thursday in Nashville.
“It’s a huge road trip for us,” said goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who had 22 saves. “So it’s going to be very difficult. It’s good that we have some kind of momentum going onto the road. The key thing is not to change anything.”
Perhaps personified by Brad May’s hard check on Stars standout defenseman Sergei Zubov and his fight later with Krys Barch, the Ducks took control of the game in the second period as they scored twice to break a 1-1 tie.
The Ducks were in attack mode. They held Dallas to one shot in the first 15 minutes of the second while racking up 17 of their own on Dallas goalie Marty Turco. And the tenacity paid off as Marchant put in a wraparound midway through and Getzlaf punched in a rebound for a 3-1 lead.
It was all done without top checkers Rob Niedermayer, who sat out the game because of a groin injury, and Samuel Pahlsson, who sat for the 10th consecutive time because of abdominal inflammation.
Loui Eriksson cut the lead in half, but Bertuzzi restored the two-goal lead in the third period when he scored for the third consecutive game as he skated in from the left side of the net and slammed the puck off Turco for a second power-play goal against the NHL’s top penalty killing team.
It could have been worse had Turco not stopped a penalty shot by Chris Kunitz and Brandon Bochenski not missed on a breakaway try later in the third.
“We had a dominating second period and we seemed to build on that,” Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle said.
Niklas Hagman put the Stars on the scoreboard with a goal at the 3:13 mark of the first period as he hustled after a bouncing puck and poked it between the legs of Giguere.
The Ducks pulled even just over a minute later with an artistic display of passing that resulted in Scott Niedermayer’s second goal since his return.
Getzlaf passed to a rushing Niedermayer in stride and the defenseman quickly moved it to Corey Perry. Perry slipped the puck back to Niedermayer, who immediately dropped a pass to Bertuzzi.
Bertuzzi spun around in a 360-degree motion and found Perry, who was set up to the left of Turco. In one motion, Perry got the puck back to Niedermayer, who snapped it past the sprawling goalie.
“Both those guys made pretty nice plays,” Niedermayer said. “I just had to try and find 80% net. It’s fun when plays work like that. In the league today, you don’t see a lot of goals like that. Teams are too good defensively and players are too good.
“It’s nice to be part of it, for sure.”