The expectation of a playoff-clinching moment for the Ducks deteriorated Wednesday into something far less memorable.
The Colorado Avalanche, trailing all other NHL teams in points, forced Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller to the bench by scoring four goals off him in the first two periods, en route to a 4-1 victory at Honda Center.
“They wanted it more than us, won every battle, worked harder,” Ducks defenseman Sheldon Souray said.
And as Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau added: “When we stink, we stink.”
Hiller had won eight of his last nine decisions at home, with a 1.88 goals-against average since March 1 before Wednesday’s head-scratching performances.
Colorado (13-22-5) began the night in a 2-12-1 slump, Monday’s latest loss prompting goaltender and ex-Duck Jean-Sebastien Giguere to complain that some teammates were more focused on their end-of-season Las Vegas trip than giving a 60-minute effort.
“I didn’t feel we had everybody’s attention,” Giguere said after a 21-save effort. “We’re in last place in the league; there has to be a change in attitude.
“I know our games don’t mean anything now, but we have to play like they mean something. Tonight, we did, and we beat an excellent team.”
The Ducks (27-9-5) were on a 10-2 run against the Avalanche before Wednesday’s face-off.
“We talked how it was a fragile team, if we came out of the first period with a lead, we had them,” Boudreau said.
Yet, 64 seconds into the game, Avalanche center John Mitchell took a pass from teammate Matt Duchene and swatted the puck past Hiller’s right side for a 1-0 lead.
The highlight of the Ducks’ first period was the return of captain Ryan Getzlaf from a right leg injury that kept him out of the three previous games. Getzlaf, with 13 goals and 30 assists this season, was pleased with his mobility in 19:21 of ice time, and little else.
He wanted no part of the excuse that the Ducks perhaps were looking forward to their first two-day break since Feb. 24 before Saturday’s game against the Kings at Staples Center.
“We got outworked,” Getzlaf said.
Colorado’s left wing and 20-year-old captain Gabriel Landeskog skated in for a short-handed goal that made it 2-0 on a shot that bounced off Hiller and into the net 4:07 into the second period.
Then, with one second remaining in a Colorado power play, Duchene slammed a shot in for a 3-0 lead.
“If I was looking for rest, I’m thinking, ‘One more game, lay it all on the line and get some rest,’ ” said Boudreau, who responded to the effort by ordering a Thursday practice.
The surprising silence from the Pacific Division leaders finally ended when Teemu Selanne accepted a crisp pass from Kyle Palmieri and scored with 8:44 left in the second.
Instead of inspiring a comeback, another Colorado penalty was killed off by some sloppy Ducks’ passing. In three power plays through 40 minutes, the Ducks managed only three shots.
Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa then tried to whip a backward pass up ice, but it was knocked down by Avalanche wing Jamie McGinn, who collected the puck and hammered it past Hiller for a 4-1 lead.
Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler suffered an upper-body injury in the first period and did not return.
The Ducks next have a chance to clinch a playoff spot Friday if the Dallas Stars fail to win at Nashville.