The Ducks were a step slow, a bit hesitant and they failed to create good scoring chances until the final period.
Slow starts have plagued them all season, and this time, against the league-best Tampa Bay Lightning, the Ducks were hard-pressed to make up ground with only one quality period of hockey.
Perhaps the Ducks were simply “playing in awe,” as coach Randy Carlyle suggested, and it led to a 2-1 defeat against the Lightning on Sunday.
“We were standing around, watching. … If you allow that to a skilled group like the Tampa Bay Lightning, they’re going to make us look ordinary, and they did," Carlyle said.
For a moment, but what surely seemed like an eternity for the 15,707 on hand at Honda Center, it appeared the Ducks had somehow, someway, tied the contest 2-2.
The Ducks’ first power play didn’t materialize until the midway point of the third period, and the unit was firing on all cylinders.
The puck quickly left Sami Vatanen’s stick, hit Corey Perry’s tape down low, and then Brandon Montour appeared to squeak the puck in under Andrei Vasilevskiy’s left leg pad.
Only it was ruled no goal on the ice, and then, following a lengthy review, officials deemed there was insufficient evidence to overturn it. Vasilevskiy, who leads all NHL goaltenders with 13 victories, swallowed the puck with his pad, and with it, the goal line on vantage points.
“I think everybody knows it’s in,” said Perry, who was strong on the puck in one of his best performances of the season. “You can’t see the whole thing across the line, but that’s the tough part.”
Still, there was about a minute left on the power play, and the Ducks created numerous opportunities. They didn’t officially score, but the special-teams unit might be finding its groove after three such goals in Thursday’s win over the Vancouver Canucks.
What truly irked Carlyle wasn’t the no-goal call, though. It was what he deemed a missed penalty on the winning goal.
Carlyle acknowledged the Ducks blew an assignment on the sequence, but after that, Vatanen fell to the ice with Ryan Callahan’s stick wedged in his skates.
The puck bounced loose, and moments later J.T. Brown fired a beautiful shot over John Gibson’s left shoulder.
It’s been the case many times this season, but Gibson was again stellar in goal. He denied a slew of quality chances from the likes of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, the league leaders in points (31) and goals (16), respectively.
Gibson did so with an astounding number of split saves, and was forced to face 17 shots in the first period alone.
The first goal, a power-play one, came after a rebound on a tremendous split save by Gibson on a Kucherov one-timer. Vatanen was there to clear the puck, but Vladislav Namestnikov beat him to it.
The Ducks did have opportunities to support their goaltender offensively. Like the Derek Grant breakaway that sailed wide. Or the two on one with Grant again on the doorstep after a swift dish from Perry. Squandered opportunities.
But Jakob Silfverberg scored again after he potted two Thursday, the Ducks’ only victory in their last six outings.