All game long, Patrick Eaves went to the net to absorb the punishment players take when they venture into hockey’s hard-hat area.
Then Eaves went back in there for more abuse, and it was a microcosm of the sudden, newfound determination by the Ducks in the second half of Tuesday’s game.
Hockey karma repaid Eaves kindly.
He scored the only goal in the shootout, a snapshot in the fifth round that beat Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne for a 4-3 win at Honda Center.
“I’m usually a later-round shooter,” Eaves said. “I got called a little early tonight. I was just fortunate it went in.”
Fortune had nothing to do with the final 30 minutes, when the Ducks showed the impressive will to do the hard work, coupled with chemistry from the new line of Eaves, Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell.
They combined for two goals and four assists, led by Rakell’s 27th goal this season, as the Ducks tied the Edmonton Oilers with 78 points.
“I thought our line had a lot of good chances tonight,” Eaves said. “We all brought a little something different to the game. We had some success. Hopefully we can just continue to build chemistry and keep rolling.”
Goals by Rakell and Nick Ritchie highlighted perhaps the Ducks’ strongest 10-minute stretch of late, in the second period. They dominated possession and faceoffs and did the sacrificial plays that Coach Randy Carlyle has stressed over and over.
“We stuck with it,” Getzlaf said. “I felt like, earlier in the year, at these times, I thought we’d maybe let things get away. We [would] start taking more and more penalties. We took our fair share tonight, but we were able to kind of rally it in and get a couple of bounces.”
Ritchie poked in a loose puck for his 12th goal with Eaves occupying the crease.
Fewer than six minutes later, Eaves set up Rakell for a shot in the slot that deflected off Nashville’s Vernon Fiddler and into the net to tie the score, 3-3, with 58 seconds left in the second period.
The flurry infused energy into the Ducks and the building after Nashville converted Cam Fowler’s turnover into a 3-1 lead on Filip Forsberg’s 27th goal, a short-handed wrist shot that beat Jonathan Bernier over the shoulder.
The Ducks had to take back a game that was slipping away at the start when they snapped a nine-game power-play drought. Getzlaf swept in Sami Vatanen’s rebound for his 12th goal, off a clean faceoff win by Ryan Kesler.
The Ducks were one for 35 over the previous 13 games and had induced only three power plays in the previous two games.
The Ducks looked doomed when the Predators struck with two goals in the opening seven minutes, by Colin Wilson and Ryan Ellis.
Wilson went to to the net unchecked to backhand James Neal’s pass over Bernier.
Mattias Ekholm broke up the Ducks’ breakout at center ice. Ellis’ slap shot to the far side on a power play made it 2-0 on four shots for the Predators.
“We gave up a goal on the power play which, at times, during the year, would bury our team,” Getzlaf said. “This time it didn’t. We came back and kept fighting and kept doing the right things, and we were rewarded tonight.”