Sami Vatanen kept insisting he was ready to return from the unspecified lower-body injury that sidelined him since Feb. 15 and help the Ducks.
A third-period miscue cast doubt on the claim, but then Vatanen forced an overtime turnover Friday that teammate Corey Perry converted into the winning goal in the 3-2 Ducks’ victory over the Colorado Avalanche at Honda Center.
“I saw [Colorado defenseman Brad Stuart] didn’t see me, I was behind him so I decided I would try to poke-check there, and I got a little lucky that it went straight to Perry,” Vatanen said.
The Western Conference-leading Ducks (46-20-7) claimed their NHL-best 15th overtime win, while Perry tied a franchise record (Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf) with his sixth career overtime goal.
“Sami made a great play to get his stick on the puck, I was fortunate enough to have that breakaway” on Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov, “and had an idea what I wanted to do,” Perry said of the team-best 29th goal he sent over Varlamov’s left shoulder.
The Ducks needed their third consecutive third-period rally after Vatanen couldn’t control a pass from fellow defenseman Cam Fowler on the power play.
The puck was collected by Avalanche center Ryan O’Reilly, who surged to Anaheim’s net and beat goalie Frederik Andersen to his right for a 2-1 lead with 12 minutes, 41 seconds left in regulation.
“I think I’ve been lifting too much bench press in the gym, so my hands were a little frozen there, and it bounced over my stick,” Vatanen said. “Sometimes, bad [things] happen. It was my bad, but we got the ‘W.’ ”
The Ducks lead the NHL with 17 comebacks from third-period deficits — they did so in all three games of the homestand — and their Friday answer was third-line center Rickard Rakell.
After assisting Jiri Sekac’s first-period goal, Rakell skated to a loose puck in front of Varlamov and shot to the goalie’s left for his seventh goal. Sekac had the secondary assist.
“I saw the puck bounce, I tried to get a stick on it as quickly as possible,” Rakell said. “We knew if we got the puck low, we’d have chances.”
Andersen, playing for the first time since March 9 as John Gibson made four straight starts, also gave up Jarome Iginla’s bang-bang 24th goal earlier in the third, but Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau praised the goalie’s 22-save effort and 31st victory.
“The breakaway, I was pretty close,” Andersen said. “I felt sharp.
“We have a strong group here, we just keep going.”
The Ducks scored 3:47 into the game when Sekac skated behind the net and whipped a shot from the right side of Varlamov that beat him high.
It was Sekac’s first goal in his 11th game as a Duck.
He was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in late February and has been part of the third-line forward shuffle that has seen him, Tomas Fleischmann and Emerson Etem scratched this week.
The competition is breeding quality play. Perry maintained the Ducks’ third line was their best Friday.