Corey Perry scored late in the second period and Teemu Selanne tallied the game-winning goal midway through the third to lead the red-hot Anaheim Ducks to a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
Left for dead earlier in the season as they appeared destined to be locked in a battle with the Columbus Blue Jackets for last place overall in the NHL, the Ducks are now 14-2-3 in their last 19 games to miraculously get back to within just six points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
There is no doubt that the key to the turnaround was the day the team signed Bruce Boudreau, who had just been fired by the Washington Capitals. While the Capitals continue to struggle with new head coach Dale Hunter, Anaheim, after a short adjustment period, has caught fire.
Pittsburgh had been 11-2-1 in their prior 14 games, but missed out on a chance to pass the idle Philadelphia Flyers and grab sole possession of fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Jordan Staal put the Penguins up with a nice move just 6:27 into the contest. Leading a two-on-one rush along the right wing side, Staal cut to the center of the ice and when defenseman Sheldon Brookbank sprawled to block an anticipated pass, the Pittsburgh center instead shot back against the grain, beating Jonas Hiller high to the blocker side and under the crossbar for his 17th goal of the season to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead.
After being held in check for the first half of regulation, Anaheim began to get better quality scoring chances on Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury late in the second period.
Fleury had to kick out the right pad to stop Niklas Hagman on a partial breakaway, then Andrew Cogliano drilled the post after beating Fleury over the right shoulder on a shorthanded odd-man rush several minutes later.
The Penguins did have chances to add to their lead. Defenseman Zbynek Michalek carried the puck behind the Anaheim cage and attempted a wraparound, but Hiller was able to get his right pad across the crease to stop the shot at the goal line. Michalek was injured after taking a puck to the right side of the head after diving in front of a Lubomir Visnovsky shot in front of the Penguins' net.
Evgeni Malkin, the NHL's leading scorer, nearly doubled the home team's lead late in the stanza when he gathered the puck on a broken play and broke in on Hiller's right, but his shot rang off the goal post past the netminder's glove. Malkin was held off the scoresheet to snap a five-game scoring streak.
Perry finally broke through in the final minute of the middle frame, snapping a quick shot that snuck under the Pens' goaltender before Fleury could get set for the shot. It was the 28th goal of the season for the Ducks' leading goal-scorer, and it came with just 52 ticks remaining on the clock in the second period.
Selanne took a cross-ice pass from Matt Beleskey and broke in alone on Fleury along the left wing in the third period, and as he moved in, went to the backhand and tucked a shot between the goalie's arm and body for his 19th goal of the year to give Anaheim their first lead of the night at 2-1 with 12:09 left in regulation.
It was also the 656th goal of Selanne's illustrious career, tying Brendan Shanahan for 12th place on the all-time goal-scoring list.
The Ducks nearly added to the lead when Fleury made a save on a Perry shot, but the puck squeezed through the backstop's equipment and trickled toward the yawning cage. Defenseman Kris Letang was able to catch up to the disc at the goal line, just before it crossed the line for what would have been an insurance goal.
Letang's efforts gave the Pens a chance to tie the game with 4:30 still remaining, but Pittsburgh could not penetrate the Anaheim defense. And when they did, Hiller was there to turn them away.
Hiller stopped 25 of 26 Penguin offerings to improve to 5-0-1 in his last six decisions and is now 21-19-9 on the season, while Fleury made 27 saves on 29 shots while his record dropped to 29-14-3.