Following the Anaheim Ducks’ 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues on January 2nd, head coach Bruce Boudreau offered this tidbit.
“We find a way, Sometimes it doesn’t look like we deserve it, but we find a way to win.”
Boudreau probably felt the same way that following Sunday, as the Ducks won 4-3 in a shootout against the Nashville Predators. In today’s NHL, leads can evaporate quickly, regardless of the magnitude of the lead. All it takes is a stretch of lazy, unfocused, and undisciplined play to turn the tide of a game. The Ducks have already played 26 one-goal games through 42 contests this season. With so many tense contests, Ducks fans have white knuckles, knotted stomachs, and racing hearts through these entertaining (yet stressful) games. However, the Ducks seem to relish the close games and have been succeeding at an unreal clip in them.
The Ducks are 20-0-6 in one-goal contests this season, and 17 of their previous 19 victories have been by one goal, including a stretch of 12 consecutive wins from October 28th to December 10th. But this is nothing new for the Ducks, even going back a couple seasons. According to Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) columnist Rob Vollman the Ducks are 28-4 in one-goal games decided in regulation during the past two seasons. From the 2009-2010 season to now, the Ducks boast a 73-30 record the same situation (a win percentage of .709%). The next closest team in that same span is the Vancouver Canucks, at 52-38 (win percentage of .578%, or more than 130 percentage points fewer than that of the Ducks).
Despite the Ducks’ ability to win close games in the regular season, it hasn’t necessarily translated to the postseason: the Ducks have won just one playoff round in that span. However, this season seems to be different: the Ducks seem to be built more for the playoffs this season. They have a young goaltender in Frederik Andersen, who is giving this team confidence with each start and save. The Ducks boast a defense corps who is finally healthy and getting into a rhythm. Finally, the Ducks have four dangerous forward lines who all boast the ability to make plays and score goals. One-goal games are typically expected in the postseason, when teams are closer in skill level and teams clamp down. The Ducks’ record in these situations should encourage fans about the team’s chances in the postseason.
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Following the Ducks 2-1 overtime win against the Vancouver Canucks on December 28th, defenseman Cam Fowler had this to say about all the one-goal victories.
“Come playoff time, come the time of the year where we’d like to be and hopefully where we see ourselves, this is what every game is like. You don’t go through the playoffs where there are too many games where there’s like three or four goals scored on any given night, so you have to be comfortable playing in these one-goal games. We’ve certainly had a lot of those this year.”
Fowler is absolutely right on all accounts. The Ducks have played in numerous as stated above, and come playoff time one goal games is what you get. In the past three postseasons, more than half of the playoff games have been one goal games. 50 of 86 games in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs were decided by one goal (58.1%). In the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, 49 of 86 were one-goal contests (57.0%), and last season’s postseason had 46 of 93 games decided by that margin (49.5%). Overall, 54.7% of the playoff games the past three seasons have been one-goal contests, so gaining experience in winning these now should prove to be beneficial.
The Ducks also have numerous players with post-season experience this season. The team’s leadership core of Ryan Getzlaf, Francois Beauchemin, and Corey Perry were all members of the 2007 Stanley Cup winning team, and they are three of four members left from that team (although Beauchemin was traded before being reacquired and Ilya Bryzgalov was just re-signed to the team midseason). Ryan Kesler was part of a Vancouver Canucks squad that won consecutive Northwest Division titles and made a run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Ducks current roster has 10 players who are 26 or younger. Younger players tend to get more rattled by high-pressure situations, even during the regular season. The Ducks haven’t had that happen yet: in fact, the opposite may be true. When leaders exude confidence and instill a confidence in the team, it can produce a trickle-down effect. The team is rallying around its leaders and each other, and they believe that they are never out of a game. That mindset can help a team in the long run: in the postseason, the journey is a grind, and it takes mental fortitude to overcome. There are no easy games in the regular season, let alone during the postseason. The Ducks are learning how to win these games. It may cause high blood pressure and elevated heart rates for the coaching staff, players, management, and fans alike, but if it leads to the Ducks holding the Stanley Cup in June, it will all be worth it.