Mike Leclerc looked more relieved than jubilant.
His two-goal game helped lead the Mighty Ducks to a 4-2 victory over the Nashville Predators Sunday. It was a big night for Leclerc, who had the third multi-goal game of his career and missed a hat trick by inches in the third period.
But there were bigger issues at hand. The victory was only the Ducks' second in 13 games, and will either be a momentary pause in a free fall or the beginning of better days. Which direction they are headed rests with Leclerc and his teammates. .
He had been goal-less in nine games and his misery had company. Jeff Friesen hadn't scored a goal in eight games. Matt Cullen's drought had lasted 14 games. These were offensive stars who were starving.
All feasted Sunday, scoring goals in front of an announced 10,214 at the Arrowhead Pond. What the fans witnessed was two periods of therapeutic hockey by the Ducks.
They had three power-play goals, a season high. They rallied from a 2-0 first-period deficit. They got goals from their goal scorers.
"This has been horrible," Leclerc said. "You don't even know how horrible. This is our livelihood, you know. Not just because we weren't scoring, but because we're losing those games. It has been a pretty miserable time. Guess you have to be tough mentally and work your way through it."
More work lies ahead.
A victory over Nashville certainly beats the alternative. It also may be a case of "you can't lose 'em all." The Predators are winless in nine consecutive road games.
The Ducks will venture out on the road and there won't be a cream puff in sight. They play Edmonton and Calgary, two of the Western Conference's best teams, and red-hot Vancouver and Colorado, which is looking more like the defending Stanley Cup champion.
"It's only one game, but at least you leave with a feeling that some of the players stepped up," Coach Bryan Murray said. "Maybe it was the opportunity they had. Maybe it was Nashville. Let's find out. We got to go out on a tough trip. Thank goodness we could win a game at home and leave with a good feeling."
Everyone on the Ducks could feel good, and relieved, about this one.
Leclerc scored two power-play goals, and Cullen one. The Ducks had four power-play goals in 60 chances in their previous 11 games.
All four goals came from players who attacked the net and either knocked in rebounds or scored off passes. The Ducks had 17 goals in 11 previous games.
Goalie Steve Shields was strong. He gave up two first-period goals, one when the Duck defense hung him out like laundry, but stopped 21 of 23 shots.
"We got our noses dirty," Leclerc said. "That's the kind of goals we need to score. They aren't fancy goals, but we got to the net and battled."
Leclerc kick-started the Ducks on a power play. Marty McInnis fired a shot from the point that was blocked. Out of a scramble in front of the net, Leclerc flicked a backhand shot past goalie Tomas Vokoun to make it 2-1 two minutes into the period.
Two minutes later, Friesen did the same off a shot by McInnis to tie the score.
The Ducks, who were 0-10 when trailing after the first period, made a similar rally against San Jose Friday, tying the score after trailing, 2-0. They lost that one, 5-2. This time, they saw the comeback through.
The Ducks took the lead on Leclerc's power-play goal late in the period.
"This feels good, not only to score goals, but we feel like we earned it," Cullen said.
The Ducks have blown third-period leads three times in the past 11 games. Two other times, they were tied in the third only to lose. Cullen gave the Ducks a little breathing room. Vokoun stopped German Titov's shot, but left the rebound next to the post and Cullen chipped it in for a 4-2 lead two minutes into the third period.