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HELENE ELLIOTT

Ducks are in, but how long can they last?

Losing in a shootout to Phoenix means Anaheim will play either Detroit or San Jose in the first round.

April 12, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

FROM GLENDALE, ARIZ. — When Jean-Sebastien Giguere's pad carried Viktor Tikhonov's shootout attempt over the goal line and consigned the Ducks to a 5-4 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, their playoff prospects became a game of pick your poison.

A victory Saturday would have planted them in sixth place and set up a potentially favorable matchup against Vancouver. Because they got only one point, they must wait for the outcome of St. Louis' game at Colorado today to learn their fate.

If the Blues lose, the Ducks will finish seventh and face the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings. If the Blues win, the Ducks will fall to eighth and draw the top-ranked San Jose Sharks. The Ducks were 1-3 against Detroit and 2-4 against San Jose this season.

Nice options.

"All the teams we could face are good," said Giguere, who stopped all nine shots he faced over the last 25 minutes in relief of starter Jonas Hiller but was beaten three times in the shootout.

"We'll take what comes at us, and we'll build with it when it's time."

The Ducks tried to put a good face on a loss that created a lot of uncertainty.

They fell behind, 4-2, late in the second period but pulled even on goals by Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne 45 seconds apart early in the third period. They had a chance to win in overtime on Andrew Ebbett's breakaway, but former Duck Ilya Bryzgalov stymied him. The suspense continued until Selanne shot over the net in the fourth shootout round and Tikhonov succeeded.

"We got ourselves in the playoffs and we're excited about that," Scott Niedermayer said. "We've got an opportunity to see how good we are come playoff time now."

There's the question: How good are they?

Are they the team that rallied from 12th place on March 15 on the strength of a 9-1 spree, or the team that lost two of its last three games and barely beat Dallas in a shootout Friday?

"We find a way to keep things exciting, that's for sure," Coach Randy Carlyle said.

Exciting isn't always good. A nice, dull victory Saturday would have put Vancouver on their dance card. They were 2-1-1 against the Canucks after winning the last two games.

"I don't even think about that, because it didn't work. If you live your life on ifs, it's not what we're about," Carlyle said.

"You look at our group and how far we've come to get where we are, you've got to acknowledge the work the players have put in. It's been pretty substantial."

That it has, but there's more to be done to clean things up defensively.

Although Hiller was the catalyst during the Ducks' late-season surge and stopped 42 shots in their playoff-clinching shootout victory over Dallas, Carlyle pulled him Saturday after he yielded four goals in 24 shots.

The first and third goals, both scored by Steven Reinprecht, were power-play goals. Still, Carlyle decided that changes were in order.

"The thing was, it wasn't going very well for Hiller. Simple as that," said Carlyle, who also moved an energetic Selanne up to the first line in an effort to yank his team out of its lethargy.

Asked if he had been alarmed by anything he saw in Hiller's game, Carlyle forced a laugh. "Four goals. That's what alarms me," he said. "Some of them he really didn't have an opportunity. There were rebounds where we were lax on our coverage. But I didn't think he was strong."

Not quite what you want to see days before the playoffs begin.

"It was a difficult game, to come off a win [Friday] and come in and play a team with nothing to lose," said Niedermayer, who assisted on Corey Perry's goal that cut the Coyotes' lead to 3-2 at 18:19 of the second period and Selanne's tying goal at 5:47 of the third.

"They were pretty loose and aggressive offensively. We maybe got caught up in that a little bit and ended up paying the price."

The consequences will be a tough first-round series that could involve traveling to Detroit and, should they stage an upset and the other series go according to form, a second-round series against San Jose. Or San Jose and then Detroit.

Gulp.

Veteran Todd Marchant bemoaned the Ducks' lack of sharpness the last two games but said they had succeeded at the most important task.

"We did what we needed to do, which was to get points to get us into the playoffs," he said. "We were able to accomplish that, so now our focus has to be the playoffs. Each individual game is like a series in itself. We have to try and win each period and go from there."

How far? Probably not very.

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helene.elliott@latimes.com

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