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Hiller, Ducks keep scrambling

March 30, 2009|Billy Witz

When goaltender Jonas Hiller sprinted out of the crease and dived near his blue line to knock a puck away from Colorado's Cody McLeod on a would-be breakaway, it not only brought the Honda Center crowd to its feet, it brought a lump to the throat of everyone on the Ducks' bench.

It also might have saved the Ducks' season.

The Ducks managed a 4-1 victory Sunday night over the Avalanche, staying within a point of a playoff berth with six games to play. But this must-win game was embodied by Hiller's must-win dash with his team protecting a one-goal lead midway through the second period.

"It's desperation," Coach Randy Carlyle said. "He made the decision and usually in those situations, if you make a decision, you better go, you better get it. If we were talking about it and it was the negative, and they would have just scored on it, we would have been upset with him. But he got it done, so there is no criticism."

It was hardly Hiller's only shining moment. He did the splits to rob John-Michael Liles with his glove, and made a reflexive kick save to rob T.J. Hensick on a rebound try.

That save had the arena chanting his last name, a call that's usually been reserved for Jean-Sebastien Giguere. But the goalie who has twice led the Ducks to the Stanley Cup finals and started this season's All-Star game has struggled to find that form. Giguere was pulled from the Ducks' 5-3 loss to Edmonton on Friday after giving up four goals on seven shots, the seventh time this season he has been removed for poor performance.

Hiller, conversely, has been outstanding. He has given up 11 goals in his last seven appearances and began the game fourth in the NHL in goals against (2.25) and sixth in save percentage (.922).

Still, Carlyle would not commit to starting Hiller when the Ducks play Tuesday at Edmonton, a game between the ninth-place and 10th-place teams. The Ducks are one point ahead of the Oilers, who lost to Minnesota, 3-2.

"That's probably the way it's going to be until the bitter end," forward Bobby Ryan said. "We're going to be fluctuating with the other teams. We know every two points are going to be incredibly valuable."

Ryan did his part, scoring two goals, including the one that broke a 1-1 tie early in the second period. His second one, which split the legs of a defenseman and goalie Peter Budaj early in the third period, helped ease some tension that was fueled by three Ducks shots that hit posts.

But the play that gave the Ducks a big lift was the one made by Hiller.

After he dived to poke the puck away from McLeod, it ricocheted to T.J. Galiardi, whose shot toward the goalie-less net was blocked by Chris Pronger. Hiller scrambled back to the net in time to stop, with the help of two teammates, another try by McLeod.

"Once you decide to go, you have to go," said Hiller, who joked that he owes Pronger a dinner. "You can't back off."

Carlyle could afford to laugh too, after his team rebounded from the loss to Edmonton, which ended a winning streak at five games.

"What it does on the bench, your heart rate definitely goes up," Carlyle said. "But the bottom line is, it energizes the building and that's entertainment value for your fans. And when your fans do that, it can't help but rub off on your players."

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billywitz@yahoo.com

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