In his last seven starts, Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller has gone 5-0-2 with… (Christian Petersen / Getty…)
Did the Ducks go into turnaround mode because Jonas Hiller became Jonas Hiller, the All-Star goaltender, again? Or did Hiller become Hiller again because the Ducks helped ease the way?
Hiller would say it is a bit of both.
"The biggest difference right now is everybody believes we can win, which I felt really wasn't the case in October and November," Hiller said. "If we were scored on, we were always worried about losing a game and never seemed to be really comfortable out there. We never went out there with the mind-set that no matter who we played, we can beat them.
"Now it seems like we're going out there and we don't worry who is playing against us. These days, that's the difference. We found a way to get closer together as a team."
Hiller was talking on the telephone from New Jersey the day after one of those statement-type games. The Ducks beat Pittsburgh, 2-1, on Wednesday night with Hiller making 25 saves. They are in the midst of an eight-game trip — playing at Florida on Sunday — and have picked up points in the first five games of the trip, three wins and two shootout losses.
In fact, the Ducks and Hiller have not lost in regulation since Feb. 1, against Dallas, going 5-0-3. He has given up two or fewer goals in 15 of his last 18 decisions. In his last seven starts, Hiller has gone 5-0-2 with a goals-against average of 1.65 and a save percentage of .935.
"We pretty much have to win every game. We can't have a cold streak," Hiller said. "We had a long enough cold streak this year."
The Ducks were 20 points out of a playoff spot Jan. 5 and got as close as six last week. Heading into Saturday night's action, they were seven behind the eighth-place Kings in the Western Conference.
The Ducks seem to have perfected the skating-on-the-edge mentality. This is the fourth consecutive season blighted by a rocky start. Last season, they closed with a impressive rush, doing it without Hiller, who was sidelined with vertigo symptoms, and their impressive surge was guided by eventual MVP Corey Perry and aided by the goalie duo of Ray Emery and Dan Ellis.
This season, things would be different, the Ducks vowed. Of course, that wasn't the case and their prolonged woes resulted in Bruce Boudreau replacing longtime coach Randy Carlyle.
"We sometimes felt we have a good team, so things should pay off and go our way," Hiller said. "Which was not the case."
Not all coaching changes are created equal. The instant success in St. Louis taking place when Ken Hitchcock stepped behind the bench is the exception.
Boudreau, who made his Ducks' coaching debt Dec. 2, had to adjust to a new team and a new conference, having been in Washington since 2007. Futhermore, the Ducks had to adjust to him.
"You can't expect somebody new to come in after you've been with the same coach for so many years," Hiller said. "You can't expect [change] to happen from one day to the next.
"For Bruce, it was important to get some confidence back in the team. It felt like before we didn't trust each other. We didn't trust ourselves. We didn't have that confidence, and you can't play like that in this league. He found a way to show us the good things we did — even if we lost. Then we started winning and it snowballed."
Not to be forgotten is Teemu Selanne. One of the most remarkable aspects of the Ducks' season has been Selanne's consistency at age 41. He was steady, and often spectacular, when the Ducks were struggling and waited for his lagging teammates to join him.
"He's just so long in the game and he knows what he is doing best," Hiller said of Selanne, who leads the Ducks with 52 points. "Other guys start worrying about what they're doing, thinking too much about it and he just keeps that even keel. He knows what his strengths are and he knows what his weaknesses are. He just relies on his strengths and can do that even if the team is not playing well."