ANAHEIM — Forty-two days after the Ducks started their NHL regular season, they finally won a game in regulation.
The result: Ducks 3, New York Rangers 2, on Wednesday night at Honda Center. They had played 19 games without a win in regulation, one short of the league record to begin a season. In 2017, the Arizona Coyotes became the first team in NHL history to go 20 games into the season without a win in regulation.
“We found a way to win a hockey game,” said Ducks goaltender John Gibson, who made 41 saves. “It seems like, before, we were shooting ourselves in the foot maybe a little bit and finding ways to lose. … We all had to dig in and find a way to win a hockey game.”
Said Ducks forward Troy Terry, who had the game-winning goal: “To get a result for this team, especially in regulation, was really big for this group. We still have a lot of hockey left and we need to start building on it.”
Of course, it wasn’t surprising Gibson was front and center and kept the Ducks in it and held on when the Rangers made a big push, outshooting the Ducks 17-2 in the third period.
“John Gibson is one of the most competitive players I’ve ever coached or played with,” Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said. “He is as competitive as they get. I know he takes great pride in his game and takes even more pride in being able to steal them.
“He expects that of himself. … The way that our season’s gone early, I know it wears on him because of his competitiveness. But for him to come in and deliver for his teammates and our organization like he did tonight – it’s huge.”
Said Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler: “He was our best player and most nights he is. Doesn’t get enough credit for how good a goaltender he is. But he’s top-notch and showed it again tonight.”
One element of surprise was that Ducks defenseman Dmitry Kulikov was a meaningful source of offense, scoring the go-ahead goal 39 seconds into the second period off a shot from the right-wing boards, making it 2-1. Earlier, he assisted on Mason McTavish’s first-period goal.
In between those efforts, Kulikov had to get stitched up after a shot from Rangers defenseman Adam Fox deflected off Kulikov’s stick and hit him in the face at 12:05 of the first period.
“It takes a lot of courage to come back and still continue to battle,” Fowler said. “(Kulikov) has done that for us all year.”
Kulikov had a strong game, at both ends. Afterward, in the dressing room, he said his face was starting to feel sore, saying: “The freezing wears off now. It (the puck) hit me above the teeth.”
Terry gave the Ducks a rare two-goal lead when he made it 3-1 at 5:25 of the second period, ripping a shot from the right circle, which went in off the post past Rangers goaltender Jaroslav Halak. It was his eighth goal of the season. That was the first time the Ducks held a two-goal lead in any game since they had a 2-0 lead against the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 17 before going on to lose, 4-2.
But the Ducks gave one back late in the second period when Rangers defenseman Braden Schneider cut the lead to 3-2 at 18:06. It was the first time the Ducks have had a lead after two periods this season.
“We’ll take whatever we can get right now but having a lead going into the third is massive,” Eakins said.
Still, the Ducks’ unfamiliarity with holding a lead in the third showed.
“It was almost like we were waiting for something bad to happen,” Eakins said. “And we are very thankful Gibby was going to have none of that.”
With Halak pulled for an extra attacker, Terry had the chance at an empty-netter on an outnumbered attack but hit the crossbar with 44 seconds remaining.
So what was Eakins thinking?
“My first thought was that the other two guys that were on the three-on-one, with no goalie, were probably going to have something to say to him,” Eakins said. “Again, in my head, I’m like, ‘Man, our luck.’ We’ve had some incredible luck and not on the good side. At least we were able to close it out.”