LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When Nick Bonino’s game-winning shot found the back of the net on Wednesday the Anaheim Ducks finally found the overtime result that had eluded them during a playoff series full of late-game heartbreak.
Despite controlling long stretches of their series with the Detroit Red Wings, two gut-wrenching overtime losses had kept the second-seeded Ducks from booking a quick trip to the Western Conference semi-finals.
So when a streaking Bonino converted a pass from Ben Lovejoy less than two minutes into overtime, it gave the host Ducks a 3-2 triumph, a 3-2 edge in the best-of-seven series as well as a breakthrough in pressure-packed moments.
With an enhanced confidence, Anaheim can now close out the series with a win in Detroit on Friday.
“We definitely wanted to prove we can play well (in overtimes),” Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller told Reuters after making 29 saves in the win.
“We were talking about it (in the locker room after regulation). We want to keep pushing and put pressure on them. It was great we could finish it off.”
The Ducks, who cruised to the Pacific division title in the regular season, had failed to complete the job in previous make-or-break situations during the 2013 postseason.
Anaheim skated with ease in Game One and Game Three wins, but it was the overtime shortcomings in Game Two and Game Four that felt attached to their sticks, and could potentially mean doom.
Those struggles were not lost on the team when faced with a familiar challenge in Game Five.
“You look back at the series, it was definitely relevant that they had scored two OT goals,” said Kyle Palmieri who scored in the opening period Wednesday.
“They are really relentless in their pursuit. We wanted to neutralize their chances early.”
If Anaheim needed a source of calm in the face of repeated adversity they only had to turn to their ice-in-veins captain, Ryan Getzlaf.
The Ducks’ big center was once again a steadying presence. With his team trailing 2-1 in the second period, Getzlaf stole the puck and drew a penalty, then converted a power-play goal to tie the game.
The sequence gave him a team-leading three playoff goals and five points, numbers that are particularly crucial with line mate Corey Perry struggling to get going as he remains goal-less for the playoffs.
Getzlaf and Perry share a deep connection as both have spent their entire careers together with the Ducks and each signed lucrative eight-year contract extensions this season.
Getzlaf’s lengthy experience with the franchise, which includes the 2007 Stanley Cup, is proving vital for the rest of the roster in the face of playoff pressure.
”I’ve tried to have a level of calmness throughout,“ Getzlaf said. ”This might be the first year I’ve been able to keep my head (calm in the playoffs). A lot of times emotions get the best.
“I’ve been through a lot, and got to win at a young age and that really helps.”
Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau agreed with his captain.
“When you’ve been the guy on a team that’s won it before, that’s important,” Boudreau said. “I thought he brought it. Guys followed him. That’s what captains do.”
The Ducks will be hoping their newfound good vibes travel to Detroit on Friday when they will be greeted by a passionate Red Wings fan base backed by a history of success.
Anaheim, on the other hand, will lean on their most recent history of just two nights earlier.
Editing by Frank Pingue