ANAHEIM, CALIF. - The Chicago Blackhawks are all the rage -- and deservedly so -- with points in a record 21 consecutive games to start the season.
But nobody should forget about the Anaheim Ducks.
The Ducks, who have nine players with at least five goals and two solid goaltenders, are deeper than most NHL teams. Friday night against the Wild, they hung on to win their eighth in a row at home and 15th in 19 games overall, 3-2 at the Honda Center.
The Wild put forth a strong effort. It even laid some fear into the Ducks, who are off to their best start in club history. After being sloppy with the puck in the first period and paying dearly, the Wild controlled play the final two periods and had a comeback attempt from three goals down thwarted in the end by Jonas Hiller.
"I wish we could have gotten that third one. I wish our guys could have got rewarded for that effort," coach Mike Yeo said. "We're not big on moral victories, but I was just very impressed with the effort of the guys."
Kyle Brodziak scored 29 seconds into the third period, and Devin Setoguchi dipsied and doodled several defenders before sniping his fourth goal in 10 games midway through the third.
"We had chances to get the third one, too, but we couldn't buy it," Yeo said after the Wild split its two-game road trip.
Said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau: "We were being vastly outplayed in the last period and the second period, quite frankly. But we just hung on and did enough to win."
Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf and Matt Beleskey scored for the Ducks, and Hiller made 31 saves.
The Wild, 6-3-1 in its past 10, felt like it left goals on the ice in a scoreless second. Minnesota outshot the Ducks 15-6 and had Grade A chances, especially from Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley. "Obviously, it was not enough," Koivu said.
In the first period, the Wild showed a lack of sharpness in certain areas. Niklas Backstrom got the night off for rookie Darcy Kuemper, who made 26 saves and said, "This is probably the game out of the three that I've played that I felt the most comfortable."
But the need to protect the young goalie didn't heighten the Wild's attention to details early. The Wild displayed perfectly what can happen if you don't take care of the puck against the high-flying Ducks (3.32 goals a game, second only to Chicago).
"We gave them a little bit too much room," center Matt Cullen said. "I don't think careless is the right word, but we just weren't real crisp with the puck. That's what that team feeds off of -- turnovers, little mistakes."
Still, it wasn't like the Ducks were buzzing the Wild end. Minnesota had its chances and much more offensive-zone time than in last month's loss -- the one where its then-top line of Parise, Koivu and Heatley didn't have a shot until the last few minutes. "Once we got our heads and got it going, we were pretty good," Yeo said.
In the second, Hiller was outstanding. He robbed Heatley moments before Beleskey found a loose puck that deflected under Kuemper off Ryan Suter's skate for a 3-0 lead. "I can't be spotting teams leads like that," Kuemper said. Still, the loss was hardly on Kuemper, and with the effort the Wild showed late, Cullen said the team had to take something positive from the loss.
"A sign of improvement, progress," he said.