MIAMI (AP) — The Anaheim Ducks have relinquished first place in the Pacific Division during one of their worst stretches of the season. But a favorable upcoming schedule provides them with plenty of opportunities to get back on track.
Anaheim looks to bounce back from a deflating loss to its divisional rival when it hosts the struggling Florida Panthers on Sunday night.
The Ducks (45-18-7) held a 13-point edge over San Jose for the top spot in the Pacific after Jan. 15, but they swapped positions with a 3-2 road loss to the Sharks on Thursday, which marked their sixth defeat in eight games.
Mathieu Perreault scored in the second period for Anaheim’s first power-play goal in seven games, while Teemu Selanne scored at the 1:43 mark of the third for a 2-1 advantage. Joe Thornton tied it for San Jose at the 8:11 mark and Brent Burns scored the winner with 3:59 remaining.
“It was a tough game but that’s what happens when two good teams go at it and fight tooth and nail,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Everybody knew the importance of this game. Both teams looked focused and played to the end.”
Anaheim has surrendered a power-play goal in seven straight after surrendering one to Patrick Marleau in the first period. Opponents have nine goals in 23 chances on the man advantage during that stretch. The Ducks had been killing off 83.3 percent of chances on the season.
They’ll play their next nine games against teams outside of the playoff picture.
“We want to finish strong,” Selanne told the team’s website. “Those games are more dangerous because they’re playing for next year’s jobs. We want to build momentum for the playoffs and be top notch when the playoffs start.”
Facing the Panthers (26-37-8) should help, considering they’ve also lost six of eight and nine of 11 away from home. Florida took a 4-0 defeat at Los Angeles on Saturday, marking the fifth time the team has scored one or no goals in nine road contests. Brad Boyes, who leads the club with 18 goals, has just one in that stretch. Sean Bergenheim – whose 14 are tied for second on the team – also has one.
Florida has also struggled to kill off chances, allowing a power-play goal in eight straight games. The last 14 opponents have a combined 16 goals on 46 power-play opportunities. The Panthers’ 75.0 penalty-kill percentage is the worst in the league.
Roberto Luongo made 25 saves Saturday in his seventh start since being acquired from Vancouver. He’s 3-3-1 with a .926 save percentage for the Panthers.
Anaheim claimed a 34-25 advantage in shots in a 3-2 loss at Florida on Nov. 12, though the Panthers had current Dallas Stars goaltender Tim Thomas in net. Luongo is 2-6-2 in his last 11 starts against the Ducks with a 4.53 goals-against average.
Nick Bonino returned to practice Saturday for Anaheim after missing Thursday’s contest due to a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday’s loss to Washington. Boudreau wouldn’t confirm whether the team’s third-leading scorer would play Sunday.
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