DALLAS — Nick Bonino has been a part of 28 comeback wins with the Ducks this season. Sunday night was the steepest — and most significant — yet.
Bonino lifted the Ducks to a 5-4 overtime victory over the Dallas Stars as top-seeded Anaheim clinched a demanding first-round Western Conference playoff series, four games to two
Bonino's goal, 2 minutes 47 seconds into sudden death, capped a rally from a two-goal deficit in the final 130 seconds of regulation and made the Ducks one of five NHL teams since 1977 to win from a multiple-goal hole in such a dwindling time frame.
“No one was down, we believed the whole time,” Bonino said. “Easy to say that now, but we have a lot of character, and it showed. We've done it all year. You don't quit. You don't stop fighting.”
Bonino's winner came fittingly after teammate Andrew Cogliano won a puck battle behind the Dallas net and fed a pass to the center who scored 22 regular-season goals. Bonino slammed the winner low to Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen's right side.
“We've had games we've clawed back, won a lot of games from behind, and that's what the playoffs is all about: pushing when there really isn't anything left,” Cogliano.
That appeared to be the case almost from the time Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley scored his second goal of the game, leaving the Ducks down 4-2 at sold-out American Airlines Center just past the midway point of the second period.
Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau then removed starting rookie goalie Frederik Andersen in favor of veteran Jonas Hiller.
While Hiller was in the midst of stopping all 12 shots he faced to put himself back in competition for the second-round starting job, Bonino made it 4-3 with 2:10 left in the third period.
Penalties from a Cogliano fight with Dallas' Alex Chiasson created a four-on-four game that Boudreau turned into a five-on-four situation by pulling Hiller from the net for an extra attacker.
“Quite frankly, I've got to thank Patrick Roy,” Boudreau said of the rookie Colorado Avalanche coach he memorably nearly fought with in the season opener. “If he didn't start pulling the goalies so early all year … he's had such great success … I figured, ‘You gotta get two goals, it makes perfect sense,' so we did it tonight and got lucky.
“I wasn't confident at all. I was hopeful and I believed if we got one, anything can happen, and we've had a year anything has happened.”
With Hiller pulled again in the final minute, the Ducks desperately pushed toward Lehtonen and the puck reached the crease, the goalie feverishly trying to cover it.
Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin lunged twice with his stick — “kept digging and digging,” Beauchemin said — until the puck popped out and was tipped away, allowing rookie Devante Smith-Pelly to score with 24 seconds remaining.
“Just standing in front of the net, guys whacking at it, had time to flip it in,” said Smith-Pelly, who scored his first NHL playoff goal late in the first period. “It was pretty empty, I was just hoping I didn't flub it.”
The moment electrified the Ducks, who celebrated en masse to the side of the net, but still had work to do.
Boudreau told Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf to calm the team in the 15-minute intermission before overtime. Ducks forward Corey Perry said the mood shifted from rambunctious to quiet, the Ducks braced for either a quick resolution or a marathon.
Last year, the Ducks' first-round upset loss to the Detroit Red Wings was set up by a Game 6 defeat 64 seconds into overtime on the road.
“We've said all along we always learn more from the losses than the wins, and it's always in the back of our minds — what happened in Detroit,” Bonino said. “To get it done this way is a lot of fun.”
The Ducks' first playoff series win since 2009 came five years to the day they beat the San Jose Sharks in a first-round meeting. Anaheim now awaits the winner of the Sharks-Kings series that resumes Monday at Staples Center with San Jose leading 3-2.
“Good couple of days' rest, then back to winning,” Beauchemin said.