“To me, the biggest thing with our group has always been staying level-headed, staying in the moment, staying in the game,” the Ducks’ captain said after their morning skate Thursday, and although he didn’t mention it, he often was among those who lost their poise at bad times.
“A lot of times early in the year I thought our group got distracted from whether it be a bad call, a big hit, a goal against. Those kinds of things. We didn’t respond that well,” he added. “The second half of the season, we made it a focal point to make sure we stayed calm and played the way we wanted to. I thought we did a good job doing that.”
That composure fueled an 11-0-3 surge that carried them to their fifth straight Pacific Division title. On Thursday, Getzlaf — the team’s captain — made sure their success carried over into the first game of their opening-round playoff series against the Calgary Flames.
Getzlaf scored the Ducks’ first goal, set up the second with a shot that was rebounded by teammate Rickard Rakell, and kept the puck in the zone on the power play that led to Jakob Silfverberg’s winner in the Ducks’ 3-2 victory over the Flames. If that weren’t enough, he leveled Calgary defenseman Mark Giordano with a hard but clean shoulder hit in the third period, luring Calgary’s Dougie Hamilton into a foolish retaliation penalty.
Getzlaf said Giordano “was just the guy that had the puck,” but the crowd at Honda Center counted it as avenging a knee-on-knee hit Giordano had inflicted against Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler on April 4 to knock Fowler out of the lineup for perhaps as long as six weeks.
The Ducks generally were composed Thursday night, at least until the final minutes, and Getzlaf was equally soft-spoken and matter-of-fact about the playoff victory.
“I thought it was good. We’re going to have to be better,” said Getzlaf, who also won 12 of 20 faceoffs. “I thought we were a little sloppy in some areas. Because they’re going to be better. We know that group over there.
“We’re going to have to earn everything. That’s a great hockey team over there. We’re going to have to continue to get better at certain areas. We found a way to win tonight.”
They found it because Getzlaf showed them the way. “He’s a leader for a reason,” Ducks goaltender John Gibson said. “He leads and we follow.”
Getzlaf has three goals and 12 points in 13 career playoff games against the Flames, whose home arena, the Scotiabank Saddledome, features a banner with Getzlaf’s name and likeness hanging from its rafters. That banner was raised in tribute to his stellar junior hockey career with the Calgary Hitmen, but he likely won’t get any further respectful treatment there following his performance against the Flames on Thursday.
Getzlaf, whose preference for passing over shooting has vexed many coaches, took the shot from the left point that became the Ducks’ first goal Thursday, during a power play, 52 seconds into the game. After the Flames pulled even on a first-period power-play goal by Sean Monahan and took a 2-1 lead on Sam Bennett’s finish of a fine pass from a spinning Kris Versteeg, Getzlaf helped the Ducks pull even at 13:53 of the second period, with the help of a terrible line change by the Flames. Getzlaf took a stretch pass from Kevin Bieksa and took a shot that was stopped by Calgary goaltender Brian Elliott, but Rakell was there for the rebound.
Getzlaf wasn’t credited with an assist on Silfverberg’s go-ahead goal but he still played a key role because the Flames, undoubtedly remembering his shot on the Ducks’ first goal, overplayed him. That left Silfverberg free to make a clever redirection in front of the net.
They held on despite some mistakes, despite the long and frequent rebounds that Gibson left, and despite two late penalties. But they held on to take a 1-0 lead in the series and buck the trend this spring toward home teams losing their series opener, which has happened in five of eight games so far.
“We talked about home ice and battling for it. It’s only home ice if you use it,” Getzlaf said, sensibly.
“We got tested tonight that’s for sure. We did a good job of staying focused and working through it, as opposed to working against it.”
So many times in the past they beat themselves with undisciplined play and a lack of poise. Getzlaf on Thursday kept them level-headed, in the moment, in the game. It’s a recipe they must continue to follow. They must continue to follow him, too, as long as he leads as impressively as he did Thursday.