Corey Perry was the overtime hero.
Knocking the loose puck past Calgary Flames goaltender Karri Ramo just a couple of minutes into the extra frame during a goal-mouth scramble, Perry helped the Anaheim Ducks claim a 3-2 victory in Game 5 to knock out the overmatched-but-not-about-to-admit-it Flames.
But the Ducks don’t rely on their dynamic duo as much as they used to.
Perry and his setup man Ryan Getzlaf didn’t factor into the scoring before that series-clinching moment. They were held without a point in the previous victory in Calgary, too.
There was a time when that mattered. As recently as last spring, when Perry was held to a single goal over the final three games and Getzlaf restricted to a lone assist in the final two contests of a seven-game elimination at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings, the Ducks lived and died by the performance of their top two players.
If there’s a first star for this series, however, it's probably Matt Beleskey.
The second-line winger, along with Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg, has made the Ducks as mighty as their next opponent, the Chicago Blackhawks.
Beleskey scored a goal in every single game in the series against the Flames. On Sunday night, he netted a power-play marker to tie the game at 2-2 early in the third period to force overtime against a plucky Flames squad.
Kesler added a goal and four points in the series. Silfverberg tallied a goal and five points in total in the second round.
“It’s huge,” Perry said of Beleskey’s play and the depth of the Ducks roster this spring, as seen during his postgame press conference on the NHL Network. “You look at what he’s done in this round especially, getting a goal in every game, getting us back in the game on that power play in the third period. That line’s been huge for us all season and these playoffs, they’ve been playing great. You can’t ask for more than when you have secondary scoring and depth on your team.”
The Ducks are dangerous. They’ve won eight of nine games and have just one blemish on their record in the playoffs—an overtime loss to the Flames in Game 3—and have absolutely dominated both the Winnipeg Jets and the Flames in nearly every way imaginable.
Despite a strong show of heart by the Flames, the Ducks slowly took over Game 5, as they had so many other contests before that one.
They’re going to the Western Conference Final—a first for head coach Bruce Boudreau—as a result.
And the Blackhawks should be wary.
The Ducks defense spreads minutes around liberally, none playing fewer than 16 minutes against the Flames in the final game.
Not only is the top six a physically intimidating group that plays with reckless abandon, any of them can score at any moment.
And behind that stellar group are guys like Kyle Palmieri, Andrew Cogliano, Nate Thompson, Rickard Rakell, Tomas Fleischmann, Emerson Etem and Tim Jackman. The bench isn’t shortened too often and many of these players have contributed all season long and again in the postseason.
Without the stars getting this kind of support, the Ducks have stalled in years past.
With all due respect to Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, the second-line anchors this year are a whole lot more intimidating at this stage of their careers, and the depth behind them is unmatched by, well, pretty much every team EXCEPT for the Blackhawks.
Strap in, because the Western Conference Final is going to be a great one.
“After the last couple of seasons it’s been tough exiting the playoffs the way we did,” Perry said. “This year, we came in with a business-first mindset. There’s a lot of character in that room. There are a lot of guys who can step up at any point in a game. Guys are doing that.
“When you have four lines going like we do, it’s a great feeling.”
What didn’t feel great for Perry was a knee-on-knee collision with Flames center Matt Stajan that struck fear in Ducks fans when Perry limped straight to the dressing room.
He was back a few minutes later, however, and in prime position to play the hero in overtime.
The tying goal was a team effort with Kesler setting the screen, the shot coming from the back end when Francois Beauchemin teed up, and Beleskey got his stick on the incoming puck, which sent it into the top corner over Ramo.
Ramo was a rock all night—all series after getting his chance in the late stages of Game 1—but couldn’t withstand the constant pressure.
He made an incredible breakaway stop on Beleskey on Sunday but couldn’t keep the winger from setting a franchise record with his five-game goal streak.
“This is fun. This is what you play for right here,” Beleskey said on the CBC broadcast after the win. “It was great battle from our team all series. This is a great feeling.”
The Windsor, Ontario has gradually been gaining more and more attention off the ice for his efforts. Canadian kids know they’re doing something special when recognized by analyst Don Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada’s Coach’s Corner. Beleskey can add that to his resume now, too.
“It’s always great when you get Don saying something about you and being on Coach’s Corner,” he said with a laugh.
“I’ve got all my family watching at home, so keep watching guys.”
The series against the Blackhawks will be a tough one to turn away from. The heavyweights have emerged from their early battles and are going to tear each other apart to get a crack at the Stanley Cup.