By Elliott Teaford
Orange County Register
ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Ducks played a throwback game Sunday at Honda Center, and for once in a long time it wasn’t a game they wanted to throw back. They rose up and smacked down the Washington Capitals, seizing a 5-2 victory from the Stanley Cup champions.
Ryan Miller returned to the Ducks’ net for the first time since suffering a sprained knee in a victory Dec. 9 over the New Jersey Devils. He was supported by crisp passing and timely goals that propelled the Ducks to their second victory in three games.
Miller made 23 saves for his 375th career victory, breaking a tie with John Vanbiesbrouck for the most by a United States-born goaltender in hockey history.
Miller’s last victory came in a relief appearance of John Gibson, when the Ducks rallied from a 5-1 deficit to beat the Capitals 6-5 on Dec. 2.
Miller recorded 284 wins in 403 starts and 540 games with the Sabres from the 2002-03 season to the 2013-14 season.
“A little delay in the season, but very satisfying to come off an injury and make a difference in the game,” Miller said. “It was pretty emotional for a couple of reasons. When you have a knee injury, you never know what’s going to happen. It took a lot longer than I hoped.
“I had a few clunky moments, but I worked through it, and it was a nice feeling to get the win.”
The Ducks scored not once but twice on the power play in the opening minutes of the third period. Adam Henrique poked a loose puck into the net 37 seconds into the final period and Corey Perry scored on a one-timed shot off a cross-ice pass from Cam Fowler at 3:40.
Henrique broke a 2-2 tie with his second goal of the game. Perry’s goal made it 4-2 and was his first in eight games since returning to the lineup from knee surgery in September. Fowler’s assist was the 205th of his career, breaking Scott Niedermayer’s franchise record for defensemen.
Fittingly, it came on the night the Ducks retired Niedermayer’s jersey.
“His legacy here will be something that no one will ever fill the shoes that he walked in around here,” Fowler said of Niedermayer. “For me, it’s a great accomplishment. I hope everything for him was fantastic because he’s well-respected and well-loved around here. I hope he had a great night.”
The Capitals took a 1-0 lead with Alex Ovechkin’s league-leading 40th goal, one of his trademark lasers from the left faceoff circle moments after a power play expired, at 4:58 of the first period. Ovechkin stumbled over the left leg of Hampus Lindholm, drawing a dubious tripping penalty.
Miller appeared to be in position to stop the shot, but the puck slipped between the goalie’s right arm and his body and landed in the net. It was the only setback for the Ducks in an otherwise superb opening period in which they won battles great and small and outshot the Capitals 16-8.
Perhaps duly inspired by the presence of Niedermayer and members of the 2006-07 Stanley Cup championship team, including Teemu Selanne, J-S Giguere and Chris Pronger, the Ducks played with a renewed sense of urgency. They pushed back when pushed.
The Ducks played with an aggression that would have made the champs proud. They initiated contact rather than shying away from it. They controlled the puck and generated sustained pressure in front of Washington goalie Braden Holtby. They did everything but score in the first period.
Henrique and Silfverberg scored in the second period to give the Ducks a 2-1 lead, but John Carlson’s goal pulled the Capitals into a 2-2 deadlock entering the third period. Silfverberg’s goals were his team-leading 14th and 15th, which speaks to the Ducks’ scoring woes this season.