NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Anaheim Ducks had few positives from Sunday's 4-3 loss to Nashville, which left the Ducks down 2-1 in their best-of-seven Western Conference Quarterfinal series. Goaltender Ray Emery was one of them.
Through two periods, the Ducks had been outshot 25-12, but the score was even at 2-2. Emery stopped all 15 shots he faced in the middle period, almost single-handedly keeping his team in the game.
That the Ducks lost was no fault of Emery's. The two goals Nashville scored in the third period were both on bang-bang "back-door" plays where the Predators scored into open nets created by turnovers or missed assignments.
"Well, again, Ray Emery has given us a quality level of goaltending, not only in the playoffs but in the regular season and really right when he started with our hockey club," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "We're not surprised. Is it one of the brighter spots of the hockey game? Yes. But we were expecting that. That's what goaltenders are supposed to do is they're supposed to give you a chance and he gave us a chance."
Emery's arrival in Anaheim and subsequent emergence as the playoff starter in goal has come about All-Star goalie Jonas Hiller is suffering from vertigo. The Ducks announced Tuesday that they were sending Hiller back to Anaheim "due to recurring symptoms" of the vertigo and that Igor Bobkov would serve as the team's No. 3 goalie behind Emery and Dan Ellis.
Hiller has played once since a Feb. 13 victory and that is what forced the Ducks to sign Emery. Ellis, who started Game 1 but was pulled after allowing four goals on 24 shots, played well down the stretch to help the Ducks get into the playoffs, but Emery also was integral.
In fact, Emery might have been the Game 1 starter if he had not suffered a lower-body injury that caused him to miss the last two games of the regular season.
"It was more cautious than anything," Emery said, "and as soon as I thought I could contribute, I'd be back and that's what happened."
Emery won his first six starts and seven of nine games towards the end of the season. In the playoffs, he is 1-1 with a .909 save percentage and a 3.02 goals-against average. Nashville's Pekka Rinne, who finished second in the regular season in save percentage and third in GAA, has a save percentage of .887 along with a 2.70 GAA.
Emery, who backstopped Ottawa to the 2007 Stanley Cup final before losing, ironically, to Anaheim, had a career-threatening hip condition but surgery about a year ago helped him to return to the ice.
"He's had really good numbers and looked pretty solid," said Nashville center Mike Fisher, Emery's teammate for five seasons in Ottawa. "Considering everything he's gone through and what he's had to overcome, it's pretty amazing."
Emery has had something of a troubled past, including practice scraps with teammates. He once was suspended three games for hitting Maxim Lapierre in the face with his stick. Fisher sees maturity in him.
"He's made a lot of good changes," Fisher said. "It's good to see him pull through this surgery and come out on the other side and play well. He's always been such a good competitor. A good guy, too."
Fisher said that the 6-foot-2, 196-pound Emery looks bigger than when he played for Ottawa and sees a different player on the ice, as well as off.
"I think he looks like he's a little bit more patient in the net," Fisher said. "He used to be very energetic and he's always been such a great competitor. He never gives up on plays. When you need him, he's always been there so. He's a big game goalie. That's important."
As a big-game goalie, Emery could not find satisfaction in his performance because of the Game 3 loss.
"As a team it was disappointing," he said. "We did a good job of kind of sticking around there, but, personally, you want your team to win the game and give it a chance to win...
"When you lose, you're never going to be satisfied."
After Game 3, an emotional Teemu Selanne was withering in his criticism of his team, calling the effort "embarrassing" and saying that Nashville "wanted it more."
On Tuesday, a calmer Selanne excluded Emery from his comments.
"He has been great," Selanne said. "He has done exactly what we're hoping he would do. The goalies – there's no secrets – they're the most important player. He has to be your best player and when a goalie gives you a chance to win every night, it's huge...
"That's why I can do a lot of mistakes, they don't cost much at all. Coach going to yell a couple of times and that's all. When a goalie do the same mistakes, it's on the scoreboard. It's a tough job but it's so important job."