NASHVILLE — When the Anaheim Ducks were in a playoff overtime Thursday night, none of Corey Perry’s teammates gave any thought to the fact that his scoring numbers declined sharply this season.
All they see is a player with an impressive history of scoring important goals.
That’s who he has been for 11 NHL seasons, and that’s who he was when he scored at 10:25 of overtime to give the Ducks a series-saving 3-2 win against the Nashville Predators in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
“He’s one of those guys who gets the eyes of the defenseman because he’s always around the crease, and he’s always bumping the goalie,” Anaheim defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. “His stick drags behind him after the whistle. He does all the little things that make him effective.”
His game-winner Thursday was not a work of art. He fired a puck toward the front of the net where it struck Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban’s stick and redirected past goalie Pekka Rinne to tie the best-of-seven series at 2-2.
“They caught a lucky bounce tonight,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said about the goal.
Undoubtedly luck was involved, but it was a goal that Perry was credited with because he was experienced enough to know that the high percentage play in that situation was to center the puck.
“I was just trying to create traffic or create a balance and create havoc in front,” Perry said. “And that’s what they say in overtime: You throw it on net, (because you) never know what’s going to happen.”
That’s not the first goal Perry has scored like that, and it won’t be his last.
“There is a place for a veteran player in every lineup, I guarantee you,” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said.
It was Perry’s fourth goal of the playoffs and 11th point. In the regular season, everyone took note that Perry scored only 19 goals after scoring 110 over the three previous seasons. No one seems to notice that nothing has changed with regard to how important he is to the team in the playoffs.
The big change in Perry’s regular-season life was that Carlyle moved him off Ryan Getzlaf’s line. It was a strategy move, not a demotion.
“I don’t think it was hard for him at all,” Carlyle said. “It might have been a little bit of a shock to him.”
Carlyle was trying to give the Ducks a deeper, more dangerous scoring attack.
“What we said is the major benefit that we believe in is that if we move him to a different line, he’s going to see the opposition’s third pairing of defense,” Carlyle said. “… He still gets his power-play minutes. We think that’s an advantage for the team.”
Perry said his job never changed, just his linemates did.
“It doesn’t matter what line I’m on, I’m going to play the same way,” Perry said. “I’m going to throw pucks at the net, I’m going to go to the net and play down low. And it’s something that I’ve always done and I don’t change.”
What also didn’t change was the Ducks’ reliance on Perry in important games. In Game 4, the Predators erased a 2-0 deficit and tied it on Filip Forsberg’s goal with 36 seconds remaining in regulation.
It was a deflating series of events. That’s when they most needed what Perry has to offer. He’s had so much success in his career in important games that he does not panic.
“He’s a clutch performer,” Ducks forward Nate Thompson said. “He’s a guy who has done it year-in, year-out, scores lots of goals, and scores goals different ways. He’s one of our leaders.”
Bieksa said he never heard Perry complain about the change of lines or ice time. “He’s a professional,” Bieksa said.
Nothing has really changed. The Ducks need Perry as much as they ever have.
“Say what you want about what happened this year, but playoffs are about guys stepping up in different situations and he did that tonight,” Bieksa said.
Follow columnist Kevin Allen on Twitter @ByKevinAllen.