Anaheim Ducks left wing Matt Beleskey (39) and Minnesota Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky (3), of the Czech Republic, battle for the puck in the third period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2009. The Ducks won 4-2. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Lori Shepler)
ANAHEIM, Calif. - Bobby Ryan substantially improved his chances of making the U.S. Olympic team with a solid offensive performance against the Minnesota Wild. More importantly, he helped the Anaheim Ducks grab a critical two points in their bid to get back into playoff contention.
Ryan scored two goals and set up another by red-hot rookie Dan Sexton, leading the Ducks to a 4-2 victory on Tuesday night and helping put them within eight points of the eighth and final Western Conference seed.
Ryan has 19 goals, tying Tampa Bay's Ryan Malone for the most goals this season by American-born players. The U.S. Olympic roster will be announced on Friday.
"To be honest, I thought about it more at the beginning of the year," said Ryan, who hails from Cherry Hill, N.J. "I've tried to just let my play do the talking and try to get this team out of the basement. So we'll worry about that when it comes. I'll be tuned into the TV like everybody else waiting for the announcement, and I hope to wear the colours in February."
Teammate Ryan Whitney, a native of Boston, also has a good shot of making the Olympic squad. He leads all American-born defencemen with 22 points and had a plus-minus rating of plus-4.
"I think it has an effect on all of your players that are potential Olympians," coach Randy Carlyle said. "You can't help as a player to not think about it. And when your friends in your support group and the media talk about it, you're going to hear about it.
"The one thing that we've asked is their contribution is to be here, first and foremost," Carlyle added. "And if they make a positive one here, it enhances their opportunity to play there. So we ask them to be professionals and we try to deal with it. But I don't it's been an issue for our players."
Jonas Hiller made 29 saves and Todd Marchant added a short-handed empty-netter with 10 seconds remaining in his 300th game with the Ducks. They played without centre Ryan Getzlaf for the first time this season after he cut his right leg with his own skate during Saturday's loss at San Jose. But he is expected to return to the lineup sometime during the three-game road trip that begins on Thursday at Dallas.
"We've been in desperation mode for 10-15 games," Ryan said. "We came out hard tonight and the guys were prepared. When a guy like Getz goes down, it really impacts everybody around the room. So some guys have to step up."
Antti Miettinen and Kim Johnsson scored for the Wild, who squandered a chance to set a team record with their 11th win this month. At 10-5 in December, they have one more opportunity to do it, on Thursday against at home against the Los Angeles Kings.
The Ducks led 2-1 at the end of a penalty-free first period in which they outshot Minnesota 17-8 - their highest shot total in a first period this season.
Ryan opened the scoring at 7:08, intercepting Derek Boogaard's attempted clearing pass in the neutral zone and carrying the puck back into the Minnesota end before beating Josh Harding high to the glove side with a 35-foot wrist shot from the slot.
"They were a desperate team coming in," Minnesota forward Cal Clutterbuck said. "They're in a situation now where if they don't turn it around soon, things are going to start looking more and more dull for them down the stretch."
Miettinen tied it at 15:41 with his ninth goal after Mikko Koivu got the puck away from defenceman Brett Festerling behind the net.
But the Ducks regained the lead 35 seconds later when Sexton got a cross-ice pass from Ryan and beat Harding high to the glove side with a short wrist shot. Sexton has six goals and three assists in his first 12 NHL games after getting promoted from Manitoba of the AHL on Dec. 4.
The Ducks didn't have a power play opportunity until late in the second period, when Eric Belanger was sent off for slashing Marchant and Kyle Brodziak got the gate 46 seconds later for holding Corey Perry. Ryan made it 3-1 three seconds after the first penalty expired, converting a cross-ice pass through the crease from Saku Koivu for his 19th goal and 100th NHL point.
Johnsson, who has scored in three straight games for the first time in his career, got Minnesota closer with his fifth of the season during a power play. Matt Beleskey was off for high-sticking Shane Hnidy when Johnsson beat Hiller to the glove with a one-timer from about 50 feet in the slot with 6:53 left.
But the Ducks killed off two more Minnesota power plays in the final 3:09.
The game was held up for a few moments after Harding was struck near the Adam's apple by Perry's wrist shot at 13:53 of the second. But the goalie just got the wind knocked out of him and remained in the game, finishing with 28 saves.
NOTES: Minnesota, one of the major hotbeds of collegiate hockey in the United States, doesn't have any American-born players on its active roster. ... Anaheim C Ryan Carter, who was born in St. Paul, Minn., returned to the lineup after missing 22 games with a broken foot. ... Ducks enforcer George Parros was a healthy scratch on his 30th birthday.