--Ducks goalie Ray Emery, closest to the camera, participates in a 2-on-2 drill--
ANAHEIM -- Some time between the second and third period Sunday evening, Ducks coach Randy Carlyle stepped into the locker room and motioned to backup goaltender Ray Emery.
Anaheim was trailing by two goals against Phoenix at the time, and couldn’t afford to fall any further behind in a game that could have lifted the Ducks into the top eight in the West. It was a pressure situation for any backup goalie, but especially for Emery, who had not played in an NHL game in over a year.
For someone who goes by the nickname, "Sugar Ray" and features legendary boxers illustrated on his masks, Emery wouldn’t want it any other way.
"I like to be nervous," Emery said as he stored his gear following practice Tuesday at Honda Center. "If I’m not nervous, I’ll find a way to make myself nervous."
Emery has experienced the most intense pressure cooker in professional hockey, leading the Ottawa Senators to the Stanley Cup Final in 2007, where he lost to the Ducks in five games.
Shortly after, he experienced one of the longest falls.
After an injury-filled 2007-08 season that was also marked by disciplinary issues, Emery was released by the Senators and spent the following season playing in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia. The Flyers took a chance on him heading into the 2009-10 season but he was later diagnosed with avascular necrosis in his right hip. Before Sunday, his last NHL game was Feb. 1, 2010, a 3-0 shutout at Calgary.
Emery became a free agent over the summer but was not able to work out until August. He began skating with an OHL team in January and the Ducks signed him on Feb. 7 after it became apparent Jonas Hiller would be out for a while as he struggles with vertigo-like symptoms.
Emery had to shake off some early rustiness against Phoenix but managed to keep the Coyotes from hitting the net long enough to skate off for a two-man advantage with 3 ½ minutes remaining. Carlyle’s gamble came up empty as the Coyotes scored into the empty net, solidifying their 5-2 victory at Honda Center.
Emery felt as if he had broken through the ice, however.
"It got my feet wet," he said.
Carlyle doesn’t announce his starting goalkeeper until game day, but with Hiller still out and replacement starter Dan Ellis probably wearing thin after starting eight games in 17 days since he was traded from Tampa Bay on Feb. 24, Emery’s getting close to hearing the national anthem from the middle of the ice.
Consider Sunday’s game against Phoenix a couple of toes in the water before his first headfirst dive.
Wednesday night could be as good a time as any to start Emery. The injury-depleted, inexperienced Blues are in town and no other Ducks goalie has had luck stopping St. Louis this season. The Blues have scored 18 goals against Anaheim in just three games.
Whether or not Carlyle calls his number, Emery will stick with his routine.
"Keep practicing hard and see what happens," he said.
Carlyle said he thought the early going against Phoenix was "a scramble" for Emery, who was saved from allowing a quick goal when defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky swooped in and swept away the puck away just before it trickled across the goal line.
Carlyle said Emery appeared to settle down and used good positioning and his large frame to knock down nine shots while he was in the game.
"Some of those things are going to take some time to bounce your way," Carlyle said. "That’s why we’re trying to be a little bit more cautious from the standpoint of throwing him to the wolves."
With just 13 games remaining and the Ducks still two points out of the final playoff spot heading into Tuesday's games, Carlyle might need to take a few risks, starting with Emery.