Early in the second period of a divisional grudge match against the Sharks on April 6, Ducks winger Corey Perry found the puck on his stick along the goal line, about six feet to the left of the San Jose net. Barging toward the crease, he split two defenders. As they dragged him to his knees, he stretched his 6'3", 206-pound frame forward, reached with his stick around teammate Toni Lydman, who was screening Sharks goalie Antero Niittymaki, and slipped the puck into the far corner of the net. It was Perry's second goal of the game, and it would end up being the game-winner—his NHL-leading 11th decisive goal of the season—in Anaheim's 6--2 thrashing of Pacific-leading San Jose. Less than five minutes later Perry finished off a hat trick with his league-best 50th goal. "He doesn't seem to score many that aren't meaningful," says Perry's linemate, Bobby Ryan.
The victory buttressed Perry's compelling case for the Hart Trophy—an award that for most of the season has been the presumed property of Canucks winger Daniel Sedin, the NHL's points leader. Perry has scored 25 goals since the All-Star break, leading the Ducks into the playoffs with a 17-10-1 run.
The most stunning aspect of Perry's emergence (he had not scored more than 32 goals in any of his previous five seasons) is that it began in the absence of linemate, and Anaheim captain, Ryan Getzlaf, who missed 14 games with nasal sinus fractures after taking a puck to the forehead on Dec. 28. The two players are Southern California's version of the Sedin twins—minus, of course, the shared DNA. Anaheim selected Getzlaf and Perry with the 19th and 28th picks, respectively, in the first round of the 2003 draft, and the pair have rarely been apart on the ice since entering the league together in '05. But instead of slumping without Getzlaf, Perry scored eight goals during a 10--4 Ducks run. Since Getzlaf's return on Feb. 9, his line, with Perry and Ryan on the wings, has been one of the deadliest in hockey, with 39 goals in 28 games. (Perry alone has scored 22 of those goals.) "He's been a little bit underrated," coach Randy Carlyle says of Perry. "[Critics] say Corey can't skate, he can't do this... . It's always been more about what he can't do than what he can do. Now he's proving to them all that he can do everything."
Perry is capable of beating goalies with his shot, but the vast majority of his goals come when he stations himself just outside the crease. Teammates call him Worm and Slime for his ability to slither into that area. Veteran winger Teemu Selanne, who knows about scoring 50, has taken to calling Perry Octopussy because he seems to have eight hands when he's in front of the net. "He gets a lot of ugly goals that way," Ryan says, "but ... he has a lot more patience with the puck than anybody in those tight areas."
Perry deflects credit and MVP hype almost as deftly as he does point shots—"I've said all along that getting to the playoffs is more important than winning an award," he says. But Anaheim's postseason berth and Perry's Rocket Richard trophy as the league's top goal scorer are inextricable. Players don't come much more valuable than that.
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JAE C. HONG/AP (PERRY)
THE WORM TURNS With a knack for squirming to daylight, Perry scored 50 goals, 18 more than his career best.