The Anaheim Ducks were the top-seeded team in the Western Conference during the regular season, and as a reward they get to take on the red-hot Winnipeg Jets in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Their series, which begins on Thursday night at the Honda Center, features two teams that took completely different paths to get into the postseason. The Ducks clinched the division title on April 2, and even though they weren’t able to fully nail down the top spot in the Western Conference until the final day of the season (which they did in a victory over the Arizona Coyotes), they really didn’t have much to play for over the final week and a half of the regular season.
As for the Jets, they had to scratch and claw their way toward the postseason. The Los Angeles Kings proved to be a worthwhile foe down the stretch, and in spite of some serious injuries on their blue line, the Jets made it into the postseason on the backs of a tremendous offensive push and some great goaltending from Ondrej Pavelec.
Pavelec, who had to fend off Michael Hutchinson for the starting goaltender job with the Jets, has been positively dynamite over the final stages of the season. He has lost only once in regulation over that time, racking up four shutouts and only allowing 18 goals in his final 12 appearances of the season. He also has gone three straight games without allowing any goals at all, with his only loss during that stretch coming in a shootout to the Colorado Avalanche last week.
As for the Ducks, they still have some questions to address in their crease, as John Gibson continues to deal with an upper-body injury. If he’s unable to go for the start of the series, then Frederik Andersen will replace him in net, with Jason LaBarbera backing him up.
Fortunately for Anaheim, the team has had a great deal of success so far this season against Winnipeg. In three previous meetings, the Ducks have captured three straight victories, with the last of them coming on January 11.
In order for the Ducks to win, they will have to make sure that they get a lot of pressure on Pavelec early and often. Goaltenders can be shaky early in the postseason (Andrew Hammond of Ottawa and Carey Price of Montreal are good examples of that), and getting traffic near the crease early and firing plenty of shots in will keep Pavelec from settling into a comfort zone, and the Ducks would be well advised to use that tactic.
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One other thing that the Ducks will have to do is to get their anemic power play churning in the right direction. The Jets ranked 13th in the league on the penalty kill this season, and Anaheim will get some chances with the man-advantage. They have only scored once in their last 23 opportunities however, and that is something that has to change with weapons like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in the mix.