The “best in the West” look to avenge a poor post-season performance last season in the first round of the 2013-14 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as the Anaheim Ducks (54-20-8) take on a team back in the post-season for the first time in five years, the Dallas Stars (40-31-11).
#1 Ducks vs. #8 Stars
Season Series: Dallas, 2-1-0
Anaheim entered the 2013-14 season with something to prove, after being ejected in the first round of last season’s playoffs by the Detroit Red Wings, a 7th seed. The Ducks kept most of their roster over the summer, with core players locked up under long-term contracts earlier in 2013.
The Ducks’ scoring tandem of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry again led the club to be one of the top offensive clubs in the league, even without their third most dangerous forward, Bobby Ryan, who was shipped to Ottawa in a trade. It indeed was a career year for Getzlaf, who finished the season second in scoring NHL-wide, to only Sidney Crosby.
Anaheim’s other success story has been in the crease, with Jonas Hiller carrying the brunt of the load through the regular season. Viktor Fasth was a valuable asset for the Ducks at back-up, and was shipped to the Edmonton Oilers in March. Frederik Andersen has replaced Fasth, and has done a very respectable job in the back-up role during his first NHL season, with 28 games played after Hller went down with injury mid-way through the year. After Hiller had a slump just weeks before the playoffs, Andersen and fellow rookie John Gibson have taken over, doing so well that they may begin the playoffs as the Ducks’ 1-2 goaltenders.
The Pacific Division Champions have no superstars on their blue-line, but the depth runs through all three pairings, with Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa leading the way. Fowler suffered a sprained MCL in mid-March, an injury that forced him to miss the rest of the regular season. He is expected to play in Game One of the series on Wednesday night.
The Ducks’ depth has been the teams’ silent killer all season long, with names like Nick Bonino, Kyle Palmeri, and Andrew Cogliano (the only Ducks player to play all 82 games) all setting career-highs in offensive categories. The “Finnish Flash” hasn’t deteriorated in what he calls his “final season”, and Teemu Selanne finished with 27 points at age 42, still playing in the teams’ top-six rotation.
Despite being one of the NHL’s most offensive teams, (leading in Goals/Game with 3.21), their power-play has been less than many expected, ranked a lowly 22nd league-wide, just one spot above the Stars’ man-advantage. The Ducks’ penalty-kill ranks outside the top 10 as well, in 13th position.
Backstop: Frederik Andersen (20-5-0, .923% save percentage, 2.23 GAA) will likely be the netminder in Game One, with Jonas Hiller likely sitting on the bench. It will be Andersen’s first NHL playoff game.
X-Factor: Ryan Getzlaf: He is the Ducks’ most dangerous weapon, and also their leader. Can he shoulder the responsibility of the club’s playoff expectations and still perform the way he did in the regular season?
Ex-Jets: None from the current franchise, but Teemu Selanne is still a fan favourite from the original Jets.
With a push from new ownership to make the playoffs in 2014, the Stars management loaded up with new GM Jim Nill bringing in some scoring touch, as well as a new bench boss. Lindy Ruff is soon becoming one of the NHL’s all-time leading coaches in wins, with 571 in his career with the Buffalo Sabres.
No move would top the one that brought Tyler Seguin to town, however. Nill shipped off standout defenseman Loui Erikson in return for Seguin, but the results were better than everyone expected. Seguin led the Stars in scoring, finishing in the top five league-wide with 84 points, easily a career high. Right behind him was captain Jamie Benn, who also put numbers in the career record books with 34 goals, and 79 points, playing in every game but one.
The Stars’ defense has got the job done all season, boasting a hard-working core led by Alex Gologoski, who finished third in Stars’ scoring behind Seguin and Benn. Trevor Daley boats a big defensive presence, and veteran Sergei Gonchar proved that he still had it, quarterbacking the Stars’ power-play for most of the season.
Kari Lehtonen had an out-standing year for the Stars, finishing the season playing 11 of the clubs’ 12 games, with an 8-3 record. Lehtonen admitted that he didn’t feel 100% physically, after coming off an injury. The Stars have had four goaltenders in the back-up position this season: Dan Ellis was shipped out to Florida in return for veteran Tim Thomas on Trade Deadline day, and Jack Campbell and Christopher Nilstorp have each had a game of NHL action.
To any onlooker, the Stars immediately impress with a no-nonsense, nose-to-the-grindstone style of play. The Stars have experienced great success due to their excellent teamwork, and hard checking in all three areas of the ice. Each player plays a complete 200-foot game, and backed by a solid goaltender, the Stars have proved to be a thorn in the side of some of the NHL’s best teams.
Stephane Robidas spent 11 of his past 12 years with the Stars, and suffered a broken leg in a game prior to the new-year. Before he was even fully recovered, the Stars traded the 37-year old defenseman to none other than the Anaheim Ducks. He played 14 regular season games with the Ducks after his recovery, and has played in both Ducks/Stars playoff series’, in 2003 and 2008.
Backstop: Kari Lehtenon (33-20-10, .919% save percentage, 2.41 GAA) will undoubtedly be the Stars’ goaltender in all games of the series, barring an injury, where Tim Thomas would come in relief.
X-Factor: Stars’ depth. With the next forward after Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn a whopping 44 points behind in scoring,(Alex Chiasson), can the Stars’ depth muster up enough offense to take care of the Ducks’ balanced D?
Prediction Sure To Go Wrong:
The Ducks have followed up a great regular-season with a first-round exit in the past year, and the pain still stings for the clubs’ returning members. Driven by the desire to prove they’re true Cup contenders, the Ducks knock off the Stars in Game Five, with Nick Bonino scoring the series-clinching goal.
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