It is finally time once again for the best teams on the ice to battle for the right to take home Lord Stanley’s Cup. The Anaheim Ducks are one of the lucky 16 teams who have the opportunity to be crowned the kings of the rink for 2014. It is not surprising to see the boys from Anaheim in position to make a run at the trophy. They have made the playoffs three of the last five years, although this is the first time they have done so in back-to-back seasons. Ducks fans and even Wildwing himself are shaking with anticipation, holding their breath and waiting for the puck to drop tonight.
(No. 1 Seed in Western Conference, First Place in Pacific Division)
Preseason Expectations: The Ducks had both supporters and doubters before the season began. Most had Anaheim coming in somewhere in the middle of the Western Conference, and not hosting a game one in the playoffs. They were far from the favorite in the Pacific Division, despite their young and talented roster. It is not a shock for Ducks’ fans to see their beloved team resting atop the conference, though others may have underestimated the potential the team has. Anaheim will have home ice for at least every series they play in the west, a benefit that should greatly improve their chances to bring home the Stanley Cup.
How they got here: The Ducks have been a top contender since they came out of the gate this season. They have provided consistent play all year, not once falling into a real funk. They have lost their share of games, but have a great ability to turn the page and move on. 2014 has been the best regular season the franchise has ever experienced.
Two weeks ago, it seemed certain Anaheim would be the second seed in the west, beaten out only by a hot St. Louis Blues team. However, an epic six-game losing streak by St. Louis allowed the Ducks to leapfrog them and claim the top spot for themselves. The final game of the season against the Colorado Avalanche ended up being meaningless, but the Ducks took the victory and some bragging rights away from it nonetheless. Colorado beat Anaheim to open the season, and have a good chance of facing the Ducks in the conference finals.
Key players: C Ryan Getzlaf, RW Corey Perry, RW Teemu Selanne
Major moves: Losing the offense that Bobby Ryan provided was hard to replace for the Ducks, but they did so by committee. The young guys on the team proved they could step up when it counted, and though they were not as talented as Ryan, they were enough to drive Anaheim into the post-season.
The biggest move Anaheim has made this year happened this week. Goaltender Jonas Hiller, a 29 game winner this season, has been benched in favor of the Duck’s rookie tandem of Frederik Andersen and John Gibson. Hiller had a few bad outings in the last weeks of the season, which has shaken the team’s confidence in him. If the two young goalies can propel the Ducks to a Stanley cup victory, this move will seem very savvy. If, however, they fall flat, it may be tough for Hiller to gear up and save the day. Being demoted will no doubt have a negative impact on his confidence.
Teemu Selanne has contemplated retirement several times over the last few years. At 43, he is still one of the best wingers in the NHL, but his days are certainly numbered. His presence on the team this year could give the team the inspiration they need to win another Stanley Cup. Selanne can use the “Generals last ride” speech just like Ray Lewis did to pump his Ravens up to win a Super bowl. It will be interesting to see if Selanne walks away from the game if the Ducks win the cup.
Who they will face in the first round: The Ducks draw the bottom seed Dallas Stars in the first round of the playoffs. Dallas has not been hot lately, but they did take two of three against Anaheim during the regular season, so expect some fireworks.
Prediction: Dallas just has no real momentum coming in to this series, but Hiller’s benching may give them a window. If the Stars can steal one or even two in Anaheim, they might have a chance. However, the Ducks are too strong and deep to let that happen. Ducks win the series in a clean Sweep, 4-0.
How they will fare: The Ducks have a strong team, but not a championship one. If they reach the conference finals, a hungry and determined avalanche team will be waiting. Colorado will beat them with better defense and more consistent goaltending, sending Selanne home for a long summer of thinking.
Conn Smythe Winner: If the Hockey gods are smiling, the Ducks will win the Stanley Cup and Teemu Selanne will walk away with the MVP. It would be a fitting end for a legendary career, and it could not happen to a nicer guy.
Commentary by Chris Chisam