The Pittsburgh Penguins
keep running into teams that wouldn't make the playoffs if they started now, yet are playing better than most teams in the NHL.
On Sunday, they were 4-2 winners against Tampa Bay, which came into the contest with the League's best record over the previous 10 games (7-1-2).
Now, they meet the Anaheim Ducks
, who went into Wednesday's games eight points out of the Western Conference's final playoff spot. However, the Ducks have earned at least a point in six consecutive games and are 13-2-3 in their last 18 games.
The Ducks' 13-3-3 record (29 points) since Jan. 1 ties them with the New York Rangers
for the second-best record during this calendar year; the Red Wings have earned 31 points while going 15-4-1.
Anaheim also is 2-0-1 during an extended road trip in which it plays eight games in 15 days.
, who has a team-leading 27 goals, had a hat trick Sunday against Columbus and has five goals in his last four games. Teemu Selanne
, at age 41, has seven goals and 15 points during that 13-3-3 run.
"They've got a lot of size up front, good hands and good speed, so you've got to keep them in front of you and play physical on them," Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland
said. "You've got to limit their time and space in the zone and get the puck started moving forward so you can go to work."
Playing physically also means playing smart, he said.
"You can't run out of position to try to get a bit hit on them, because they can make you look awfully bad with the skill they have," Engelland said.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma
is well aware of the dangers of playing an opponent that knows it can afford very few losses the rest of the way if it is to mount a legitimate run at the playoffs.
"Right now they're playing as well as and are as hot as anybody in the League," Bylsma said. "They come at you with a very good goaltender right now in Jonas Hiller
, who I expect to see tonight, and they certainly come at you with a lot of speed and power. They're tough."
Hiller needed to make only 17 saves as Anaheim clamped down defensively in winning 2-1 at Minnesota on Tuesday. Niklas Hagman
, who didn't have a point in nine games, and Perry scored in the third period for the Ducks, who won for the first time all season (1-21-1) when trailing after two periods.
Bylsma has some knowledge of the Ducks, of course; he was a forward on their 2003 Stanley Cup finalist team that lost to New Jersey in seven games, a Final in which the home team won every game. Bylsma had 10 goals and 22 assists in 209 regular-season games with Anaheim.
The Penguins have been good home and away against the Western Conference, going 8-1-3.
"I don't have an explanation for that, but I've seen that and I know what our record is," Bylsma said. "We played some very good teams early on and our focus was there."