The Anaheim Ducks earned a reputation as slow starters in recent seasons, though they weren't able to recover in 2011-12 and it cost Randy Carlyle his job and eventually a place in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the team.
This season has proven to be a welcome change of pace right from the start. Anaheim, with coach Bruce Boudreau in his first full campaign in charge, roared out in front of the Pacific Division and the Ducks have stayed their all season.
Anaheim clinched a spot in the playoffs Friday night and appears likely to secure the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. The Ducks have won only one playoff series since claiming the Stanley Cup in 2007, but here are five reasons why Anaheim is back in the postseason after a one-year hiatus:
1. Getzlaf's bounce-back season
Corey Perry did not have a season in 2011-12 similar to his MVP campaign the year before, but top center and captain Ryan Getzlaf was a bigger disappointment with a career-low 11 goals and 57 points. Getzlaf has been much better in 2012-13, racking up 13 goals and 43 points in 38 games, which is a 92-point pace over a full season.
Getzlaf is the only member of the Ducks in the top 40 in points, and is deserving of being a top-5 or top-6 candidate for the Hart Trophy. Anaheim has received production from all over the lineup, but Getzlaf has played like a superstar again.
2. Fasth's breakout season
One of the biggest reasons for Anaheim's blazing start to this season was the arrival of Viktor Fasth, a goaltender who was playing in the second division in Sweden just three years ago. Fasth, a 30-year-old "rookie" who was signed after two strong seasons in the Elitserien, won his first eight decisions in the NHL.
His great play at the start of the year helped him earn essentially a platoon with Jonas Hiller in net for the Ducks. Fasth has started 19 of the team's 41 games, and is 14-4-1 with a .923 save percenatage and a 2.17 goals against average. He might force Boudreau to make a tough decision on who will start in the playoffs, but his play, especially early in the season, is a big reason why the Ducks will be there.
3. Beauchemin's career season
The Ducks traded away Lubomir Visnovsky in June and watched prized prospect Justin Schultz pick Edmonton instead of the team that drafted him a month later. That doesn't sound like the recipe for drastic improvement for the Anaheim blue line, but general manager Bob Murray did add veterans Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen during the offseason.
Souray has teamed with Francois Beauchemin, and the results have been fantastic. Beauchemin and Souray have become the team's top offensive pairing, and they both play more than 21 minutes per contest. Beauchemin has five goals and 22 points in 41 games, which is the best offensive pace of his career. Allen and low-cost trade pickup Ben Lovejoy have also provided solid depth.
4. Depth scoring
Anaheim's blueprint for success two years ago was simple -- the Ducks' big line (Getzlaf, Perry and Bobby Ryan) or the power-play (with Teemu Selanne involved) would dominate and Hiller was able to steal games if needed. The Ducks' top four forwards have all been solid or better this season, but the difference for the team being a good offensive team and a great one has been the evolution of the depth guys.
Depth scoring was non-existent a year ago, but this season guys like Andrew Cogliano, Daniel Winnik and Kyle Palmieri have all become significant contributors. Cogliano and Winnik have played much of the season flanking Saku Koivu on one of the most productive third lines in the League. Anaheim has five players in double digits in goals and nine with at least seven.
5. The Boudreau effect
Boudreau's coaching career now spans two full decades, and there is a clear theme -- he wins in the regular season, and he wins a lot. Save for last season, when he was fired by the Washington Capitals and unable to rescue the Ducks from their horrid start, and one season in the International Hockey League, Boudreau's career is full of great success in the regular season.
He hasn't had the postseason success at the NHL level that he's had at others to this point, but players clearly enjoy playing for Boudreau and he knows how to get consistent success out of them. He's only missed the playoffs three times in 20 years, and in two of those seasons he was removed from the job he had at the start of the campaign. Boudreau has certainly helped the Ducks get back to their winning ways, and will likely earn some consideration for the Jack Adams Award (which he won in 2008) as well.
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