A prolonged break in the schedule resulted in the Ducks becoming bystanders the last several days in the hunt for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference. But with each passing day, the picture has become clearer on what it’s going to take from Anaheim in order to punch their ticket to an unprecedented fourth straight postseason appearance.
|"We still have to win a game here to get in," Pronger (left) said. "We feel like we're peaking at the right time. It's just a matter of continuing to push ourselves and making sure we're running on all cylinders." |
The Ducks currently occupy the seventh spot in the West with 88 points, the same amount as St. Louis (eighth) and Nashville (ninth). Minnesota is 10th with 85. As it currently stands, the Ducks would need two points over the final two games (Friday vs. Dallas, Saturday at Phoenix) to claim a playoff berth. That magic number could be even lower by the time the team hits the ice at Honda Center tomorrow night.
Nashville plays their final regular season game at Minnesota tomorrow night (5 p.m. start) If the Wild beat the Predators in regulation or overtime, the Ducks will only need one point to clinch a berth. Itching to get back on the ice after a four-day break, Anaheim wants to finish strong and leave anything for others to decide.
“You definitely don’t want to rely on other things,” said Scott Niedermayer of the Ducks, who have won nine of their last 11 contests. “We have an opportunity to play two games right now. We just want to keep going with what we’ve had here now, play well as a team, compete and work hard.”
The Ducks would love nothing more than to clinch that playoff spot on Fan Appreciation Night, their final regular season home game. “It would be so nice to clinch a playoff spot at home,” Ryan Whitney said. “We had some days off. Everyone is rested. We are really excited to just play and hopefully have a great start. That is what we’ve talked about. I don’t think we’ll be flat at all. I think we’ll play real well.”
“The bottom line is it’s the most important game of the year. I know you’ve heard me say it, but this probably is an exclamation point at this point in our season tomorrow night.” - Randy Carlyle
Their opponent tomorrow night is a familiar foe in Dallas, their Pacific Division rival and adversary in last season’s Western Conference Quarterfinals (which the Stars won in six games). Despite recently bowing out of this season’s playoff race, the Stars should still provide a strong matchup. The Ducks are 2-2-1 in their five previous meetings this season.
“They are a hockey club that is going to come here and compete,” said Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle of Dallas. “You know that for sure. They are going to make sure that they do everything in their power to win the hockey game. And we better be prepared to do the same thing.”
|"It would be nice to clinch a playoff spot at home," Whitney said. "We had some days off. Everyone is rested. We are really excited to just play and hopefully have a great start. I don't think we'll be flat at all. I think we'll play real well." |
For the last several weeks, every Ducks game has been huge in the team’s quest for a spot in the playoffs. With that prospect as close as ever to becoming reality, Friday night is truly the biggest day yet. “The bottom line is it’s the most important game of the year,” Carlyle said. “I know you’ve heard me say it, but this probably is an exclamation point at this point in our season tomorrow night.”
If they do succeed in reaching that goal, the Ducks will have done it by coming back from 12th place in the conference as late as March 18. And they will have done it by playing their best hockey at the perfect time of the season.
”I think we realized what was going on and we had to start winning,” Whitney said. “It’s good for a team like us. As long as get in this weekend, it’s like we’ve been playing playoff hockey for a couple of weeks now. Other teams have to turn it on, where we’ll just continue to keep going. Nothing will change too much for us.”
Said Chris Pronger, “I think at the end of the day you want to go into the playoffs playing your best hockey. Right now, we feel like we are. We still have to win a game here to get in. We feel like we’re peaking at the right time. It’s just a matter of continuing to push ourselves and making sure we’re running on all cylinders."