Written in large black ink letter on top of the Ducks grease board situated in front of their locker room at Anaheim Ice on Tuesday was the message: ‘Welcome to the Playoffs”.
Surrounded by an increase in media and fans at practice, there was no mistaking that the vibe has changed considerably for the team. Just last weekend, the Ducks were grinding through relatively meaningless games to end their regular season. Back together for the first time since, the team exuded a focus only associated with postseason play in preparation of their Western Conference Quarterfinal matchup with Dallas
that begins Thursday at Honda Center.
|"Fourth and fifth seeds, there’s not a whole lot of difference there," Scott Niedermayer said. "It’s going to be a good test.” |
“The one thing historically hockey players do have is another level that they reach back to because the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a very special time,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said. “The level and intensity of the game goes up. You can just feel it. I’m sure every player going out on the ice on Thursday will have chills up the back of their spines.”
No one knows the aura of the playoffs better than Ducks defenseman Scott Niedermayer, whose Stanley Cup title with the Ducks last year was the fourth of his career. “The last couple of games for us didn’t have a lot of meaning,” Niedermayer said, “That changes quickly as soon as the playoffs start, and we’re here now.”
While the pressure is ratcheted to its highest point in the postseason, the atmosphere also tends to bring out the pure excitement the game generates.
“It is fun because every shift matters,” Niedermayer said. “Every shift can make a difference. It’s fun to be here and have an opportunity to play in the playoffs and see how far we can go. We’re all excited to be playing for keeps now.”
One season removed from attaining the first Stanley Cup in team history, the Ducks fully understand the rigors that lie ahead in them becoming the first team to repeat since Detroit in 1997 and 1998.
“You want that feeling back again,” Chris Pronger said. “You want to taste the thrill of victory. We now understand what it’s going to take for us to get there. It’s going to take a lot of sacrifice and a lot of heart. We’ve been there, but it’s a whole new year and we just went through a long grind of a season to finally get to this point to have the opportunity again. We have to take full advantage of it and make sure we leave everything on the ice.”
Goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere reiterated that everything Anaheim accomplished last season means very little now. “Last year is last year,” Giguere said. “It’s best to forget about it and move on. Everybody wants to win. You wouldn’t be in this business if you didn’t want to win. We sure want to win here. We’re going to take it one game at a time. I think if we all give it our best, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
|“We need to play physical against them, make them work for every inch of the ice and make sure it’s not an easy game," said Chris Pronger on Dallas. |
The first playoff challenge for the team is fifth seed Dallas, who many of the Ducks see as an even adversary.
“They’re a hockey club as equally veteran as ours,” Carlyle said. “They win in some very tight hockey games. They know how to play that type of hockey. It’s two evenly matched teams meeting in the first round of the playoffs that have had decent seasons.”
Added Niedermayer: “They’re a good team. They’re a team that plays a playoff brand of hockey all season. They’re a strong defensive team that works extremely hard. We’re going to have our hands full. Fourth and fifth seeds, there’s not a whole lot of difference there. It’s going to be a good test.”
While the Stars won five out of the eight games in the season series, it was the Ducks that came away with the last two victories on March 19 and 30, which went a long way in sewing up home-ice advantage in this round of the playoffs.
“We need to make sure we’re playing similar to the way we have the last few times against them,” Pronger said. “We need to play physical against them, make them work for every inch of the ice and make sure it’s not an easy game.”
In what figures to be a taxing series, a potential benefit to the Ducks would be getting their top goal-scorer in Corey Perry back into the lineup. Perry, who has been out with a partially severed right quadriceps tendon since March 6, participated in a few drills with the team at the beginning of Tuesday’s practice.
“I’m just trying to ease my way back into everything,” Perry said. “I’d love to play. It all depends on what the doctors and training staff say. Hopefully I can get back out there. Today it felt great. That’s why I stayed out and did a couple of drills with the team. If it continues to be like that, it could be quicker than everybody thinks.”