The Ducks begin a four-game road trip tonight against the Vancouver Canucks and can punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in one of two ways. First, the Ducks can clinch a postseason berth themselves by earning a point tonight against the Canucks (win or overtime/shootout loss). However, their fifth consecutive playoff appearance could be decided before their game ends if the Edmonton Oilers defeat the LA Kings in any fashion tonight. (The Oilers and Kings square off at 6 p.m. PT).
Regardless, head coach Randy Carlyle says clinching a playoff spot won't change how his team finishes off the remaining seven games of the regular season. "It's always nice to be able to qualify," he said. "We're going to have to get points, but we're not going to change our approach until we find out where everything is going to settle. We're going to play and compete for points."
As of now, the Ducks are in sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division. They enter tonight's game two points up on San Jose and Edmonton, which currently sit in second and third place, respectively. San Jose, losers of six in a row, hosts the New York Rangers later tonight. The Calgary Flames, 7-3-0 over its last 10, lurk in the first wild card spot just three points behind Anaheim.
"We're going to do what we have to do because we can't afford to take a step backwards, and it's easy to do when games are running down the schedule," said Carlyle. "We're here to refine our game, improve our game and get points. Qualifying for the playoffs won't change that. The preparation and focus will remain the same."
It only took 3/4 of the season, but the Ducks are finally surging. Anaheim enters tonight's game with a seven-game point streak (7-0-1) and is 9-2-1 dating to the end of its bye week on March 3. Only the St. Louis Blues have rivaled the Ducks over the last 10 games, with both teams going 8-1-1.
With veteran goaltender Jonathan Bernier shouldering nearly all of the workload over the past five weeks, the Ducks got a boost when John Gibson accompanied the team on this current road trip. The Ducks also reassigned goaltender Jhonas Enroth to San Diego yesterday, a clear sign that Gibson is at least ready to serve as a backup. For what it's worth, the Ducks will play their final back-to-back of the season on April 1 at Edmonton and April 2 at Calgary.
Based on reports from the morning skate in Vancouver, Bernier will get the start tonight. Bernier has posted a 9-1-1 record with one shutout, a 1.71 GAA and .943 SV% in 11 starts since March 3. Since that date, Bernier leads NHL goaltenders in wins and ranks third in GAA (min. 5 starts) and tied for third in SV% (min. 5 starts).
On the Canucks
Tonight will mark the home debut for 20-year-old rookie right wing Brock Boeser, who made his NHL debut on Saturday afternoon in his home state of Minnesota. Boeser was a standout player at the University of North Dakota, whose bid for a national championship ended on Friday in a double-overtime loss to Boston University in Fargo, N.D. Later that night, he signed his entry-level contract and flew to Minneapolis the next morning. A few hours later, Boeser scored his first career NHL goal, which also served as the game winner against the Wild. Boeser has endured several hardships over his life, which can be read here in a nice feature by Mike Russo of the Star Tribune.
Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins confirmed Ryan Miller as tonight's starting goaltender. Forwards Loui Eriksson (lower body), Brendan Gaunce (upper body), Joseph Cramarossa (lower body) and Jayson Megna (upper body) are not expected to play. Jack Skille, who suffered an ankle injury in Saturday's win over the Wild, could be out for the remainder of the season. Rookie standout defenseman Troy Stecher will not play tonight because of an upper-body injury suffered in Sunday's game at Winnipeg. Replacing Stecher will be Philip Larsen, who has been a healthy scratch for the last seven games.
Potential Line Combinations
D. Sedin-H. Sedin-Chaput