Few probably imagined the Ducks waking up this morning to a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Sharks.
|"We still have one big game to win that is the toughest game to win," Whitney (left) said. "We've played well so far. We're playing with confidence and if we play like we did last night, we're going to give a lot of good teams hard-fought games." |
But the players in Anaheim’s dressing room never deferred from the belief that they would be a tough matchup for whichever team they faced in the playoffs. Now these words uttered by Ducks defenseman Ryan Whitney back on April 9 are starting to look prophetic, “You never what can happen,” Whitney said. “I don’t think we’re a team that anyone is dying to play in the first round.”
San Jose can now attest first-hand to that, being put on the brink of elimination after a 4-0 beating by the Ducks in Game 4 at Honda Center. Anaheim played probably its best game of the series on Thursday. They didn’t let minor distractions like the 20-minute delay from broken glass between the benches in the second period get to them. They played at a high pace and still stayed disciplined, giving the Sharks just two power play opportunities (both killed off).
The Ducks also got another titanic effort from Jonas Hiller, who stopped all 31 shots from San Jose en route to his second shutout of the series. And the team’s top forward grouping – the RPG line of Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf – was dominant with three goals (two from Ryan), six points and a combined plus-nine rating.
“We were more effective after we got the lead than any other game we’ve played,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said.” That is encouraging for us. There was a lot of grit and determination displayed. That is what it’s going to take because we know going into San Jose that they’re going to do everything they possibly can to play a better game than they played last night.”
By putting the Sharks in a 3-1 hole, the Ducks have taken a major advantage in the series. But that can all go away in the blink of an eye if Anaheim does not finish what it has started, eliminate and advance to the second round. The Ducks will get the first crack at that fate tomorrow night at HP Pavilion.
|"We have to be in their face from the get-go," said Perry of Game 5. "It's going to be huge for our team. If we can get that first goal and set them on their heels a little bit, that is when we're at our best." |
Historically, the Ducks have faired well in close-out games. In their previous six trips to the postseason, Anaheim has a 10-3 record (6-1 since 2005-06) in games where they could clinch a series. While it’s been an easier task in the past at home (8-0 all-time) than on the road (2-3), the Ducks want to reverse that trend beginning with the time the puck is dropped on Saturday.
“We have to be in their face from the get-go,” said Corey Perry of Game 5. “It’s going to be huge for our team. If we can get that first goal and set them back on their heels a little bit, that is when we’re at our best.”
Said Whitney, “They’re playing for their season, so they’ll come out flying. It’s about weathering the storm and playing well. If we can play the first 10 minutes real solid, not be down and possibly get one goal ourselves, it will put us in good shape.”
The current scenario seemed almost unimaginable for both the Ducks and Sharks just seven weeks ago. But the biggest task of all is lying at the feet of Anaheim – the fourth and final victory. If they secure it, they can make everything, including Whitney’s statement from two weeks ago, a permanent reality.
“We haven’t done anything yet really,” said Whitney after Friday’s practice at Honda Center before the team departed to San Jose. “We still have one big game to win that is the toughest game to win. We’ve played well so far. We’re playing with confidence and if we play like we did last night, we’re going to give a lot of good teams hard-fought games.”