If the Ducks want to supplant the Pacific Division-leading Sharks and Western Conference-leading Blues, they’ll have to take advantage of the next nine games.
These games, which include tonight’s tilt against the Florida Panthers at Honda Center, are all against teams outside of the playoff picture. It isn’t until April 9, when the Sharks make their final visit to Anaheim in the regular season, that the Ducks face a team in postseason contention.
The out-of-town scoreboard favored the Ducks last night, as both the Blues and Sharks were handed losses, though San Jose did earn a point in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Capitals. Anaheim has two games in hand on San Jose, and currently sits second in the division trailing the Sharks by three points. The Blues were handed their second consecutive loss yesterday, a 4-1 defeat in Philadelphia. With St. Louis holding a four-point lead on Anaheim, Ducks fans can root on the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are hosting the Blues this morning.
The focus now shifts to tonight, when the Ducks host a struggling Panthers squad that will miss the postseason for the 12th time in the past 13 seasons. They enter tonight’s matchup on a two-game losing streak and 1-2-1 on their current five-game West Coast swing that concludes at Honda Center.
After a solid road performance three nights ago in San Jose that ultimately came up empty, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau stressed the importance of tonight’s game.
“It’s huge for us,” he said. “We thought we played a pretty good game in San Jose and came up with nothing. Florida has already beaten us once.”
That loss was back on November 12, when the Ducks blew a two-goal lead and fell 3-2, ultimately setting the tone for a winless four-game road trip.
But tonight is another opportunity to right the ship, especially at home, where the Ducks have gone winless in four consecutive games. For a team that went 20-0-2 at Honda Center to start the season, the Ducks know they need to re-establish that home dominance heading into the postseason.
“When you go 21 games unbeaten at home and, all of a sudden, you’re .500 since then, you get a little worried,” said Boudreau. “We want to establish ourselves again at home.”
BONINO GETTING CLOSER
Injured center Nick Bonino practiced with the team yesterday and says his bruised right foot is improving.
“It’s a lot better than it has been the last couple of days,” he said. “I was able to do a full practice, and it’s just a matter of when I can get back into the lineup.”
Bonino, who ranks third on the Ducks in scoring, injured his foot blocking a shot in Tuesday’s game against the Capitals. The injury prevented him from playing in Thursday’s game in San Jose.
Boudreau wants to see how Bonino’s foot reacts today before he decides whether to insert him into tonight’s lineup.
"I don’t know if he's ready to play yet," Boudreau said. "After you skate and you put your foot in the boot and everything for the first time, it’s the next day to see how stiff and sore you are.”
DUCKS TO HOST CHOC NIGHT
The Ducks will raise funds and awareness for Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC Children’s) by hosting CHOC Night.
Prior to tonight’s game, in the Hockey Spot, CHOC Children’s volunteers will be selling the fan-favorite, limited edition stuffed Choco bears (the CHOC mascot) outfitted in an Anaheim Ducks replica home jersey autographed by an Anaheim Ducks player for $60 per bear. Once the puck drops, any remaining bears will be sold on the Main Concourse in Section 219. Choco bears traditionally sell-out fast and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.
Fans attending or watching tonight’s PRIME TICKET telecast can donate to CHOC Children’s in a number of ways. By texting “CHOC” to “90999,” a $5 donation will be made to the hospital. Fans will also have the opportunity to bid on silent auction items at Section 214, including a Teemu Selanne package of autographed memorabilia and a basket of player-autographed “Choco Bears,” including Olympian-signed bears.
Anaheim and Florida conclude a two-game season series tonight at Honda Center. The Panthers earned a 3-2 victory in season opener on November 12 at BB&T Center. The Ducks have won three of the last four games vs. the Panthers, including a 5-3 win on Dec. 1, 2010 at Honda Center. All-time, Anaheim is 10-10-4 vs. Florida (5-6-1 at home).