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Potential Playoff Matchup Has Ducks Up for Challenge

by Kyle Shohara @kyleshohara /

The Ducks open their final week of the regular season with three games remaining, and it begins tonight against a club they defeated two nights ago. The rare home-and-home series saw the Ducks conclude their final road trip of 2016-17 with a dramatic 4-3 victory in front of a "C of Red" at Scotiabank Saddledome courtesy of Logan Shaw's eventual game-winning goal with 3:06 remaining in regulation. It was an important win for the club, which needed a boost following a disheartening overtime loss the night before in Edmonton.

Though late-game flubs have blemished the Ducks recently, their ability to find ways to win has kept them atop the Pacific Division even if a division title is the last thing on their minds. What is most important is playing their best entering the postseason, which, for some clubs, begins on April 12. It's still too early to determine who the Ducks will face in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, or whether they will open Games 1 and 2 at Honda Center or on the road.

Realistically, the Ducks can face Edmonton, San Jose, Calgary, St. Louis or Nashville next week. A win tonight, however, could accomplish a couple of things according to defenseman Kevin Bieksa.

"To continue playing good hockey and cast doubt in [Calgary's] minds, and pretty much lock up home ice in some sort, whether it's first or second place in the division," he said. "A win tonight would mean a lot to us. We're a good team on home ice and have proven that for the last couple of years. You work hard to get that advantage in the playoffs. The crowd is going to be loud and into the game. We usually jump out of the gates quickly in this building."

If they are to host the Flames in the first round, there is no denying the home ice advantage the Ducks have over their two-time playoff rivals. Ironically enough, Anaheim's 24 consecutive home victories against Calgary - the longest run against one opponent in NHL history - began exactly 13 years ago today (April 4, 2004). The previous record belonged to Philadelphia, which had a 23-game home winning streak against Pittsburgh from Feb. 17, 1980 - Jan. 29, 1987. Furthermore, the Ducks own an all-time record of 55-36-9 vs. the Flames, including a 35-8-6 mark at Honda Center.

In the playoffs, the Ducks are 5-1 in six home games against the Flames over the course of two series (2006 and 2015). In 2006, the Flames defeated Anaheim, 5-2, in Game 3, but the Ducks took Games 4 (3-2 OT) and 6 (2-1). Nine years later, Anaheim won all three games at Honda Center, which included Games 1 (6-1) and 2 (3-0), and the series-clinching Game 5 (3-2 OT).

"It's going to be a playoff-type atmosphere like it was last game," said center Nate Thompson, referencing the victory in Calgary on Sunday night. "You know they're going to give a really good effort tonight, probably better than last game. We have to be ready for it. This is the best time of the year. It's exciting hockey. These games mean a lot. We're excited and looking forward to it."

It was an optional skate for the Ducks, which included roughly half of the team - Sami Vatanen included. Hampus Lindholm, who missed the game on Sunday with an upper-body injury, was not on the ice, so his status for tonight's game remains in question. Head coach Randy Carlyle was in "playoff mode," and did not offer any substantial information regarding his two blueliners. If both are out, expect to see Brandon Montour and Shea Theodore fill their spots. Theodore, in particular, was "outstanding" in the Calgary game, Carlyle said, despite a hectic travel day.

Jonathan Bernier was not on the ice, but John Gibson was. Carlyle, though, kept his starting goaltender under wraps. We should get a clear indication during pregame warmups later tonight.

Chad Johnson will get the start for Calgary, his first since March 23 at Nashville. Johnson has an 18-15-1 record, 2.60 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in 35 games this season. Brian Elliott, who was in net on Sunday, started the last five in a row.

Potential Line Combinations



Bernier or Gibson




Video: The Ducks preview a critical matchup with Calgary

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