By Kyle Shohara
The Ducks have wrapped up another practice with only two days remaining before Game 1 on Thursday night. But missing from the skate were goaltender John Gibson and center Nate Thompson, both out with upper-body injuries. Today marked the second consecutive practice without them on the ice.
Replacing Gibson was netminder Jason LaBarbera, a veteran of 14 NHL regular seasons who has yet to appear in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. LaBarbera manned one crease while Frederik Andersen manned the other. Replacing Thompson was 23-year-old rookie Chris Wagner.
And for the second day in a row, Patrick Maroon skated on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, while Matt Beleskey patrolled the left wing on a line with Ryan Kesler and Kyle Palmieri. Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau has never been shy about altering his line combinations, so when he was asked why the Beleskey-Kesler-Palmieri line has remained intact, he said it came down to production.
“You have a couple of shooters on the line, and a distributor,” Boudreau said. “They play hard and go to the net. We kept moving things around, but kept coming back to them because they were a line that produced.” Beleskey established career highs in goals (22), game-winning goals (8), power-play goals (4), points (32) and plus/minus (+13), and ranked third on the team in hits (159). Kesler's 20 goals and 47 points were with his highest point total since 2011-12 (22g/27a=49) and Palmieri set a career best in power-play goals (5), tied a career high in goals (14) and fell two shy of matching his personal best in points (31 in 2013-14).
The players around the locker room have all said that this – the postseason – is the best time of the year. “This is why we play the game,” said Kesler. “Every game means something.” Perry says the postseason is a time when “names are made.” Boudreau is encouraging his players to have fun and enjoy the moment.
“Everyone has a big smile on their face,” said Maroon. “I’m anxious to get going. We’re ready for the most fun time of the year. This is what it’s all about. There will be big, physical play. It’ll make the fans excited. It’ll be worth watching.”
Maroon’s mug is covered with a striking beard which he says might get trimmed down prior to Game 1, though that’s still to be determined. “We’ll see what happens. My beard grows fast, so I’m not worried about it.”
“We’re gearing up and getting ready,” said Beleskey. “Everyone in here is just really excited to get it going.”
Andrew Cogliano offered his take on the difference between the postseason and regular season. “It’s another level of intensity,” he said. “There’s another level of compete and battle. There’s more physicality. The emotions are higher. Not that there’s nothing to play for in the season, but everything is on the line in the playoffs. Things are magnified. It makes things that much more exciting.”LINE COMBINATIONS
Patrick Maroon-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Matt Beleskey-Ryan Kesler-Kyle Palmieri
Andrew Cogliano-Tomas Fleischmann-Rickard Rakell-Jakob Silfverberg
Jiri Sekac-Emerson Etem-Chris Wagner-Tim Jackman