By Kyle Shohara
Fresh off a 4-1 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final yesterday afternoon, the Ducks reconvened inside Honda Center for a 45-minute practice that did not include Ryan Kesler. Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau was quick to point out it was “the old maintenance day” for the 30-year-old center, who played 81 of 82 regular season games and all 10 in the postseason.
Boudreau also says the team’s “kid line” of 22-year-olds Emerson Etem, Rickard Rakell and Jiri Sekac will most likely stay intact in Game 2. “They really gave us good energy at the proper time,” said Boudreau. “Before we scored our second goal, they were on the ice and created the buzz in the [offensive] zone. We followed that up and ended up scoring a goal.”
Blessed with speed, youth and tenacity, the trio first made their debut late in the regular season not long after the rookie Sekac was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens for Devante Smith-Pelly in late February. Game 1 represented the postseason debut for Sekac, a native of Kladno, Czech Republic, and today he spoke of his experience and his line’s overall performance.
“It was fun, it was exciting and I was just excited to be in the lineup,” Sekac said. “This is the most exciting time of the year, and everyone is waiting for this. For me, it was even more exciting because I haven’t been playing for a long time.”
Though held off the scoresheet, Sekac delivered three hits and was able to use his speed to generate chances in his nine minutes of ice time. “We try to give our team energy when we’re out there,” Sekac said. “We know what to expect from each other.”
THE YOUNG AND THE OLD(ER)
Much has been said of the six defensemen patrolling the Ducks blueline throughout this postseason run, and the main topic of conversation always seems to focus on the ages of four of the club’s six active d-men. Aside from 34-year-old Francois Beauchemin and 30-year-old Clayton Stoner, the remaining four defensemen are all 23 years of age or younger.
Anaheim’s second pairing is made up of 23-year-olds Cam Fowler and Simon Despres, while 21-year-old Hampus Lindholm is paired with the wise veteran Beauchemin. Sami Vatanen, 23, is paired with Stoner, while 31-year-old James Wisniewski currently sits as the team’s seventh defenseman.
Boudreau says Beauchemin is the leader of the d-core, a proven winner who has been through deep postseason runs before, and a player whom the younger guys look up to. The same can be said for Wisniewski, the former Blackhawk and 10-year-veteran who is using his experience as a teaching opportunity.
“He’s the voice,” Boudreau said of the former Stanley Cup champion Beauchemin. “Everybody else is so young. You can hear him back there. Wiz is helping the defensemen out there. Obviously he wants to play, but he’s been so professional. He’ll take Sami or the younger guys and tell them what Chicago is doing. Those two older guys are great teachers, and the guys look up to them an awful lot.”
DESI DOES IT
Of the countless highlight-reel moments during Game 1, one in particular stood out, and it happened to be on the same play in which Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen made a spectacular paddle save on Chicago’s Patrick Kane. Showing no fear and serving as a last-ditch means of defense, Despres made a feet-first slide into the net in an attempt to get a body on Kane’s shot, which ended up sailing over the net and the glass.
Despres has seen a steady rise in his game since joining the Ducks in early March. The former 2009 first-round draft pick (30th overall) was traded to Anaheim from Pittsburgh in exchange for defenseman Ben Lovejoy, and has been a rock solid partner for the fluid Fowler. The 6-foot-4, 214-pound blueliner recorded his sixth assist of the postseason with a +1 rating in 15:46 TOI yesterday, and also finished with four hits and three blocked shots.
“We thought he’d be the seventh defenseman,” Boudreau admitted. “We were hurt at the time of the trade, so they all played. He never let up. He kept playing better. Now it’d be pretty hard to take him out. [Assistant coach] Trent [Yawney] has done a tremendous done handling all six defensemen with their minutes and responsibilities. There isn’t a fear of putting any one of them in any situation.”