What began six months ago culminates tonight, as the Ducks host the Winnipeg Jets in the home finale of the regular season. Fans can rest assured knowing they’ll see this team on home ice beginning next week for the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Tonight is also Fan Appreciation Night, with a variety of prizes and giveaways throughout the game.
This marks game no. 79 of 82 for the Ducks, who continue to hold a one-point lead on the LA Kings for first place in the Pacific Division. The Kings, who lost in regulation last night in Vancouver, take on the Calgary Flames tonight. Of course, the two Southern California rivals will clash at Staples Center two nights from now in a game that can very well determine the seeding in the Pacific.
Defenseman Simon Despres will make his return to the lineup tonight after missing the past six games with an upper-body injury. Despres practiced yesterday and skated this morning. Despres knows this is an important week for him to build for the postseason.
“I definitely want to get some games in before the playoffs,” said Despres, who had 1-6—7 points and a plus-4 rating in 16 playoff games against the Jets, Flames and Blackhawks last year. “Get ready as much as I can to get to the top of my game. To be able to come back on the ice with my teammates means a lot to me. I’ve gone through a lot of injuries this year. Just to be healthy and playing again has no price. I appreciate every moment being on the ice.”
“It's important Desi gets in,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “We have four games left. He'll play tonight. He's ready to play. Hopefully he'll play all four games.”
John Gibson will get the start for Anaheim with Anton Khudobin backing him up. Frederik Andersen skated this morning, and Boudreau says his return appears to be “sooner than later.”
“I'm hoping he gets a chance to play before the season is over,” Boudreau said. The Ducks, of course, have one last back to back set to close out the regular season, with games on April 9 at Colorado and April 10 at Washington.
Concerns of this being a so-called “letdown game” sandwiched between two playoff-bound opponents were shot down by Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.
“We went a week and a half where we played all non-playoff teams,” Getzlaf said. “That whole swing on the road was a little bit hard to focus at times. That’s just the way it goes. But when you’re playing the one-off games, it’s not as big a deal. We played Dallas and then we have LA for the next game. This game is important for us to maintain what we’re doing.”
The other Ryan (Kesler) says the Ducks are well aware of the skill Winnipeg has, playoff bound or not.
“They're a good team with a lot of skill up front,” Kesler said. “They have Buff [Dustin Byfuglien] and a couple of d-men on the backend that are dangerous. We have to be ready tonight, or we'll be in for one if we're not.”PROJECTED LINE COMBINATIONS
Jamie McGinn – Ryan Getzlaf – Corey Perry
Andrew Cogliano – Ryan Kesler – Jakob Silfverberg
Mike Santorelli – Shawn Horcoff – Chris Stewart
Ryan Garbutt – Nate Thompson – Chris Wagner
Cam Fowler – Simon Despres
Hampus Lindholm – Josh Manson
Clayton Stoner – Sami Vatanen
Nikolaj Ehlers – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler
Marko Dano – Alex Burmistrov – Drew Stafford
Nic Petan – Andrew Copp – Joel Armia
Brandon Tanev – Adam Lowry – Chris Thorburn
Ben Chiarot – Dustin Byfuglien
Mark Stuart – Jacob Trouba
Julian Melchiori – Paul Postma