By Kyle Shohara
It’s only fitting that on the final day of the season, the Ducks have a chance to win the Pacific Division title. You can’t really script it any better than this, considering the start this team had (1-7-2 in October) and where they were in late December (29th place). A second-half surge following the Christmas break saw the Ducks go 33-10-5 for a .740 points percentage. No team in the NHL has had a better win percentage during that span.
Making the playoffs isn’t a goal for this club – it’s an expectation. And although they took a rather unconventional approach to getting there, the most important thing is, of course, getting there.
Their 5-3 victory yesterday afternoon in Colorado was a must-win to keep themselves in the hunt for the top spot in the division. Had they lost, the title would’ve gone to the LA Kings, who were set to host the Winnipeg Jets later that night. Destiny was out of Anaheim’s hands, however, as a Kings win would’ve automatically given them their first division title since 1991, back when they were in the Smythe Division. But the Kings blew a 3-0 lead and eventually lost in a shootout to the Jets, which opened the door for the Ducks.
“We were all excited to see what was going to happen,” said Corey Perry. “We control our own destiny. If the Kings had won last night, today would’ve been a different story. This is a meaningful game. We want to win. There's not much more.”
The scenario tonight is simple: A victory of any fashion will give Anaheim its fourth consecutive Pacific Division title and a First Round matchup with the Nashville Predators. A loss of any kind and the San Jose Sharks come to town.
But how important is winning the division for Anaheim? What it does for certain is ensure home ice through the first two rounds. But is it optimal, travel-wise? The answer is no, considering the Ducks are in Washington D.C. for a rescheduled game tonight after playing in Denver last night.
“It's important for us, for sure,” said Cam Fowler, on winning the division. “Where we were in the beginning of the season to where we are now, and have the chance to win the division is something we’re excited about. We’re taking an all-business approach tonight, and we’re going to give it our best effort to try and clinch this thing.”
The biggest victory tonight would be coming out of Verizon Center without any injuries. Already without the services of forwards David Perron (shoulder), Brandon Pirri (upper body) and Rickard Rakell (appendectomy), and defensemen Sami Vatanen (flu) and Kevin Bieksa (upper body), the Ducks can ill-afford to lose anyone else.
The Ducks recalled forwards Stefan Noesen, Nick Ritchie, Michael Sgarbossa, Corey Tropp and defenseman Shea Theodore from San Diego of the American Hockey League yesterday. Ritchie, Sgarbossa and Theodore played, replacing Shawn Horcoff, Mike Santorelli and Clayton Stoner.
One player for certain will be playing, and that’s goaltender Frederik Andersen. After missing four games with a concussion, Boudreau confirmed he’s in tonight.
“I expect him to play great,” said Boudreau. “What he's done when he's come back from an injury… I don't expect anything different from him tonight.”
Some wondered whether the Ducks would send players home following the game in Colorado, but reports coming out of Washington D.C. confirm all players made the trip. Who plays tonight, however, remains to be seen. The same can be said for the Capitals, who played in St. Louis last night. Alex Ovechkin recorded a hat trick to reach the 50-goal milestone for the seventh time in his career - and third consecutive season. Goaltender Braden Holtby matched an NHL record with his 48th win of the season. Does either of them play tonight in a game that means nothing standings-wise for Washington?
“Well, we we’ll have 20 guys,” said Boudreau. “We’ll dress the best lineup we can from players available. Like we've been talking about, there's some banged-up bodies, but we’ll play the best we can.”