By Kyle Shohara
After closing out a three-game homestand on a winning note, the Ducks now find themselves in Winnipeg, Manitoba for the start of a five-game road trip through Canada. This is the first time the Ducks have been in Winnipeg since their four-game sweep over the Jets in the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Ducks (39-22-9, 87 pts) are still vying for the Pacific Division lead, currently held by the LA Kings, who hold a six-point edge following their 2-1 victory over the Boston Bruins last night. Anaheim is also one point up on the third-place San Jose Sharks, who defeated the New York Rangers 4-1, last night, and host the Arizona Coyotes tonight.
Returning to the site of their first round sweep is exciting for the Ducks, who expect an electric atmosphere inside MTS Centre.
“It’s always a difficult place to play,” said defenseman Cam Fowler. “They play with a lot of energy in that building, and they’ll be excited to have us there. It’s our first matchup there since the playoffs. It’ll be a good test for us.”
Of course, the atmosphere was second to none during Games 3 and 4 at MTS Centre with the famed return of the whiteout. These days, however, are not as bright for the Jets (29-37-5, 63 pts), who will likely miss the postseason for the fourth time in the past five seasons since relocating from Atlanta.
“It doesn’t really matter who we’re playing, they’re not going to take it easy on you,” Jets forward Drew Stafford said on the team’s official website. “They’re not feeling sorry for us. It’s our job to be professional and no matter what happens the night before, show up the next day and put the work in and find ways to get better. We’re playing for pride. We’re playing for our fans.”
Jets head coach Paul Maurice adds, “Anaheim has completely changed their season going to a very defensive mindset when they had a long stretch when they weren’t scoring goals but kept trying to as a foundation. Now they’ve held on to that game. They skate very well and they’re going to defend very hard, then they’re just going to take what you give them off that.”
Anaheim is 13-7-1 all-time against the Winnipeg/Atlanta franchise, having won the last five consecutive regular-season games dating to March 31, 2014. On the road, the Ducks have won three straight and gone 7-3-0 all-time. Anaheim earned a 4-1 win in the first meeting on Jan. 3 at Honda Center.
“We’re just going there to get two points and get out of there,” said center Ryan Kesler. “But these are two new teams. It might mean a little something.”
Kesler, of course, scored three goals combined in Games 3 and 4, two of which in the series-clincher, including the game winner. Expect the tenacious center to get booed heavily throughout the game, much like he did during that series.
Following today's game, the road trip continues with games on Tuesday at Montreal, Thursday at Toronto, Saturday at Ottawa and Monday at Edmonton.
It’s an important stretch of five games over 10 days for Anaheim, which can either inch closer to the division-leading Kings or set themselves up for a first-round matchup with the Sharks.
“We try to take it game by game,” said Fowler. “It’s an important trip for us. Anytime you go on the road for an extended period of time, you want to make sure you have a good approach. You try to get as many points as possible because it’s difficult to win on the road in this league. We’re looking forward to it. Playing in Canada is always fun for us.”