By Kyle Shohara
With two games remaining before the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin, the Ducks embark on their final road trip of the year (not including LA), which happens to be quite the cross-country trek when all is said and done. When the NHL released its schedule for all teams, today was intended to be Anaheim’s final day of the season, but because of a severe snowstorm that hit the East Coast in late January, the Ducks-Capitals game on Jan. 22 got rescheduled to April 10. So, upon conclusion of this game today, the Ducks will immediately fly to Washington D.C. for the season-ender tomorrow. It could, for all intents and purposes, be a game of high importance, or one without meaning, and here’s why:
Regardless of how Anaheim fares over these final two games, an LA Kings win of any kind tonight against the Winnipeg Jets gives them the Pacific Division title and a First Round matchup with the Nashville Predators. So even if the Ducks win this afternoon against the Avs, the fate of the division is out of their hands. But if Anaheim wins and LA loses in regulation today, all the Ducks would need tomorrow is a single point to lock up the division. Whoever finishes in second place will open the First Round at home against the San Jose Sharks.
There's also the Chicago Blackhawks to keep an eye on. With 102 points leading into their season finale tonight in Columbus, a point earned will give the Blackhawks home ice advantage over Anaheim, if both clubs were to advance to the Western Conference Final. But a regulation loss coupled with two wins by Anaheim would give the Ducks home ice. Both clubs would obviously have to advance two rounds for that to come into play, but it's something to keep in mind.
But what happens if the Ducks lose today? Will they send home key players to rest with the possibility of Game 1 starting as early as Wednesday? We won't know for sure until all is said and done, but expect the same lineup from Thursday to carry over into this game against the Avs.
The banged-up Ducks flew to Colorado with a little less cargo yesterday afternoon. Rickard Rakell (appendectomy) and Sami Vatanen (flu) did not accompany the team and won’t play today. Rakell, who hasn’t skated since he had the procedure done on March 31, has earned career-bests in goals (20), assists (23) and points (43) in 72 games this season. Vatanen did not skate in Thursday’s 2-1 loss at Staples Center, and was replaced by Korbinian Holzer.
Five regulars will not play in today’s game, which, in addition to Rakell and Vatanen, include forwards David Perron (separated shoulder) and Brandon Pirri (upper body), and defenseman Kevin Bieksa (upper body).
We're approaching three weeks since Perron suffered the injury on March 20, which had an approximate recovery time of 4-6 weeks. The 27-year-old will likely need the Ducks to get past the first round for his return to become a possibility. Pirri and Bieksa still aren’t skating with the team as they continue to recover from their respective upper-body injuries.
There’s also the chance of goaltender Frederik Andersen playing in one of the two games this weekend, though today figures to be John Gibson’s assignment. Earlier in the week, Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau expressed the desire to get Andersen at least one game before the postseason, and hinted at Sunday, though it ultimately comes down to Andersen’s health. He’s been practicing with the team for the past week, but has yet to see game action. Anton Khudobin has served as Gibson’s backup.