By Kyle Shohara
After punching their ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs two nights ago with a point earned in a 6-5 overtime loss against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Ducks can now set their sights on building for the big dance.
It begins tonight, as their five-game road trip brings them to Canada’s capital city to take on the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre. Still only three points behind the Pacific Division-leading LA Kings, the Ducks (40-23-10, 90 pts.) can also gain ground on the Western Conference-leading Dallas Stars, though the current deficit is seven points with nine games remaining.
“We want to get as high of a seed as we possibly can,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “That’s the goal of everybody. If you don’t, you’re sitting there saying ‘I don’t care if we lose.’ We care if we lose.”
Ottawa meanwhile, remains on the outside looking in, and its playoffs hopes are fading with every passing game. With a 34-33-8 record for 76 points, the Sens are currently nine points back of the Philadelphia Flyers, who hold the second - and final - wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. They'll need another remarkable run if they are to make the postseason for the second year in a row. Last season, Ottawa finished 2014-15 on a 23-4-4 run over its final 31 games in order to qualify for the postseason.
Leading the way for the Sens is team captain Erik Karlsson - the electrifying two-way defenseman who has led his team in scoring for the past two seasons. The 25-year-old comes into tonight's game with 13-62—75 points and 50 penalty minutes in 75 contests. Karlsson also ranks first on the Senators with 1-23—24 points on the power play, while left wing Mike Hoffman leads the club with eight power-play goals.
“You hope you’re aware and responsible when he’s on the ice,” Boudreau said of Karlsson. “They’re coming in with four on the rush when he’s out there. When he’s on the point, you better have your head on a swivel because he’s going to be backdoor-ing you.”
Former Ducks right wing Bobby Ryan hit the 600-game mark three nights ago in Ottawa's 3-1 loss against the New York Islanders. Ryan, 29, was selected immediately after Sidney Crosby in the 2005 NHL Draft and went on to record 147-142—289 points and 251 penalty minutes in 378 regular season games with Anaheim.
Ryan, of course, was dealt to the Senators on July 5, 2013 in exchange for Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and a first-round selection in the 2014 NHL Draft, which the Ducks used to select Nick Ritchie at No. 10 overall.
Goaltenders for tonight will be Frederik Andersen for Anaheim and Craig Anderson for Ottawa.
INJURY UPDATES; STEWART TO PLAY
Judging by the morning skate, it appears Kevin Bieksa (upper body) won’t play tonight. The physical defenseman played only six shifts for 4:28 TOI in Toronto and did extra work at the end of skate this morning with defenseman Sami Vatanen (upper body). Bieksa didn't practice yesterday. Vatanen continues to practice with the club after joining the team on the trip earlier in the week. Vatanen hasn't played since March 9 at Colorado with an upper-body injury.
Shea Theodore, recalled earlier in the week from San Diego of the American Hockey League, is likely to draw in tonight.
On the shelf since mid-February with a broken jaw, Chris Stewart is expected to return to the lineup tonight. Stewart was cleared for contact earlier in the week and is wearing a full clear face shield to protect his surgically repaired jaw.
“It's time to get back to work,” said Stewart. “The hardest part is behind me. I'm excited to play. I've been working hard over the past three weeks on the ice. Hopefully I can pick it up on the go and get acclimated. I'm probably about five pounds lighter now. Probably a little leaner, too. I'm happy to come back, contribute, and be ready for a long run.”
Stewart says the easy route would’ve been to simply pack it in and call it a season. He admits there were some “tough times” during his six weeks of recovery, but now he’s back and ready to make a difference.
“When I got hurt, the first thing I told Bruce and the guys was don’t write me off,” Stewart said. “I’m going to be back.”
No updates have been given on Ryan Kesler and Simon Despres, both of whom returned to Anaheim prior to the team’s game in Toronto. Kesler returned for a personal matter, while Despres was sent home for further evaluation after the game in Montreal on Tuesday.
The Ducks are still without David Perron, who returned to Anaheim for an MRI on his right shoulder following Anaheim’s game in Winnipeg last Sunday. At the time of the injury, Boudreau listed Perron as “week to week.”