By Kyle Shohara
AnaheimDucks.com Morning Skate Photos
The Ducks have one last piece of business to take care of before they embark on a five-game, nine-day road trip back east, and that’s hosting the Colorado Avalanche for (surprisingly) the first time this season.
A victory last night in Arizona kept Colorado’s faint postseason hopes alive. As of right now, the Avs sit seven points out of the second and final wild card spot, currently held by the Winnipeg Jets, who also won last night. Meanwhile, the Ducks are honing their craft as a berth in the playoffs draws closer with every game.
Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau says he’s spoken with the team about the dangers a game like this presents. Coming off an emotionally charged overtime victory over the rival Kings, and on the heels of a Sunday night showdown against the powerhouse New York Rangers, tonight is all about keeping the intensity and desperation the club showed on Wednesday night.
“This is playoff hockey, and if you have an emotional win in the playoffs, you can’t have a letdown the next day,” said Boudreau. “We’ve got to get up. We’re playing a team that’s playing really good … probably as good as any team in the league. I firmly believe they believe they’re going to make the playoffs. It’s not going to be an easy task.”
The Ducks and Avs made national headlines at the start of last season, when Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy nearly brought down the glass divider that separates the two benches at Pepsi Center. It was a fit of rage that set the tone for each ensuing matchup.
“Last year in the first game of the season, we made it a little interesting to play these guys,” said rugged winger Patrick Maroon. “This a very desperate and hungry team that’s making a playoff push right now. We need to match their intensity. We know they’re going to come out firing.”
In net tonight will be Frederik Andersen, who will start for the first time since March 9 at Vancouver. Among league netminders, Andersen ranks tied for seventh in wins (30) and co-leads in shootout victories (6).
“He’s a great goaltender, and has won 30 games for us this year,” said Boudreau. “He had the quickest wins to 50 in the history of the National Hockey League, tied with one guy. How could you be worried when you put him in?”
THE VATMAN RISES
After missing 15 games with a lower-body injury, defenseman Sami Vatanen returns to the lineup tonight and will be paired with Cam Fowler. The Ducks get a dynamic presence on the blueline, especially on the power play. Despite missing over a month, Vatanen still ranks tied for 12th in power-play points (17) and ranks tied for second in power-play goals (7) among league defensemen.
“It’s been a long four weeks for me, just sitting there eating popcorn,” he said with smile. “I’m very anxious to come back. I’ve been feeling very good the past week, so I’m just ready and happy to go back on the ice.”
Vatanen has 12 goals and 34 points in 57 games this season, setting career highs in goals, assists (22), points, power-play goals and shorthanded goals (1).
“He’s such a great defenseman, and we’re glad to have him back,” said Jakob Silfverberg. “He’s very skilled and has great [vision]. It’s a lot of fun having him back.”
“We’re not putting him back in until he’s 100 percent ready, so my expectations are that he plays exactly the way he did before he left,” said Boudreau. “You don’t leave any room for excuses. I assume he’ll play that way and be very excited to be back in.”LINE COMBINATIONS
Patrick Maroon-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Matt Beleskey-Ryan Kesler-Kyle Palmieri
Tomas Fleischmann-Rickard Rakell-Jiri Sekac
Andrew Cogliano-Nate Thompson-Jakob Silfverberg
Hampus Lindholm-Francois Beauchemin
Cam Fowler-Sami Vatanen
Simon Despres-James Wisniewski