By Kyle Shohara
The league-leading Ducks have traveled north of the border for the final time in the regular season, and it all begins tonight against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena. And while the Ducks appear destined for another postseason berth, the outlook isn’t quite as cut-and-dried for the Canucks. Anaheim paces the NHL with 91 points (42-18-7) and the club holds a 13-point lead over second-place Vancouver (78 points, 37-24-4). The Canucks are only one point ahead of Calgary and three up on Los Angeles.
What does that mean for the Ducks? For one, it means they’ll be facing a desperate hockey club fighting for every inch in the ultra-tight Western Conference. It doesn’t end with the Canucks, either, as the road trip continues with games at Calgary on Wednesday and at Minnesota on Friday. Last night, Calgary erased a four-goal deficit in the third period to earn a point in a 5-4 shootout loss at Ottawa, all without its best defenseman, Mark Giordano, who is out for the remainder of the season following biceps tendon surgery. Minnesota currently holds the first of two wild card spots in the West, but is five points shy of Chicago for third place in the Central.
“It just adds to the excitement of the games because they’re so important for them, but these are just as important for us,” said Andrew Cogliano. “We need to make sure we’re continuing to play, move forward, and get ready for the type of game we’ll need to play in the playoffs. We have enough motivation for ourselves to make sure our game is at the top level.”
“If you look at our games, they’re all tests, and I know that’s a cliché,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau. “Vancouver is chasing us, Calgary is fighting for a playoff spot and Minnesota is, as well.”
The Canucks could be without the services of Chris Higgins and former Duck Nick Bonino tonight. Both missed practice yesterday with undisclosed injuries, but skated this morning. The Canucks are also without the services of goaltender Ryan Miller (sprained knee), forward Brad Richardson (foot) and defenseman Kevin Bieksa (broken hand) – all currently on the injured reserve list.
Nevertheless, Cogliano says he and his teammates recognize the skill and talent the Canucks possess.
“Guys understand the importance of playing a team like them because they’ve always been a solid team,” he said. “You have to have your top-end game to compete with them.”
The Ducks enter tonight’s contest having played 100 minutes and 38 seconds without allowing a goal to the Canucks – a shutout streak that dates back to the 2:04 mark of the second period on Dec. 28 at Honda Center. The Ducks won that game in overtime and blanked the Canucks by a 4-0 score on Jan. 27 at Rogers Arena.
Although it was an optional morning skate at Rogers Arena, the line pairings, at least on the blueline, could be an indication that James Wisniewski makes his Ducks debut tonight. Yesterday, Wisniewski said he was pleasantly surprised with how his foot felt (and responded) inside a skate boot.
Wisniewski suffered a bone bruise on his foot after blocking a shot in a game at Pittsburgh on March 1, his last game with Columbus before being traded to Anaheim last Monday.
Frederik Andersen is expected to make his second consecutive start for the Ducks. He stopped 16 of 20 shots in Friday’s 5-2 loss vs. Pittsburgh.
EXPECTED LINE COMBINATIONS
Patrick Maroon-Ryan Getzlaf-Kyle Palmieri
Tomas Fleischmann-Ryan Kesler-Jakob Silfverberg
Jiri Sekac-Rickard Rakell-Corey Perry
Emerson Etem-Nate Thompson-Andrew Cogliano
Hampus Lindholm-Francois Beauchemin
Cam Fowler-Simon Despres
Clayton Stoner-James Wisniewski