|"Sometimes it seems we're a little more confident on the road than at home because probably it takes a little pressure away," Hiller said. "I think all the games until the end of the year are going to be big ones. We pretty much have to win all of them to make sure we get a playoff spot." |
Several times this season, the Ducks have packed their bags for a critical road trip that may have determined their fate – and the results have been mostly positive. Now, with an enormous three-game jaunt on the horizon, the team will need to answer the bell away from Anaheim one more time to stay in the middle of a heated playoff race.
Though Anaheim has had its share of struggles at home this season (just 19-17-3, 12th in the Western Conference), they have been one of the conference’s best teams on the road (19 wins, tied for third-most in the West). This is also one of the best road campaigns ever put together by the Ducks, as those 19 wins are also tied for second-most in franchise history (with the 2007-08 and 1993-94 Ducks), three behind the record 22 road victories by the fabled 2006-07 team.
“This is a tough trip,” Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer said. “We’re playing a team we’re fighting with (Edmonton) and some teams ahead of us (Vancouver and San Jose). But we’ve played some good hockey on the road and hopefully that keeps going.”
When the 2008-09 campaign got off to a rocky start with a 1-4-0 record, it was on the road that the Ducks turned things around with four straight wins in October, including a sweep of Eastern Canada. In what looked like a daunting six-game voyage (their longest of the year) from Feb. 20 to March 3 that could have seriously damaged their playoff hopes, Anaheim managed a 3-2-1 mark. Coming into this trip, the Ducks are 6-1-1 in their last eight road games.
“Sometimes it seems we’re a little more confident on the road than at home because probably it takes a little pressure away,” said Jonas Hiller, who is second in the league in goals-against average (2.22) and fourth in save percentage (.923). “I think all the games until the end of the year are going to be big ones. We pretty much have to win all of them to make sure we get a playoff spot.”
|"This is a tough trip," Niedermayer says. "We're playing a team we're fighting with (Edmonton) and some teams ahead of us (Vancouver and San Jose). But we've played some good hockey on the road and hopefully that keeps going." |
With five teams (from 7th to 11th place) separated by four points in the standings, there is little to no room for error in the battle for the final two playoff spots in the West. The Ducks saw firsthand how one defeat can cause a significant drop, when they slid from seventh to 10th in a span of 24 hours after a home loss to Edmonton last Friday.
“Any given night, you can move from seventh place to 10th place,” Bobby Ryan said. “It’s going to be that way until the bitter end. Teams are coming on and winning in their games, so it’s important for us to get our two points as well.”
Currently in ninth place with 82 points, Anaheim’s three-game road venture begins against the Oilers, who are one point behind in 10th. It will be the final game for the Ducks against one of the other teams with them in the multi-team scrum, which essentially creates a four-point contest tomorrow night.
The game is also a rematch of that heartbreaking loss for the Ducks last Friday, in which they threw a team-record 54 shots at Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson, only to suffer a 5-3 defeat. “We felt we deserved to win that game,” said Ryan, who scored two goals in helping the team rebound with a 4-1 victory last night against Colorado. “I think we’ve done a good job of putting it behind us because at this time of year, you can’t wallow. You can’t look back at anything that has gone wrong. We’re focusing on the task at hand, which at the moment is Edmonton tomorrow.”
Even with the loss to the Oilers, the Ducks are playing some of their best hockey of the season. Skating with a sense of urgency, the team has reeled off six wins in its last seven contests. If the season is to extend beyond April 11 for Anaheim, that hot streak will need to continue, especially on the road where they’ve come up so big previously this campaign.
|"You look at the Edmonton game and realize there is a four-point swing there," Ryan said. "It is four very important points for our organization. It doesn't get any easier the rest of the way. Vancouver is playing well and San Jose has played well all year. We know every game is going to be a playoff game." |
“I know we’ve been saying the playoffs have started for a few weeks now maybe, but it’s definitely true now,” Niedermayer said. “It’s a big game to start off. That is where our focus has to be right now, going into Edmonton and playing a real good game there.”
Said Ryan, “You look at the Edmonton game and realize there is a four-point swing there. It is four very important points for our organization. It doesn’t get any easier the rest of the way. Vancouver is playing well and San Jose has played well all year. We know the desperation that we need to have going into these buildings. We know every game is going to be a playoff game.”
Before the Ducks departed for Edmonton, they had a Monday morning practice at Anaheim ICE that included defenseman Bret Hedican. The 38-year-old defenseman has been out of the lineup since Feb. 26 with back spasms.
“Every time I stride I feel it in my left leg,” said Hedican of the injury. “When you don’t have any power in your leg, it’s hard to go out and play in the National Hockey League. I don’t care if you’re 21 years old or you’re my age, you have to be at least close to 90-100 percent to go out there and be able to be effective. Right now, I can’t say that. I’d like to be able to get in there no matter what and do everything I can to get in there, but I would be hurting the team going in there right now and that is what I don’t want to do."
Hedican, who was part of the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes team that won the Stanley Cup, added, “I love this time of year. I play well in the playoffs. I’ve proven it. I just feel bad that I can’t contribute right now. That is the biggest thing that is killing me. When the body is not responding like you want it to, it breaks my heart. Now, I’m just trying to wait for it to slowly go away. I wish I could speed the process up, but it just has not happened yet. It hasn’t cooperated yet, but I’m still pushing. I still believe that I can get out there and help this team before the end of the year.”