Teemu Selanne is a legend and a hero in two NHL cities, and they have teams that will face each other in a Western Conference First Round series.
The Winnipeg Jets reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since moving from Atlanta in 2011. Selanne starred for the previous edition of the Jets early in his career before they moved to Arizona. He is also the best player in Anaheim Ducks history, and the Jets will be at Honda Center for Game 1.
Anaheim is the top seed in the West for the second straight season and Pacific Division champions for a third straight time with coach Bruce Boudreau in charge. The Ducks have lost a Game 7 at Honda Center to a lower-seeded team in each of the past two postseasons, and are trying to advance to the second half of the NHL tournament for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup in 2007.
Winnipeg set a Jets record with 99 points but finished in fifth place in the Central Division. The only other trip to the postseason in franchise history came in 2007, when the Atlanta Thrashers were swept in the first round by the New York Rangers.
Neither team has started a goaltender more than 52 times. Frederik Andersen made 52 starts for the Ducks, which was tied for 18th in the NHL. Andersen has started 10 times since the NHL Trade Deadline, and John Gibson has started eight.
Winnipeg had a clear No. 1 goaltender for much of the season. The issue was who that is has changed a couple of times. Rookie Michael Hutchinson took the job from veteran Ondrej Pavelec, but Pavelec reclaimed it and was one of the hottest goalies in the NHL in the final month of the season to help the Jets into the playoffs.
Another intriguing matchup will be at center. Ryan Getzlaf had a fantastic season for the Ducks and should finish in the top five or six places in the Hart Trophy voting. He could be matched against Bryan Little, one of the most underrated centers in the League.
The Ducks won each of the three games between the teams during the regular season, but one came in overtime and another in a shootout. Anaheim scored four goals in each of the games. They haven't played since January, and each team made significant trades before the deadline.
Ryan Kesler was as good as advertised and gave Anaheim what it needed down the middle to counter the powers of the Western Conference. Kesler had his best offensive season since 2011-12, but his real worth came as a two-way center who can win faceoffs. The Ducks went 4-0-1 against the Los Angeles Kings, and Kings coach Darryl Sutter said Kesler, acquired in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks, was a major difference.
Captain Ryan Getzlaf had his fifth 20-goal season and, although his point total was off from last season, garnered talk about a Hart Trophy candidacy. Linemate Corey Perry had his fifth 30-goal season despite missing 15 games with a knee injury and the mumps.
Matt Beleskey, who can become an unrestricted free agent, thrived early in his role on the top line and led the Ducks in goals as late as January.
They haven't solidified the top-line left wing position, but have used Beleskey and offensive-minded Jiri Sekac, acquired in an in-season trade, down the stretch. Kyle Palmieri maintained his scoring pace from last season and was productive on the power play.
Andrew Cogliano continued his role as relentless forechecker and penalty killer, and Rickard Rakell grabbed a bottom-six center role because of his 200-foot game. Jakob Silfverberg had one goal in his first 27 games but 11 in the next 44.
Nate Thompson is a good fourth-line center, and Patrick Maroon and Tim Jackman provide size and grit.
The line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler has carried the Jets since the move to Winnipeg four years ago. Ladd set a career high in points this season. Little scored more than 20 goals for the third time in the past four seasons, despite an injury in March that cost him 11 games.
Wheeler alternated between the first and second lines. When he moved to the second line, he rekindled his chemistry with Mark Scheifele. Wheeler led the Jets in goals and broke loose in March with nine goals and six assists in a 15-game span. Scheifele established himself as a capable second-line center.
Drew Stafford joined Scheifele and Wheeler in March after coming to the Jets in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres that included Evander Kane, and the line produced.
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff added versatile Mathieu Perreault in free agency last summer. Perreault, who can play center or left wing, provided top-nine depth. His speed and puck pursuit made the Winnipeg forecheck difficult for opponents. Michael Frolik served capably in a variety of roles ranging from the first line to the third.
Cheveldayoff further strengthened this group prior to the NHL Trade Deadline when he added Lee Stempniak and Jiri Tlusty, giving the Jets four viable lines for the first time since they arrived in Winnipeg in 2011.
Rookie Adam Lowry solidified the third-line center role, a spot that troubled the Jets in recent seasons. Lowry concentrated on his defensive game first but showed a scoring touch later in the season.
Anaheim changed one-quarter of its defense when it acquired James Wisniewski and Simon Despres prior to the NHL Trade Deadline. The two have primarily been partnered, with Wisniewski bringing his booming shot and Despres emerging as a physical puck-mover who was difficult to scratch from Boudreau's rotation.
Francois Beauchemin and Hampus Lindholm continued their strong partnership and complement each other. Beauchemin has a lot of miles on his body but had a career-high in goals despite missing 18 games to injury.
Sami Vatanen led in power-play goals (Wisniewski's power-play goals came with the Columbus Blue Jackets) and by midseason was a legitimate All-Star candidate. Cam Fowler had a productive season offensively but probably needs to be more physical, an aspect Clayton Stoner provides at the expense of speed.
The Ducks' model veers from others in that they do not have a true, shutdown No. 1 defenseman (such as Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators or Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings).
Anaheim finished in the bottom half of the League in goals allowed per game and in 5-on-5 play, a troubling number for a team that spent most of the season at the top of the Western Conference standings.
Boudreau said they are better here than last season. They also are deeper and should be better served because of it.
Winnipeg endured a tumultuous season dominated by injuries and a major midseason trade that resulted in Tyler Myers replacing Zach Bogosian, who had been considered one of the key building blocks.
Winnipeg lost its top four defensemen to long-term injuries in December, forcing Dustin Byfuglien to move from forward to his natural position. Byfuglien immediately reacquainted himself with the position and had seven goals and 15 assists in his first 24 games as a defenseman. He took a more defensively responsible approach while tormenting opposing forwards with his physical style.
Myers provided the Jets with size, a big shot, and an ability to play substantial minutes that lessened some of the burden on a defense that was taxed by injuries for much of the season.
Toby Enstrom battled injuries but offered reliable defensive play and excellent puck-moving skills to rescue the Jets from defensive-zone mistakes.
Jacob Trouba continued his progress in his second year, forming a steady tandem with veteran Mark Stuart. The simple stay-at-home style Stuart plays allowed Trouba to experiment with his two-way game.
Rookie Ben Chiarot, something of an afterthought after being sent to St. John’s of the American Hockey League in training camp, arrived after the crush of injuries in December. Much like Stuart with Trouba, Chiarot’s no-risk approach freed Byfuglien to take calculated risks offensively by offering a safety net.
This will be a focal point again but it won't be as complicated as last season when three were vying for playoff time.
Frederik Andersen is the presumed No. 1. He fell shy of the Ducks single-season wins record held by Jean Sebastien-Giguere, and tied the record from 1944 for fastest goalie to 50 NHL wins.
Andersen said he wants the job and seems to have a healthy chip on his shoulder about it. He carried the Ducks through the early season when John Gibson was out with a groin injury and made 20 straight starts from Nov. 7 to Dec. 18, the most by an Anaheim goalie since Jonas Hiller's 32-game run in 2012.
Andersen, 25, is older than Gibson and has a bigger body of work, but Boudreau won't hesitate to change it up if Andersen stumbles.
Gibson, 22, was out for six weeks but has looked better and better since a rehabilitation assignment in the American Hockey League. He went 6-1-0 with a 1.84 goals-against average and .942 save percentage from Feb. 20 to March 4.
Gibson is young but he's lived up to the buzz that's surrounded him since his junior career.
Ducks players say they have confidence in either goalie and it doesn't matter who is in net, but it's up to Boudreau to make sure it doesn't become a distraction like it did last postseason.
Coach Paul Maurice relied on whichever goaltender was playing well for as long as possible all season. Ondrej Pavelec has been an ongoing project for the Jets for the past several seasons, and he came under intense scrutiny from the Winnipeg fan base and media entering the season. However, a commitment to fitness and technical adjustments to his game allowed Pavelec to prosper.
After the goal in St. Louis, Pavelec reclaimed the starting job he owned since 2009-10 and went on a late-season run that carried the Jets to the playoffs.
Hutchinson’s rise from the ECHL to the Winnipeg starting job required one year. The 25-year-old went 9-2-2 in November and December and took over the starting job by midseason. He faltered down the stretch, and Pavelec took over the starting duties.
It seems like a crucial juncture for Boudreau, who has a history of outstanding regular seasons followed by disappointing playoffs. Boudreau has never advanced past the second round and has lost five of six Game 7s, including the past two with Anaheim.
Boudreau is a player's coach and has a solid read on his team. That is countered by his frequent and often-curious lineup changes and tendency to overthink situations.
Anaheim was the NHL's best team in one-goal games, but the Ducks were outscored at a nearly 3-to-1 rate in their regulation losses, and their season was marred by poor second periods.
In other words, Anaheim was either grinding it out or being blown out.
Boudreau needs to iron out that inconsistency. Fortunately for him, he has a team that is better defensively and motivated from last season's elimination by the rival Kings.
When Maurice arrived in January 2014, an ongoing lack of defensive structure had beset the Jets. Years of losing and player turnover left them without an identity.
Emphasizing a puck-possession game relying heavily on his centers to take on more defensive responsibilities, Maurice managed to solidify the Jets in their end without sacrificing offensive production.
Fitness took on increased importance when Maurice arrived; his system emphasizes speed and winning battles along the boards. A 90-minute practice at the end of last season sent the message that a demanding training camp awaited this season, and the players responded. Opposing coaches often said the Jets were one of the hardest-working and most physical teams in the League, something that added another dimension for visitors to deal with inside noisy MTS Centre.
Maurice rebuilt the attitude with a live-in-the-moment mindset. He never panicked after a loss and never dwelled on a win for very long, providing a steadying influence to a team unaccustomed to the pressures of a stretch drive to the playoffs.
Anaheim general manager Bob Murray specifically wanted to improve the power play, but it got worse and finished in the bottom half of the League for the second straight season.
The Ducks went 3-for-31 in the 15 games Vatanen missed with injury and 1-for-20 in the 10 games before their finale. That is partially explained by Anaheim's inability to draw penalities, finishing in the bottom half of the NHL in power-play opportunities.
That's difficult to understand given the team has Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler and Wisniewski, among others, and it's something to watch.
The penalty killing fell off statistically from last season, and that's partly because Anaheim was among the League leaders in times shorthanded. Even the best goaltending can do only so much when faced with that volume.
The Ducks remain dangerous shorthanded with Cogliano, Kesler and Silfverberg as threats to score. Kesler provides a lot of possessions on faceoffs.
Long a source of frustration for the Jets and their fans, the power play improved significantly this season after finishing 30th in 2012-13 and 25th last season.
Byfuglien, Myers and Trouba each offer the Jets big point shots, and Perreault’s playmaking skills along the boards added a dimension. Ladd and Little showed an ability to convert rebounds.
The penalty kill excelled early in the season before succumbing to overwork, with Winnipeg allowing the most power-play opportunities in the League. But it managed to remain in the top half of the NHL after a 10th-place finish last season.
James Wisniewski -- The veteran defenseman was the big piece at the trade deadline who was supposed to boost the power play and provide grit. The latter might be the more important aspect because Wisniewski blocks shots, makes hits and has an active stick, all things that translate to playoff success. If he can provide anything on offense, it will be a bonus.
Wisniewski has 24 games of playoff experience. He was on the 2009 Ducks who upset the top-seeded San Jose Sharks in the first round and took the Detroit Red Wings to Game 7 in the second round. He knows what it takes to win and is willing to make the necessary sacrifices. That warrior approach should rub off on their young defensemen. Wisniewski must stay healthy because his playing style leaves him vulnerable to injury, and he must stay disciplined.
Dustin Byfuglien -- When Byfuglien is at the top of his game he can be as dominant as any defenseman in the NHL. His heavy shot from the point generates a lot of rebounds that Jets forwards are able to turn into goals. His 6-foot-5, 265-pound frame made the corners and the slot in the Winnipeg zone punishing places to be for opposing forwards.
Byfuglien had an upper-body injury in March that put him out of the lineup, and a four-game suspension for a cross-check sidelined him for the final push to a playoff spot.
His workload decreased since Myers arrived Feb. 11, but Byfuglien is capable of playing 25- 30 minutes per game, especially if some of the time is on the power play.
DUCKS WILL WIN IF … They stick to their system and let the opposition adjust to them. This wasn't the case the past two playoffs. The Red Wings forced Boudreau into unnecessary changes in the 2013 first round, and the Dallas Stars' agitators got under Anaheim's skin in last season's first round series, which went six games.
It would help if Anaheim found a definitive lineup instead of the constant rotation and audition among its forwards. They might notice that the Kings and Chicago Blackhawks hardly change their lineup and primarily are concerned with their game, not the opposition's.
When it is fully engaged, Anaheim can create as good a forecheck as any team in the League, and its goaltending can mask a lot of deficiencies. If these things fall into place, there's no reason the Ducks won't prevail.
JETS WILL WIN IF … Their physical, high-intensity style has put them in penalty trouble for much of the season. They are 9-10-5 when allowing five or more power plays in a game. Given their style and lack of playoff experience, the Jets could be at risk of penalty trouble. Avoiding that will be crucial.
Pavelec continuing to play at a level close to what he did in the stretch run is vital. He can be a streaky goaltender, and a bad goal or two has derailed his game in the past. The 27-year-old has never played in a playoff game, and he has not had postseason action of any kind since he won the Calder Cup in 2007. He will need to find a balance.
Written by Corey Masisak, Curtis Zupke and Patrick Williams