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Pacific: Ducks facing make-or-break road trip

by John Kreiser
Anaheim got its season back on track after a poor start at home by winning four in a row on the road. If the Ducks are going to make the playoffs, another big week on the road following some up-and-down play at home is vital.

The Ducks are just 19-17-2 at Honda Center, 12th among 15 teams in the West, after a 4-1 win against Colorado on Sunday moved them into ninth in the conference standings. But with their 20th road win Tuesday at Edmonton -- tied for the second-most in the conference -- they have big hopes for the rest of this week's road swing, which continues with stops in Vancouver and San Jose.

"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."

Anaheim has had an erratic season at home -- including a 5-3 loss to Edmonton last Friday in which they outshot the Oilers, 54-20. However, they're now 7-1-1- in their previous nine games away from Honda Center.

"Sometimes it seems we're a little more confident on the road than at home because probably it takes a little pressure away," said goalie Jonas Hiller, who made 31 saves Tuesday against the Oilers and is fourth in the League in goals-against average (2.24) and fifth 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."

With three points separating the seventh-place from No. 11 Edmonton in the West, the Ducks can't afford any more missteps like the loss to the Oilers, in which they allowed four goals before the second period was three minutes old.

"Any given night you can move from seventh place to 10th place," rookie forward 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."

Montoya eager -- Five years ago, Al Montoya was a hot property -- an 18-year-old goalie who had led the United States to the gold medal at the World Junior Championship and the No. 6 pick in the 2004 Entry Draft by the New York Rangers.

Montoya still has his gold medal, and he's still a goalie. But instead of becoming a star in New York, he's hoping for the opportunity to re-launch his career with the Phoenix Coyotes, who traded for him last year and recently called him up for his first taste of the NHL.

"This is what I have been preparing towards for four years and there is no better time than now," said Montoya, who was recalled by the Coyotes last week from their American Hockey League team in San Antonio. "When that chance comes, I will be ready."

Coach Wayne Gretzky has said Montoya likely will make his NHL debut against Colorado on April 1.

"It's a good time for us to take a look at some of the other guys and give them an opportunity," Gretzky said. "We haven't seen him a lot, but I thought he had a pretty good training camp. We were happy with the camp he had and I have been told in the last month that he has played really well in San Antonio, so we will give him an opportunity."

Montoya's numbers at San Antonio weren't great (7-17-2, 3.23 goals-against average), but he was 3-2-0 with a 1.50 GAA and a .944 save percentage in his last six starts, stopping 134 of the 142 shots he faced in that span.

Once he makes his first start, he will become the first Cuban-American to play in the NHL.

"It's exciting," said Montoya, a self-described athletic goaltender who was acquired with Marcel Hossa from the Rangers for Fredrik Sjostrom, David LeNeveu and Josh Gratton by Coyotes GM Don Maloney, who was with the Rangers when Montoya was drafted. "The plan was to be up here earlier, but I am up here now and I am going to take advantage of it."

Huskins hits the road -- Lost in the plethora of Trade Deadline Day acquisitions was the move by the San Jose Sharks to add defenseman Kent Huskins from Anaheim -- mostly because Huskins has been injured and has yet to play a game for San Jose. Until recently, Huskins hasn't been able to practice due to the lower-body injury that kept him out since Dec. 31.

"When you get traded you want to contribute and I've been watching from the sidelines," said Huskins, a member of the Ducks' 2007 Stanley Cup championship team. "I'm a little anxious to get back."

Huskins still isn't ready to play, but he climbed another hurdle this week when he traveled with the Sharks for games at Calgary and Edmonton. That's a big thing for any new player, since a lot of the bonding that helps make a collection of players into a team takes place on the road.

"I'm going on the trip, and it's a little exciting," the 29-year-old blueliner said before the Sharks left Sunday night. "I'm just ready to be around the team a little more. I'll be taking in all the practices, skating with the guys, going to the meals and hanging out at the hotel. That is where the bonding takes place. It's been a little frustrating, but everyone here has made the transition easy."

Even Huskins' new coach doesn't know him well.

"A lot of guys are anxious to get to know Kent," Todd McLellan said. "It's been hard even for me to get to know him."

The one thing that's helped Huskins is that he didn't come from Anaheim by himself -- forward Travis Moen also was part of the deal, and that has helped with the transition.

"That made things a little easier," Huskins said. "The guys here have been awesome, but it helped knowing one guy really well."

There's no date set for Huskins' Sharks debut, but the fact that he's at least traveling with the team means it's getting closer.

"I'm getting my strength and all the pain is gone," Huskins said. "I could be ready pretty soon."

No quit in L.A. -- It's all but certain to be another playoff-less spring in Los Angeles, but that doesn't mean the Kings are giving up. As they showed during a six-game road trip that ended with a 2-3-1 record following a 4-3 overtime loss in Nashville, the Kings are still working hard for every point.

"We're not going to quit just because things don't look good for the playoffs," said defenseman Jack Johnson, whose goal with 1:04 left in regulation forced overtime at Nashville. "We try hard in every game, and we're not just going to throw in the towel. There's seven games left and we'd like to win all seven -- even if things aren't looking great for us."

With 73 points following Tuesday's loss to Dallas, the Kings already have surpassed their total for all of last season, when they were last in the West and tied Tampa Bay for the fewest points in the NHL. New coach Terry Murray has gotten his young team to buy into his defense-first system and is delighted with the work ethic his kid-filled lineup is showing.

He has no intention of letting up, even with playoff hopes all but gone, and feels playing hard all the way through Game 82 can yield nothing but good things for next season.

"You've got to keep going; these are playoff kind of games for us," Murray said after the Nashville game. "Playing against a team like Nashville, they're showing their best and you have to be able to handle the intensity and the work and the pace of the game. When you learn how to work that way on a consistent basis, it's going to help you as you get to grow and to become a team next year."

Ice chips -- The Anaheim Ducks completed their first season sweep of Colorado with a 4-1 win at Honda Center on March 29. Anaheim won all four meetings -- the first time that's happened since the Avs franchise moved to Denver from Quebec in 1995. ... Anaheim signed defenseman Mark Mitera to a three-year, entry-level contract after the University of Michigan was eliminated from the NCAA playoffs. Mitera, a senior captain with the Wolverines and the Ducks' 2006 first-round pick, will report to Iowa of the AHL. ... Los Angeles assigned defenseman Thomas Hickey to AHL Manchester for the rest of their season after his junior team, the Seattle Thunderbirds, lost in five games to the Spokane Chiefs in the first round of the WHL playoffs March 28. Hickey, picked No. 4 in the 2007 Entry Draft, appeared in 262 games with Seattle in his four junior seasons, totaling 39 goals, 138 assists, a plus-73 rating and 208 penalty minutes. ... Rookie Jonathan Quick has been carrying the load in goal for the Kings. Entering Tuesday's game against Dallas, he had started 26 of Los Angeles' last 30 games. ... San Jose set a franchise record for most points in a season by beating Phoenix, 3-2, March 28. The two points gave San Jose 109, one more than the previous franchise record, set last season. ... With most college teams' seasons done, San Jose didn't waste much time getting two players under contract. The Sharks signed defenseman Nick Petrecki, their 2007 first-round pick who played two seasons at Boston College, as well as free-agent defenseman Joe Loprieno, who played three seasons at Merrimack. ... Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley sat out Saturday's game against Florida with a lower-body injury, snapping a team-high streak of 157 straight games played. He is listed as day-to-day. ... Dallas signed goaltender Richard Backman to an entry-level deal after Backman played two seasons with Colorado College. He was the NCAA Freshman of the Year in 2007-08; in 2008-09, he appeared in 35 games, going 14-11-10 record with a .914 save percentage, a 2.63 GAA and three shutouts. ... Phoenix forward Brian McGrattan will have shoulder surgery Wednesday and miss the rest of the season. He was injured in the Coyotes' game against Anaheim on March 19. ... Coyotes defenseman Ken Klee scored his first goal in more than a year when he connected in the second period of a 3-2 home win against Edmonton on March 26. Klee hadn't scored since Feb. 28, 2008, when he was a member of the Atlanta Thrashers.

Material from wire services and team Web sites was used in this report.

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