How The Anaheim Mighty Ducks Advanced
The first round NHL playoff series are all in the back half, and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks are the only team to have punched their ticket to the Division Finals, sweeping the Winnipeg Jets in four straight. Here’s how the Ducks did it…
It sounds trite, but their stars played like stars at the biggest moments and Game 1 set the tone. No Anaheim star shines brighter than Corey Perry, who won the MVP award in 2011. With Anaheim trailing 2-1 in the third period of Game 1, Perry scored twice and had an assist. In a league where #1 seeds, as the Ducks are in the West, regularly face trouble early, this kind of win was of no small importance.
The pattern of controlling the end of games continued throughout the series. Anaheim scored twice in the third period to get a 2-1 win in Game 1. They went on the road for Game 3 and tied the game with 2:14 left before winning 5-4 in overtime. Only in Game 4 did Anaheim have a lead entering the final period, at 2-1, and in this case they used the third period to put the game away. Three goals, two by Ryan Kesler, sealed their trip to the second round.
I think it’s noteworthy that Anaheim was able to win a series that was in “let them play mode” by the officials. No team ever got more than three power play chances in a single game. The Ducks took full advantage of their chances, scoring twice with the man advantage in Game 1 and again in Game 2.
What’s more important to me though, is that a team with a lot of offensive stars was able to succeed in 5-on-5 situations where the play was more physical. Too often in the NHL playoffs, we see teams with smooth-skating stars that stuffed stat sheets all season long get out of sorts when the physical intensity increases (yes, Pittsburgh Penguins, I’m referring to you). Simply beating Winnipeg doesn’t count as a major statement for Anaheim, but it was at least a positive sign.
Anaheim now awaits the winner of Calgary-Vancouver. Here’s the rundown on how all the first-round series look…
*Montreal holds a 3-1 lead on Ottawa and goes to clinch tonight (7 PM ET, CNBC). The Senators haven’t yet taken appropriate revenge for P.K. Subban’s vicious cheap shot in Game 1. If the Habs get control of this game and there’s nothing for the Senators left to lose, could this one get ugly?
*Tampa and Detroit are tied 2-2. The Lightning were my pre-playoffs pick to come out of the Eastern Conference, although I haven’t liked the way goalie Ben Bishop has responded to the pressure of his first postseason. I’m worried I might have jumped on Bishop a year too early, before he gets battle-tested. Game 5 goes Saturday (6 PM ET, NBCSN).
*The New York Rangers are up 3-1 on Pittsburgh and look to wrap it up tonight (7 PM ET, NBCSN). Recall that the Rangers rallied from 3-1 down to beat the Penguins in last year’s second round. Can the Pens return the favor? If not, they might owe fired head coach Dan Bylsma an apology for blaming him for repeated post-2009 playoff flameouts, when the construction of the roster–an excess of offense and lack of defense–is the problem.
*Washington is up 3-2 on the New York Islanders and Game 6 is Saturday (3 PM ET, NBC). The Caps are the team I am actually rooting for to win the Cup. I’m a Bruins fan, and don’t have a dog in the fight this year. But I lived in Baltimore for four years, knew Caps fans and consider them the most underrated fans in hockey. They’ve certainly suffered enough at this time of year.
*Minnesota and St. Louis are tied 2-2 and Game 5 is tonight (9:30 PM ET, NBCSN). The Wild was my upset pick of the first round and I’ll certainly stand with it.
*Chicago leads Nashville 3-2 and the series goes to the Windy City for Game 6 on Saturday night (8 PM ET, NBC). When the Preds blew a 3-0 lead in Game 1 and eventually lost in triple-overtime it was hard to see them winning the series. It’s tough enough to beat a team with all the championship players Chicago has without giving away games you have control of. It’s why I think the Blackhawks are coming out of the West.
Calgary is up 3-2 on Vancouver and the series resumes in the late spot on Saturday night (9 PM ET, NBCSN). The winner moves on to face Anaheim.