While the Wings are clearly the elite team in hockey, simply “turning it on” in the playoffs always comes with hazards. If they hope to use the first round to shape into form—rather than using the last few games of the regular season—they could be in for a rough experience. The Anaheim Ducks are not the ideal first round opponent for a 2-seed. If the season were to end today, the Wings would have the uncomfortable task of starting off the playoffs with quite a battle. Anaheim struggled mightily to open the season which is the main reason that it finds itself fighting for a playoff spot. The Ducks—of course—won the Stanley Cup in 2007 and finished with 100+ points in each of the last two seasons. They are led by the same group of players that led them to the Cup less than two years ago. The Ducks have one of the most potent top lines in the NHL with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. The trio has scored 32 points in Anaheim’s last six games. Of course, Teemu Selanne, Chris Pronger, and the Niedermayers—the stalwarts largely responsible for the Cup in ’07—give Anaheim one of the deepest teams in the NHL.
Anaheim is 10-2 in its last 12 games. Over that span, it has scored 3.91 goals per game and allowed 2.42 goals per game—both significantly better than its season averages. The Ducks are clearly improved from what we saw out of them last November. Jonas Hiller’s ascension to the starting goaltender role has been a significant improvement over the sometimes spectacular, often erratic Jean Sebastian Giguerre. Selanne missed a number of games with various injuries including a nasty leg wound. Ryan spent the first part of the season in the minors and really didn’t start turning it on until the New Year. A lot has happened since the start of the year the least of which is Anaheim turning into a team you don’t want to play in the playoffs. The Wings should beat Anaheim. I think they would beat Anaheim. I just fear that the impact of the Anaheim series could be felt well past the first round—assuming the Wings emerge victorious—especially if the route to the cup eventually includes Vancouver and/or Calgary and/or San Jose. Columbus, St. Louis, and even Chicago would make for a much more hospitable first round opponent. So, along with heading to Comerica Park on Friday and Michigan Stadium on Saturday, I’ll be spending the last weekend of the NHL regular season rooting for one of those teams to sneak into the #7-spot. According to playoffstatus.com, there is only a 37% chance that will happen.