In case you missed it last night, the Phoenix Coyotes wiped out the Nashville Predators in five games to earn their first-ever berth in the Western Conference Finals and a series with the Kings.
It's a testament to the strength of the Pacific Division that those two teams have advanced to the NHL's version of the Final Four. Sure, this year's division champ (Phoenix) had a lower point total than the other division winners (Vancouver and St. Louis). But the three-way battle for that division title (which included San Jose) wasn't decided until the last day of the regular season, and it's largely due to fact that each of the Pacific's teams beat up on each other all year.
For example, the Ducks went 3-3-0 against the Coyotes this season, and 5-1-0 against the Sharks, who finished seventh in the Western Conference. (Although, Anaheim was a disappointing 1-3-2 versus LA this campaign.)
While both Western Conference finalists are considered "division rivals" of the Ducks -- and there is unquestionable disdain between the Ducks and Kings, not to mention Ducks/Sharks -- it's pretty hard to hate the Coyotes. As a hockey fan, how do you not root for Phoenix (as long as they're not playing the Ducks), when you consider the distractions they've overcome to become among the class of the Western Conference?
For the past several years, the team has endured bankruptcy (ultimately being purchased by the NHL in 2009) and constant rumors of being relocated to other cities, including the likes of Winnipeg, Quebec, Hamilton, Ont., and Seattle. Through it all, they've managed to win hockey games -- a lot of hockey games. Since making the change behind the bench to former Dallas coach Dave Tippett, the team has made the playoffs each of the last three seasons. Now they've advanced the conference finals for the first time since they entered the NHL as the Winnipeg Jets in 1979.
(Plus they used to have Bryz, and we've always liked Bryz.)
You would get no argument in proclaiming that yesterday was the best day in Phoenix Coyotes history. In the afternoon before Game 5 against the Preds, they held a press conference in which NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the team would be purchased by a group led by Greg Jamison, former CEO of the Sharks. Not only that, the intent of that ownership group will be to keep the team in its current home in Glendale.
A few hours later, the Yotes took down Nashville 2-1 in front of a sellout crowd at Jobing.com Arena in which everyone wore white. (Well, almost everybody. I believe you may recognize Mr. and Mrs. Tennis Ball, whom you can see during every Ducks game at Honda Center? They apparently made the road trip for this one.)
With the Kings having pulled off a mildly surprising sweep of the No. 2-seeded Blues on Sunday, we've got what should be a thrilling Western Conference Final that will start sometime this weekend (schedule won't be released until later this week).
What sounds better to you? Stanley Cup Champion Phoenix Coyotes or Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings?
I think I know the answer but give us an answer below anyway and feel free to elaborate in the Comments.
Bruce Boudreau is currently writing a playoff blog for the LA Times, in which he begrudgingly admits he likes the Kings (currently up 2-0 in their conference semifinal series with St. Louis) to come out of the West:
It’s hard to say this, but the most impressive team so far has been the Kings. I’ve said from the beginning of the playoffs, they are as well-rounded a team as there is right now. Darryl [Sutter] does a really good job implementing his system and makes great adjustments during the course of a game. It’s quite a battle when you face them.
Boudreau writes that he believes it will be Kings-Rangers for the Cup.
In case you didn't already know, six Ducks are playing in the IIHF World Championships IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships, which will be played May 4-20.
Bobby Ryan, Cam Fowler and Kyle Palmieri will skate for USA, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf with Canada and Luca Sbisa with Switzerland. While the preliminary and quarterfinal rounds of the tournament will be split between sites in Helsinki, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden, all six of the Ducks will only be playing at games in Helsinki at Hartwall Arena. The semifinal and medal round games will also take place exclusively in Helsinki.
Here's a schedule of the games involving the Ducks. Games involving Team USA (including Saturday's match with Team Canada) will be televised on NBC Sports Network. We'll be providing coverage (including video highlights) on AnaheimDucks.com as well as our Facebook and Twitter.
Our Ducklings in Syracuse hit a bump in the road in the Calder Cup Playoffs when they fell 5-1 at St. John's (Winnipeg affiliate) last night in Game 3 of their first round series. The Crunch trails two games to one in the five-game series, hoping to prolong a season in which they finished a blazing 15-3-1-1 to earn a postseason berth.
Winger Kyle Palmieri was a part of that run (despite spending part of it up with the Ducks) and had an outstanding season in Syracuse, scoring 33 goals in 51 games. I spent some time with on the phone with the bright and affable Palmieri this morning, and you can read that Q&A here.
The Kings' first-round ouster of the Presidents' Trophy-winning Canucks had to remind Ducks fans of their team gloriously doing the same thing to the Sharks back in the 2009 playoffs. And LA making it to the second round is just one piece of a pretty unorthodox Western Conference Semifinals round.
Just imagine your reaction if three years ago -- that same year the Ducks took down SJ and nearly got past Detroit -- someone had told you that the Kings, Coyotes, Blues and Predators would be the final four teams in the West. That year, only St. Louis made the postseason, and the Yotes and Kings were 13th and 14th in the conference (each 12 points behind Anaheim in eighth).
It's all a testament to the parity brought on by the post-lockout salary cap era in the NHL, as each of these teams took down some pretty heavy hitters in the first round, all in five games. Along with LA taking out last year's Western Conference champs, St. Louis got by the Sharks, Phoenix knocked off Chicago in a series in which the first four games all went to OT, and Nashville handed Detroit a five-game defeat (the Wings' hadn't lost in the first round since 2006).
Meanwhile, this comes courtesy of STATS LLC (and passed on by Thomas LaRocca of FoxSportsWest.com):
The last time a conference semifinal round had zero teams with a previous Stanley Cup title was the 1983-84 postseason (the semifinal teams in the Campbell Conference that season were the Blues, North Stars, Oilers, and Flames).
2011-12 Western Conference semifinalists
142-170 all-time in postseason games.
24 postseason series wins all-time.
Advanced to Stanley Cup finals three times (1967-68, 1968-69, and 1969-70)
73-114 all-time in postseason games.
12 postseason series wins all-time.
Advanced to Stanley Cup finals once (1992-93)
18-27 all-time in postseason games.
2 postseason series wins all-time.
Furthest postseason advancement = 2nd Round (2010-11 and 2011-12)
36-73 all-time in postseason games.
3 postseason series wins all-time.
Furthest postseason advancement = 2nd Round (1984-85, 1986-87, and 2011-12)
Combined all-time postseason records for Blues, Kings, Predators, and Coyotes/Jets: 269-384. Here's another look at it.
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Just came across this beauty of a Fox promo for the NHL Playoffs on the Grantland website. There are no words.
I got this email over the weekend, a nice reminder of what guys like Teemu and Saku, and the Ducks organization, mean to people:
I wanted to write and say thanks for the work you do on your blog -- we don't hear much from the media out here in terms of what's happening with the Ducks, so being able to check out the message board, news links, and your blog have been really great!
My brother and I were in Anaheim from March 23rd to the 30th. He was a part of the teacher's convention that had been happening that week at the Convention Centre, and we wanted to do as many things as possible while we were there, including Disneyland & going to the Bruins and Sharks games at the Honda Center. It was spring break week for us (I work with kids who have disabilities and special needs as a teacher's assistant), and what a week it was! We had an amazing time there! Watching the sun rise over the Anaheim Hills in the morning, a California tan, hockey games, Disneyland, and fireworks every night....it doesn't get any better than that!!!
Honda Center staff, when they realized we were from Winnipeg, were terrific to us, and the fans sitting around us at the games were so welcoming and fun. We may be known as "Friendly Manitoba" out here, but Ducks fans are great, too! The last time we were in attendance at a game at "The Pond" was in 2001. It was an incredible feeling to be a part of the atmosphere again.
My family and I have known Teemu and Sirpa Selanne since Teemu started playing in Winnipeg. They lived on the same street as my aunt and uncle, and they were so much fun to get to know. We've been to Anaheim a few times since he and Sirpa have lived in California, and have connected with them. We weren't able to see Teemu play in Winnipeg when he came with the Ducks in December -- it's not easy to get tickets for games here -- most go to season tix holders, the rest are sold for higher than normal prices....so we figured that coming back to Anaheim was the way to go, and were happy it all worked out. It's much easier (and cheaper) to get tickets for games in places like Anaheim, Calgary, even Edmonton. It sounds crazy, but it's true. For us, spending the money to come to a place like Anaheim was totally worth it, and we would absolutely do it again.
We surprised Teemu after the practice at the Honda Center on the 24th...we made it just in time seeing as we had gone to Anaheim Ice first. He said he had been looking for us when he was in Winnipeg, and we were all disappointed that it hadn't worked out. I'm happy for him, and for his family, that coming back to Winnipeg was a good time for them. Seeing Teemu again & getting a chance to see him play live & score some great goals, together with having the opportunity to meet Saku Koivu, was terrific. Our dad passed away from kidney and liver cancer in 2008 after a long and hard fight -- Dad always thought of Saku as an inspiration with how he fought cancer and won -- so it was a real honor to be able to meet him.
I'm glad, too, for all of the hard work & visits the players & others in the organization do for all those who are sick in hospital and beyond. From someone who's been through it -- helping someone who is terminally ill -- it means an awful lot to see and hear about what goes on to put smiles on people's faces. I've seen the various videos from the website, and have read the stories together with my family. All of it puts some smiles on our faces, knowing that there are people out there who care.
Looking forward to reading more on your blog. All the best to you and the rest of the organization as you prepare for next season!
Michelle Enns & Jody Lagacy
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Players came and went throughout the day yesterday, having their meetings, signing various objects for charity (as somewhat captured in this video) talking with the media, and saying their goodbyes (hopefully for just the summer).
Here are a few items of note from the media sessions:
• Teemu Selanne didn't elaborate too much further from what he's already said about whether or not he'll come back for a 20th season. But he did say, "Obviously, there's a lot of question marks there. It comes automatically, the feeling, 'Is this over right now?' Mixed feelings. You still want to be in the playoffs and not finish the season there."
And he mirrored the sentiment of us all when he said, "It's going to be tough to watch the playoffs this year."
• Speaking of players considering retirement, Lubomir Visnovsky admitted he thought about it after enduring what he thought might be, "[the] worst season ever for me" after strugging with injuries all year. "I was very mad during the season because I [didn't] feel comfortable," he said. "My confidence was very low…[But] I want to play. I want to be here with my teammates."
• Two other Ducks played with injuries this year and will have that taken care of this offseason. Toni Lydman will have work done on his knee and Francois Beauchemin is scheduled to get a torn labrum repaired Thursday in LA.
• Saku Koivu addressed the fact that his contract is up this summer, and reiterated that he'd like to come back to the Ducks. "We've enjoyed it a lot," Koivu said of playing in Anaheim. "Everything that we looked for has happened except the success in the playoffs. When you're family's happy, you feel comfortable. I don't see a reason why I should go and look for something else.
“I want to be a part of something good. I want to be part of these guys [and] to make the playoffs and make a push there. I’m confident and I’m hoping that things will work out there in the next little while and we can hopefully be back for next year.”
Of impending contract talks, he said, "It’s too early to say right now. We’ll see. I’m confident we’ll get things done.”
• Bruce Boudreau spoke to reporters well after the meetings were over and remained his jovial self while remaining solemn over a season that ended without a postseason appearance, a rarity for him.
"It’s a very difficult time," he said, sporting a two-day-old beard growth on his face. "I’ve been lucky enough starting in juniors to be on seven championship teams. When you’ve tasted that, you want it every day. You get spoiled and then find out how difficult it is when that’s taken away. I don’t want that taken away. I want to live in that high-rent area again."
And he looked forward to his first training camp with this team. "They will be reminded about it every day in camp. We’ll have t-shirts or something. We’ll have reasons to remember it, whether it’s video or some other reminder that this isn’t going to happen again."
Boudreau will be on ESPN's SportsCenter on Wednesday night doing playoff analysis, as well as CBC's Hockey Night in Canada this weekend. Meanwhile, his other offseason plans are to just find something, anything, to do. "I know my wife will kick me out of the house anyhow, because I start to lose it. I’m pretty well born to be a hockey guy, and that’s what makes me work. Her to-do list is for me to get out of the house. Otherwise I just follow her around and it drives her nuts. If I’m at home for more than a day, I’m like a whipped puppy just following her around and going, “What are you doing, what are you doing?” She hates that. She’ll sit there and say, “Is there not a game of golf you can play somewhere?” She’s the only wife I know that wants you to go out and play golf. I’m lucky that way."
And more on next season: "When they come to camp, we want them to be prepared to go from the first day ... We’re going to be in shape, but it means that systematically and team-wise, we will be structured to know exactly what we’re going to do from the drop of the puck in game 1. You just look at the starts of the teams that I’ve been on. It’s a formula that works and it’s one that’s going to work again. If we have a good start, then we won’t be sitting talking like this at this time next year"
The Ducks will get a better idea of just how much a rookie could potentially impact them next season when the NHL Draft Lottery is held tonight at 5 p.m. Pacific. The Ducks have a 6.2% chance to win the lottery, which would move them up a maximum of four spots into the second slot.
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For a reminder or more cheerful times, the NHLPA just release this video that Bobby Ryan shot during the Skills Showdown back in February. Good stuff.
It's kind of like the last day of school here today at Honda Center -- always a somber occasion as the Ducks players come in to have one-on-one meetings with coaches and management, clean out their lockers, sign oodles of objects for our Community Relations purposes, spend some time with media and generally say goodbye for the summer.
This one is even a little more gloomy, as it comes on the heels of a mostly disappointing 2011-12 that ended last Saturday with a somewhat fitting 5-2 loss in Calgary. The only positive was Bobby Ryan scoring his 30th and 31st goals of the season, making him the only active player besides Alex Ovechkin (and the 16th all time) to score 30 in each of his first four NHL seasons.
But while we might reflect a little on that, and this frustrating Ducks season, today will be a lot about looking to the future -- and about one player in particular. For the sixth straight summer, we'll be wondering if we've seen the last of Teemu Selanne here, or whether he'll come back for at least one more season. He will certainly be asked about that by reporters when he's on his way out the door today, and it was a topic after that game (could it have been his last?) on Saturday.
"If this was my last game, that's fine. I can live with that," Selanne told reporters in the visiting locker room at Scotiabank Saddledome. "Obviously it's a little more tougher to swallow that we didn't make the playoffs. Because I really believe that we have a better team than we played this year. That's the toughest part. Everything else, I'm fine with."
Selanne led the Ducks in scoring with 66 points, and that along with his 26 goals kept him climbing up the NHL's all-time lists.
"I really do think that I can play well," Selanne said. "But, same hand, I don't know if you always have to play as long as you can. You know that it's going to end somewhere. "My dream always was that I can retire with my own terms. I'm healthy. And I (can) still enjoy the game and life after hockey."
(Ah, "same hand." I'm gonna miss that someday. Hopefully, not soon.)
And while Teemu's words might might not be the most encouraging to Ducks fans, Ryan provided some optimism with his remarks to the OC Register.
"There's nothing different to him alluding to it being his last game," Ryan said. "My gut feeling is that Teemu comes back and grants us another year. You never know. He's at an age where he's got four kids doing different things. They're all busy ... they're starting to drive and things like that."
(So...they can drive him to the rink then, right?)
We'll definitely cover that topic more today and in the days leading up to Teemu's self-imposed July 1 deadline (when NHL free agency officially opens.)
Keep an eye on AnaheimDucks.com, as well as our Twitter page and Facebook page for updates from today.
Some nice tweets from the players after the end of the season:
The games may have taken on a different meaning these days, but they can still make you leap off your couch and shout "OH MY GOD!!!" at the TV screen.
That was at least my reaction last night when Ryan Getzlaf did this:
(Could the Edmonton announcer be any less excited?) Getzlaf's breakaway backhand goal 1:12 into overtime not only gave the Ducks a nice 3-2 victory, but it was a shining light in a personal season the Ducks captain said recently he'd like to "forget about."
Getzlaf took more than a month to score his 10th goal of the season, but took only one game to score his 11th. This one made it easy to forget what Andrew Cogliano called, "a pretty bad game for us."
"J.D. was really good," Bruce Boudreau said of Jeff Deslauriers (24 saves), who earned the win against his former team. "And thank goodness that he was really good in his return to Edmonton. Because we weren't good. The fans did not get their money's worth today."
The Ducks were boosted by another former Oiler, Cogliano, who sniped one in from the right wing circle late in the second period. Then just 36 seconds later, Devante Smith-Pelly created a rebound in deep, and Bobby Ryan popped it in for his 29th of the year.
That opens the door for some intrigue in the Ducks' season finale tomorrow afternoon in Calgary. If Ryan scores a goal, that would give him 30 in each of his first four full NHL seasons. The only active NHLer who has done that is Alex Ovechkin and there are only 15 guys in the history of the league who have done it.
"It’s not something I’m thinking a lot about, but being able to reach that point every year for the first four seasons of a career would be a really cool thing," said Ryan in a chat we had a week ago. "But it really hasn’t weighed on my mind too much during this last little stretch. I’m starting to think about it more and how nice it would be, but it’s really an afterthought.
"It would be a cool number to reach, especially to be listed with a guy like him."
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Meanwhile, what the heck is going on with this guy's jersey last night? Is that a Mighty Ducks logo ironed onto an Oilers jersey?
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The Ducks may be out of the playoff picture, but there is still some intrigue in the Pacific Division, where the Sharks, Kings and Coyotes are all battling for the division title and third seed in the Western Conference.
After the Sharks beat the Kings, 6-5, in a shootout in LA last night (more on that in a sec), both teams have 94 points. But the Kings own the tiebreaker over San Jose based on ROW (regulation/overtime wins). The two teams play again in the regular season finale tomorrow night in San Jose. Meanwhile, Phoenix is one point back of them both and has games against St. Louis tonight and Minnesota tomorrow night. If they get three points in those two games, they take the division, the third seed and home ice in the first round.
Now, going back to last night's game, the Kings might have won it in regulation if the officials had seen what Ryan Clowe did late in the third period with the Kings on the power play. For some inexplicable reason, he reached onto the ice while still on the bench and touched the puck, disrupting a charge up the right wing by Jarret Stoll. The Kings went crazy when it happened, but somehow none of the four officials noticed it. A penalty would have given the Kings a two-man advantage. Take a look:
Honestly, if there is a more bizarre play this NHL season, I'd like to see it. And it was only topped by Clowe's reply to reporters when they asked him about it. "I have no idea what you guys are talking about," he said. "I'll have to see the video or something. Someone show me the video."
If the Ducks had snuck into the eighth spot, they would have likely faced the probable No. 1 seed Canucks, a team they seemed to have no trouble keeping up with last night. (They went 2-1-1 against Vancouver for, interestingly enough, the fourth straight season.)
Yes, they ultimately went down in a shootout and yes, they lost the lead three different times. But taking that team to a shootout in their building -- while chasing their go-to goalie in the second period -- showed once again how good this Ducks team can be (and could have been in this postseason).
Anaheim scored four times on 15 shots against Roberto Luongo, who has not enjoyed success against the Ducks in his career. He has a career 3.22 goal-against average against Anaheim, second-worst against any team, and his .894 save percentage vs. the Ducks is his worst career mark against a team. He had a 5.77 GAA in three games against Anaheim this season. And of course, there is this indelible moment in the '07 Playoffs.
Last night Luongo gave up goals to Perry, Smith-Pelly and Pelley (no, that's not confusing at all) and a mildly important one for Mr. Ryan Getzlaf.
The captain's wrist shot between Bobby Lu's wickets late in the first period gave him 10 goals in this mostly frustrating season. It was also the first time he sent the red light spinning since March 2.
“Yeah, I guess it’s gone,” Getzlaf told the OC Register, seemingly talking about a proverbial monkey on a proverbial back. “The other night at home, I felt like I was shooting the puck and couldn’t score if my life depended on it. Tonight was one of those where I kind of missed my shot. I think Lui was pretty [ticked] that I missed it as well.”
“That’s the new gameplan. Take a shot and shoot somewhere else, I guess.”Smith-Pelly's tap-in of a nice Bobby Ryan pass on the doorstep gave the Ducks a 4-2 lead that marked the end for Luongo. But the Ducks couldn't hold the lead and ultimately succumbed in the shootout when the 'Nucks scored on all three attempts against Jonas Hiller (who was reportedly heated afterwards).
The Ducks have a couple more chances to end this thing on a good note when they play the final two games at Edmonton tomorrow and finish 2011-12 on Saturday afternoon in Calgary.