Ride the Lightning
As Ducks fans, we're suddenly doing something we never thought possibly a couple of months ago.
No, not just watching our team win at an alarming pace, but suddenly doing some serious scoreboard watching as the Ducks look to make this incredible climb into playoff position.
While the Ducks were 20 points out of the eighth spot as of the morning of January 6, they have gone on a 15-2-4 run over their last 21 games, the most recent being an impressive 2-0 shutout of the Panthers in Florida on Sunday. ("It's made with bits of real panther, so you know it's good.") Anaheim has gotten to within five points of the eighth spot over that stretch, but still has plenty of work left.
That's because the Ducks are crammed into a typically packed Western Conference in which everybody seemingly beats up on everybody else night after night (including an abundance of three-point games that finish in either OT or shootout). They're battling alongside teams like LA, Dallas, Colorado and MInnesota to get into that top eight, with Phoenix and Calgary holding onto playoff spots by a thread.
Should the Ducks win tonight in Tampa Bay (4:30 Pacific puck drop) they would get within three points (three points!) of that eighth spot -- incredible considering where they were six weeks ago. But that could be short-lived as the NHL schedule tonight also includes Dallas at Montreal, Edmonton at Calgary, and LA at Phoenix.
All that being said, you better believe the rest of the West is well aware of the charging Ducks (tip of the cap to Eric Stephens for the "Objects in the mirror are indeed closer than they appear" line in the OC Register over the weekend).
"It's nice to get to the 60-point plateau because then you can at least see the guys and the distance," Bruce Boudreau said in the wake of that win in Florida. "It still a long ways away."
Indeed, the Ducks have been winning, but they need to keep winning, starting with tonight in Tampa, where the Lightning are engaged in their own battle for playoff position in the East (six points short of eighth).
The Ducks will go with the hottest goalie in the league in Jonas Hiller, who just took NHL first star of the week honors with a 3-0-1 record, 0.98 goals-against average, .961 save percentage and one shutout. Meanwhile, the Lightning are likely to start former King Mathieu Garon (18-15-4, 2.84 GAA), who has been in there for all but two games in the last month, as veteran Dwayne Roloson (8-11-2, 3.67 GAA) has struggled.
Anaheim will look to put a lid on Steven Stamkos, whose 40 goals leads the NHL by a mile. "He can really skate, so he can do it from your end to the other end," Boudreau said this morning. "At the same time, he's got a beautiful release on his shot, so you can't give him any space from the blue line in." Tampa's second leading goal-scorer, Vinny Lecavalier, is out indefinitely with an "upper body injury" that emerged in yesterday's practice.
One guy who will be in the Ducks lineup for the first time in awhile is Devante Smith-Pelly, who Boudreau said will be in the lineup tonight after recovering from the foot injury suffered in late December at the World Juniors. With Pelly in there, here are the lineups the Ducks flashed at today's morning skate:
It's stop 7 of 8 on this marathon road trip, which the Ducks need to finish off strong (they're 4-0-2 so far) to keep hope alive. "So far, it's gone as good as anybody could have expected," Boudreau said. "But you'd like to be able to say that at the end of the trip."
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Great news for Ducks season ticket holders who are looking to renew next season: We've just announced that season tickets for next year will either be decreased or remain the same as they were this season. The average season ticket price will decrease 4.8%, while reductions could be as high as 35% per ticket. Among Ducks season ticket holders, 40% will see a reduction in price, with 60% remaining flat to this season.
Click here for more on that.