End of the Road
Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 9:08 AM PT
|More of this tonight, please.
An eight-game, 15-day road trip that once seemed never-ending, actually comes to a close tonight. And there is no better way for the Ducks to seal it off than with a win this evening in Carolina.
What was deemed a make-or-break journey two weeks ago has been mostly make, as the Ducks got on the plane at LAX nine points behind the eighth spot in the West. With a win tonight, they could cut it to as low as four (as current eight-place LA lost 4-1 to Colorado last night and Calgary could take over eighth with a win in Phoenix tonight).
The Ducks are a respectable 4-1-2 on the trip so far, and they could have easily won all of them. "We've had seven games on this road trip," Bruce Boudreau said today, "and you'd be hard pressed for me to think we shouldn't have won all seven."
Anaheim has been able to make up ground in the standings, despite mostly facing teams that aren't among those jockeying with the Ducks for playoff position. Of these eight games, only one (a 2-1 win last week in Minnesota) has come against the handful of teams battling for those remaining playoff spots. Instead, the Ducks have had to win (or get a point) and then scoreboard watch.
"We've got a chance again [tonight] to go forward and if we do that, we have 21 games left after that," Boudreau said. "It's a lot of divisional games and definitely a lot of Western Conference games. We'll be in good stead."
Right now the focus is on the Hurricanes, who will probably be looking for a little revenge on Anaheim after the way things ended two weeks ago at Honda Center. As you might recall, Corey Perry scored the game-winner in overtime after taking the puck away from Jussi Jokinen on a play where some thought there should have been a tripping call.
Despite that defeat, the Canes are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games (though still 15th in the East). They've won six of their last seven games at home, including the last three in a row. (Is there anyone on this trip that hasn't been absolutely killing it at home?)
A key for the Ducks tonight is starting strong, something that has eluded them on this trip, despite their relative success. The most recent example is a Stamkos 2, Ducks 0 hole in the first period in Tampa on Tuesday night. The Ducks dominated the Lightning the rest of the way, giving up only three shots in the third period. Against Carolina, a focused start is going to be even more critical.
"They are known for their first periods and their starts, and they come really hard and aggressive," Saku Koivu said. "We've got to be ready. Sometimes if you lose your focus a little bit on the road trips, it shows in the beginning of games and the first period. That's the one thing we've got to pay attention to now, to make sure we're ready for the first 10 or 15 minutes.
And then Koivu either intentionally or unintentionally decided to go with some Hurricanes wordplay. "We've got to weather the storm," he said, "and then I think we'll be fine after that."
Justin Peters will start in net for Carolina, as Cam Ward is still recovering from an injury. Peters will be making just his sixth appearance of the season (all since December 27) but had his first NHL shutout on Monday against Washington at home. The Ducks will of course go with Jonas Hiller, and this lineup (according to their skate):