The Anaheim Ducks locked up a playoff berth with a win in their latest game, but they may not know their opponent until the final day of the regular season.
With a victory in their finale, though, they can remove one potential heavyweight from the equation.
On Saturday night, the Ducks can ensure themselves no worse than the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference as they visit the Phoenix Coyotes, who will conclude a seventh consecutive season without a trip to the playoffs.
Anaheim (42-33-6) was in 12th place in the West before facing Nashville on March 18, but turned its season around starting that night. The Ducks beat the Predators 4-3 in overtime, kick-starting a 10-2-0 run that has made them one of hockey's hottest teams.
Anaheim wrapped up a spot in the West's top eight on Friday, knocking off Dallas 4-3 in a shootout to eliminate potential spoiler Minnesota and pull even with St. Louis at 90 points apiece.
"We've been playing like a playoff team the last month," said forward Teemu Selanne, who scored the shootout winner. "I think we just woke up at the last second."
The Blues and Ducks have one game left - St. Louis wraps up its season Sunday at last-place Colorado - but Anaheim will ensure itself no worse than seventh if it can beat Phoenix (35-39-7) by virtue of having more wins than the Blues.
That would pit the Ducks against defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit, but allow them to avoid top-seeded San Jose. Anaheim is 1-3-0 against the Red Wings and 2-4-0 against the Sharks.
It can still move up to sixth - and a first-round matchup with Vancouver or Calgary - with a win and a Columbus regulation loss against the Wild on Saturday.
Goaltender Jonas Hiller has been stellar during the Ducks' hot streak, going 8-1-0 with a 2.34 goals-against average, and he's been outstanding this season against the Coyotes. Anaheim lost its first meeting with Phoenix 4-2 on Oct. 12 with Jean-Sebastien Giguere in net, but Hiller is 4-0-0 with a 1.72 GAA and a shutout versus the Coyotes, including two wins in the past three weeks.
He's won six straight starts against Phoenix dating back to March 22, 2008.
The Coyotes have had nothing to do other than play spoiler for a few weeks, but in their most recent game they turned in one of their more impressive performances of the season.
All San Jose needed to do was earn a victory at home on Thursday night to clinch the Presidents' Trophy, but rookie Al Montoya made 40 saves in his fourth NHL start to help the Coyotes post a stunning 4-1 win.
"You knew they were going to come out flying, (because) this is their biggest night," said Montoya, who has allowed one goal or fewer in three of his four starts. "It feels good coming into a building like this with a playoff-like hockey environment. The atmosphere was unreal. I just wanted to go out there and prove myself."
Shane Doan, who leads the Coyotes with 31 goals and 71 points, has scored in two of Montoya's starts. He's had no problem scoring against Anaheim, notching five goals in five games.
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