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GAME: Colorado Avalanche at Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference semifinals; Game 1.
TIME: Friday, 10:00 p.m. EDT.
As the sixth seed in the Western Conference, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks never expected to have home-ice advantage in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs.
But after the West's top four seeds were eliminated in the quarterfinals, the Mighty Ducks will host the seventh-seeded Colorado Avalanche in their semifinals opener.
Anaheim picked up the extra home game after eliminating No. 3 seed Calgary with a 3-0 road victory in Game 7 of their opening-round series Wednesday. Home ice could be critical since only three points separated Anaheim and Colorado, and all four games were decided by one goal.
Rookie goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who started in place of Jean-Sebastien Giguere in Games 1, 6 and 7, is a large reason the Ducks are in the conference semifinals for the first time since 2003. Bryzgalov turned aside 22 shots in the decisive game Wednesday and compiled a .968 save percentage and 0.80 goals-against average by stopping 90 of 93 shots in the series.
"An unbelievable job," said Ducks left wing Teemu Selanne, whose second-period goal snapped a scoreless tie. "Games 6 and 7, this was Bryzgalov's show and that's what winning takes."
The status of Giguere, who has a lower body injury, is uncertain for the series.
Selanne registered at least one point in the final six games of the series and had a team-high three goals. Defensively, Scott Niedermayer logged nearly 30 minutes per game and anchored a corps that helped limit the Flames to 16 goals in seven games.
"To come here and win in the seventh game is pretty exciting," said Niedermayer, who scored the game-winning goal in Game 6. "This is a tough building to win in."
Colorado is in the conference semis for the second straight postseason, but the ease in which the Avalanche disposed of the Dallas Stars - who had 112 points - was surprising. Goaltender Jose Theodore, a questionable trade deadline acquisition by general manager Pierre Lacroix, played well and clinched the series with a 50-save performance Sunday in a 3-2 overtime victory.
"He basically stole that game for us," said Avalanche center Jim Dowd, "especially in the overtime."
The Avalanche also had many timely goals, with nine of their 18 coming in the final five minutes of a period or in overtime. Joe Sakic, Andrew Brunette and Milan Hejduk each had seven points, and Sakic and Brunette netted two of Colorado's three overtime winners in the series.
"I thought their timing of the big goals was definitely there," said Colorado coach Joel Quenneville. "I think down the stretch, that line's been the one consistency in our game that's been really good."
Colorado also gets a boost with the return of Steve Konowalchuk, who has been out since Nov. 21 with a broken right wrist. But the gritty 33-year-old veteran rehabbed aggressively and was cleared to play by team officials Tuesday.
"He's so valuable not only on the ice but in the dressing room," said Sakic, a two-time Stanley Cup champion. "The way he plays, he plays hard, he's in front of the net creating havoc. It's huge for us to get him back at this time."
Konowalchuk had 15 points in 21 games before the injury, his best start in his 14 NHL seasons.
"He brings a ton of grit. He plays a simple game, a hard game, one that is hard to play against. And that's what we need," defenseman Rob Blake said.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Avalanche - 95 points; 7th seed. Mighty Ducks - 98 points; 6th seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Avalanche - Brunette and Sakic, 3 goals; Hejduk, 5 assists; Brunette, Hejduk and Sakic, 7 points; Alex Tanguay, 10 PIM. Mighty Ducks - Selanne, 3 goals and 6 points; Andy McDonald, 4 assists, Joffrey Lupul and Sean O'Donnell, 19 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Avalanche - Power play: 17.9 percent (5 for 28). Penalty killing: 83.9 percent (26 for 31). Mighty Ducks - Power play: 13.6 percent (6 for 44). Penalty killing: 86.0 percent (37 for 43).
GOALTENDERS: Avalanche - Theodore (4-1, 0 SO, 2.64 GAA); Peter Budaj (no appearances). Mighty Ducks - Bryzgalov (2-1, 1, 0.80); Giguere (2-2, 0, 3.88).
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Avalanche, 3-0-1. All four games were decided by one goal, and Anaheim claimed its lone win on a penalty shot goal in overtime March 22 by Jonathan Hedstrom. Brunette scored a pair of third-period goals, including the game-winner with 13:57 to play, as the Avalanche posted a 4-3 win in the most recent meeting March 28.
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