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With one goal deciding each of the three playoff games between the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild, this series could have been much closer than it is. Instead, the Ducks can complete a sweep of the Wild on Tuesday to advance to the Western Conference semifinals.
Stellar defense and strong goaltending by Ilya Bryzgalov and Niklas Backstrom have defined this series, but it has been Bryzgalov's Ducks that have come out on top in each contest. Anaheim took a 3-0 series lead with Sunday's 2-1 victory at Xcel Energy Center.
Bryzgalov has started all three playoff games in place of Jean-Sebastian Giguere, who was the team's No. 1 goalie for most of the season, but missed the final three games of the regular season due to a medical problem with his son.
While Giguere is back with the team, Bryzgalov has been solid - he's allowed more than two goals only once in his last 10 games - and likely will start again Tuesday as Anaheim tries to close out the Wild. He recorded 19 saves - his fewest of the series - on Sunday and the only goal he allowed came with 38.2 seconds to play with the Ducks short-handed.
That goal from Petteri Nummelin is Minnesota's only one in 15 power plays in this series.
"It's a credit to our guys who have spent a lot of time working on it, studying them and what they do," said Anaheim's Andy McDonald. "They've been good all year, and they showed again tonight we are able to be successful on the penalty kill."
McDonald scored with the man advantage for his first point of the series and Rob Niedermayer also had a goal. Chris Pronger assisted on both goals for the Ducks, who had not won at Xcel Energy Center since May 12, 2003 - a span of six games.
While Anaheim has gone 3-for-11 with the man advantage, the Wild hope to get their power play on track after ranking sixth-best in the NHL during the regular season at 18.9 percent (72-of-380).
"Our power play is not doing well at all," Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. "We're not giving them a lot of five on five. I think our special teams made the difference."
The Wild had the second-best power-play conversation rate at home in the NHL this season, and believed the change of venue would help them recover after losing the first two games in Anaheim. Minnesota, however, still has been unable to adjust to the Ducks defense led by Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, and its offensive effort Sunday was probably the weakest of the series.
The Wild's 20 shots were their fewest of any of the first three games.
"Everyone was saying, 'Shoot the puck! Shoot the puck!' on the bench and then they went back on the ice and they didn't shoot it," Lemaire said. "The guys recognized the mistakes we were making and couldn't adjust."
Minnesota's top scorers have struggled against the Ducks, providing little support for Backstrom, who recorded 17 saves on Sunday and has a .910 save percentage during the series.
Brian Rolston, who had a team-high 31 goals and 64 points this season, has failed to record a point in the series. Pavol Demitra and Marian Gaborik have been held to a combined two goals and two assists after accounting for 55 goals and 121 points during the regular season.
"They're all over the place. It seems like there were 10 guys with white jerseys on out there tonight," Gaborik said, later adding: "It seems like there's no room at all. You get time for a little bit, then they're right on you. They were just taking away everything."
Lemaire's team will have to quickly adjust if the Wild hope to prolong the series. With a win Tuesday, Anaheim will advance to the second round for the second consecutive year and fourth time in team history. If not, the teams resume play on Thursday back at the Honda Center.