Despite a marathon season of highlight-reel scoring, an unprecedented home record and clock beating wins, the strength of the Anaheim Ducks‘ season will be measured with a final sprint for the Pacific Division title; a win most see as next to necessary for the Ducks to find success in the postseason.
While teams like the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins have the luxury of an almost secure spot to win their respective conferences as they cruise to the start line of the playoffs, the struggle to string along wins post-Olympic break has left the Ducks in an unpredictable position.
Although Anaheim led the NHL in points for majority of the year, a shakeup trade of Dustin Penner and an injury to blue line natural Cam Fowler has created murky waters for the once nearly-flawless roster. The Ducks dropped from their reigning spot atop the NHL leader board and now hold second place in the Pacific Division, one huge point behind the first-place San Jose Sharks.
Judging teams and their playoff capabilities two weeks prior to the regular season’s close is a cautionary tale. Teams that don’t have to find wins every night tend to take a skate back in the name of self-preservation and maintaining a healthy roster. While teams clawing for Wild Card positions tend to tighten defensive angles, shoot the puck more frequently and end up posing as a real threat — not to say Wild Card teams can’t win the Stanley Cup.
In fact, the Los Angeles Kings became one such team when they went from eighth seed to Stanley Cup champions in a matter of 16 victories during the 2012 playoffs. And it’s the Kings once more who pose a threat in the opening round to the Ducks if they fail to capture the Pacific.
Statistically, Anaheim has bested Los Angeles by winning three of the teams’ four matchups this season. But the Kings’ defensive edge is rightfully feared in the postseason. And for a team like Anaheim, currently struggling to find that once never-ending offensive power, the rivalry matchup best be avoided.
The Kings also made it to the Western Conference Finals last year, while the Ducks were ousted in the first round by the Detroit Red Wings.
Does Anaheim have what it takes to beat Los Angeles in the first round of the playoffs? Yes. Despite injury and slightly controversial trades, do the Ducks have what it takes to still win the Stanley Cup? Absolutely. But will this team find the confidence they once dominated the NHL with before it’s too late? Well, only time and a few points left to fight for can determine that.