Heading into the first round, it was tough to get a bead on the Anaheim Ducks because of injuries.
That’s not just the case because of all the games Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler (among others) missed during the regular season. Goalie John Gibson missed Anaheim’s final three games with an upper-body injury, and there were worries that he would be sidelined for Game 1 against the San Jose Sharks tonight.
NHL.com’s Dan Arritt reports that Gibson will indeed be in, backing up speculation from reporters including the Orange County Register’s Eric Stephens.
If healthy, Gibson could be a huge difference-maker for the Ducks.
The 24-year-old netminder stood as such in 2017-18, holding down the fort when the Ducks were especially besieged by injuries early in the season. The American-born goalie set career-highs despite some excellent under-the-radar work earlier in his career, winning 31 games and sporting a fantastic .926 save percentage.
On paper, he boasts just about as much potential to swing a series as any goalie in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]
Of course, there’s the concern that he won’t be at 100 percent.
Randy Carlyle is justified in rolling the dice because of how excellent Gibson is. That said, he also has the luxury to deploy one of the most proven backups of this postseason if Gibson does suffer a setback. Ryan Miller is an experienced goalie at 37, and despite that advanced age, he’s enjoyed one of his best seasons in quite some time, generating an outstanding .928 save percentage in 28 appearances.
Miller also heads into the postseason with his head held high, as he generated a 31-save shutout in his most recent appearance and is riding a four-game winning streak.
This “Battle of California” between the Sharks and Ducks is very tough to call. For all we know, Gibson could be the deciding factor in the series.
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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.