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Ducks vs. Sharks: PHT 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

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This all-California battle seems to be flying under the radar, but this one should be a physical, back-and-forth series between two good teams.

After dropping three games in a row to Nashville, Dallas and St. Louis in early March, the Ducks managed to turn their game and their season around. That loss to the Blues came on Mar. 12, but they responded by winning five of their next six contests (5-0-1). The Ducks had a let-down game against a horrible Vancouver team on Mar. 27, but again, they were able to rattle off five wins in a row to close out the year.

Anaheim ended up finishing the season with fewer wins than San Jose, but their 44-25-13 record (101 points) was good enough to put them in second place in the Pacific Division, which means they’ll have home-ice advantage in the series. That’s good news for the Ducks, as they had a solid 26-10-5 record at the Honda Center.

Even though the Ducks finished with one more point than the Sharks, who had a 45-27-10 record (100 points), Anaheim came away with just one win during the four games between these two teams in 2017-18. San Jose may have won three of the four clashes, but most of these games were extremely close. Three of those four games were decided in a shootout. Only once did a team get blown out, and that was Anaheim when they fell 6-2 at home on Jan. 21.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

A few of San Jose’s top players got off to really rocky starts this season. Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Martin Jones struggled early on. Pavelski had just four goals and eight points in his first 19 games, but the 33-year-old still managed to finish with 22 goals and 66 points. Burns failed to score in his first 20 games and he racked up only seven points in his first 19 outings. Like Pavelski, Burns finished strong, as he had 67 points when it was all said and done. As for Jones, he lost his starting gig to Aaron Dell for a while, but he managed to get his game back together.

SCHEDULE:

FORWARDS: 

Anaheim: Rickard Rakell led the Ducks in scoring this season, as he had 34 goals and 69 points in 77 games. He had a great year, but the biggest reason why he led the team in the points department is because Ryan Getzlaf missed time due to injury. The Ducks captain had 61 points in just 56 contests. It was another disappointing season for Corey Perry, who failed to hit the 20-goal mark for the second year in a row (17 goals, 49 points in 71 games). Outside of Rakell, the other two Ducks that hit the 20-goal mark were Ondrej Kase and Adam Henrique. You all know about Ryan Kesler and how he’s capable of getting under the opposition’s skin. He has to stay healthy.

San Jose: Pavelski and Logan Couture (34 goals and 61 points) were the Sharks forwards that finished with the highest amount of points in 2017-18. San Jose also got valuable contributions from Tomas Hertl (22 goals and 46 points), Timo Meier (21 goals and 36 points) and Joonas Donskoi (32 points in 66 games). But the deadline acquisition of Evander Kane changed the game for them. Kane had nine goals and 14 points in 17 games after being traded from Buffalo on Feb. 26.

Advantage: A slight edge to the Sharks. The forward depth these two teams possess is fairly close. Getzlaf is probably the best forward on either side, but the Sharks have slightly more high-end options in Pavelski, Couture and Kane.

DEFENSE:

Anaheim: The Ducks have one of the deepest blue lines in the NHL, but they’re currently dealing with a significant injury. Cam Fowler suffered a shoulder injury earlier this moth. He’s expected to miss anywhere between two-to-six weeks, so it’s entirely possible that he misses the entire first round. Even without Fowler, Anaheim still has Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson and Brandon Montour. Veteran Kevin Bieksa, who isn’t as effective as he once was, is considered questionable with a hand injury.

San Jose: Burns is obviously the key piece of the blue line for the Sharks. He led the team in points and he averaged over 25 minutes of ice time per game during the regular season. Justin Braun (33 points) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (32 points) are the other important defensemen on the team. San Jose’s group of blue liners have the ability to move the puck as efficiently as any other team in the league.

Advantage: Sharks. If Fowler was healthy, this wouldn’t even be a discussion, but with him sidelined the gap has been closed. Burns, Vlasic and Braun have an edge over Linholm, Manson and Montour, but it isn’t as far as some may think. Again, things change on the blue line because of the Fowler injury.

GOALTENDING: 

Anaheim: John Gibson missed the final three games of the regular season because of an upper-body injury. Veteran backup Ryan Miller stepped in and did a solid job, but there’s no denying that Gibson is the best option for Anaheim. The 24-year-old was really good for the Ducks this season. He didn’t grab as many headlines as some of the other star goalies in the East, but there’s a legitimate argument to be made that he was Anaheim’s MVP in 2017-18 (he had a 31-18-7 record with a 2.43 goals-against-average and a .926 save percentage). It sounds like he could be ready for Game 1.

San Jose: As we mentioned earlier in this story, Jones had a tough start to the year but he bounced back down the stretch. The 28-year-old finished the season with a 30-22-6 record with a 2.55 goals-against-average and a .915 save percentage. He’s capable of playing solid games in the postseason (he had a 1.75 GAA and a .935 save percentage during last year’s playoffs), but that still wasn’t enough to get them out of the first round.

Advantage: Anaheim. Gibson has the ability to be the difference maker in this series. If he stays healthy and he continues to play like he did at times this season, he can propel the Ducks to the second round.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Anaheim: The Ducks weren’t so hot on the man-advantage this season, as they ranked 23rd in the league in that category. Of all the teams in the playoffs, only the Blue Jackets converted on the man-advantage less often than the Ducks. On the PK, things were a lot better for them. Anaheim had the fifth-best penalty-kill at 83.2 percent. Only Los Angeles, San Jose, Boston and Colorado were better in that category.

San Jose: As we just mentioned, the Sharks had the second-best PK unit in the entire NHL at 84.8 percent (they were just 0.2 percent away from matching the Kings). The Sharks were slightly better than the Ducks on the power play, but they still finished with the 16th ranked unit on the man-advantage (20.6 percent). Burns is the straw that stirs the drink on the power play.

Advantage: Sharks. They have a better penalty kill and power play. That’s significant, but there isn’t a huge gap between these two teams when it comes to special teams.

X-FACTOR:

Anaheim: Corey Perry can be a game-changer for the Ducks, but they need him to score more goals than he did during the regular season. If he regains that scoring touch, he could change things for the better. Perry had four goals and 11 points in 17 games during Anaheim’s run to the Western Conference Final last season.

San Jose: As we saw after the trade deadline, Kane made a huge difference for the Sharks. He was engaged, productive and he was one of their better players. He hasn’t played any playoff hockey in the NHL, so it’ll be interesting to see how he adapts to the postseason. The pending unrestricted free agent should be motivated to keep the ball rolling this spring.

PREDICTION:

Ducks in six games. These two teams are as evenly matched as any of the opponents going head-to-head in the first round. San Jose may have a slight edge up front, on defense (with now Fowler) and on special teams, but the Ducks have similar quality. They aren’t too far behind the Sharks in those categories. Anaheim has a net advantage between the pipes and they also have experience on their side. They managed to get to the Western Conference Final last season, and they have the ability to do that again this year.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

WATCH LIVE: Dallas Stars at Anaheim Ducks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Friday, as the Anaheim Ducks host the Dallas Stars at 10 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

PROJECTED LINEUPS

STARS
Jamie BennTyler SeguinBrett Ritchie
Remi ElieRadek FaksaAlexander Radulov
Antoine RousselJason SpezzaMattias Janmark
Gemel SmithDevin ShoreTyler Pitlick

Esa LindellJohn Klingberg
Marc MethotGreg Pateryn
Dan HamhuisJulius Honka

Starting goalie: Mike McKenna

[‘Resilient’ Ducks look to extend win streak vs. Stars]

WATCH LIVE – 10 P.M. ET

DUCKS
Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry
Andrew CoglianoRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg
Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase
Jason ChimeraDerek GrantJ.T. Brown

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson
Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour
Marcus PetterssonAndy Welinski

Starting goalie: Ryan Miller

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Let’s examine the Ducks’ OT strategy of waiting out, exhausting the Oilers (Video)

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The addition of three-on-three overtime to decide regular season games is one of the best changes the NHL has made in … well … decades. It can be chaotic, fast-paced, insane fun, and a great opportunity to see the best and most talented players in the world really show off their skill and creativity. It has been so popular that the league even transitioned the All-Star game into a three-on-three mini-tournament.

The Anaheim Ducks’ strategy on Sunday night in their 5-4 win over the Edmonton Oilers was anything but exciting.

In the end it was kind of hilarious given the context of what was happening, but hardly exciting.

Let’s take a look at how they scored the winning goal to pick up a massive extra point in the standings.

After winning the opening faceoff the Ducks simply circled around in their own zone, ragging the puck around and passing to one another, for nearly a minute-and-a-half just playing an extended game of keep away.

Some facts.

  • The Ducks attempted and completed 10 passes to one another in the defensive zone
  • The puck never left the Ducks’ zone until 1:14 of the overtime period had passed
  • The Edmonton Oilers went the entire overtime period, nearly a minute-and-a-half, and never once had one of their sticks touch the puck.

The original thought — as was outlined on the Sportsnet broadcast as this was happening — was that they were probably just killing time waiting for Edmonton’s two best players, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, to leave the ice.

McDavid and Draisatl — as well as defenseman Darnell Nurse — ended up staying on the ice the entire shift. If nothing else all of that skating around and waiting tired them out. Meanwhile, the Ducks made several changes to their trio, one at a time, while they skated around in their own zone. So even though they didn’t get McDavid and Draisaitl off the ice, they were almost certainly not the freshest legs on the ice and only a fraction of what they might be when rested.

Once the Ducks decided to charge up the ice, they won the game on their first — and only — rush, ending the game when Hampus Lindholm pounced on a loose puck in the slot and snuck one through Oilers goalie Cam Talbot.

It is all kind of amazing to watch unfold.

First, it brings back some memories of when the Philadelphia Flyers refused to attack Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 alignment a few years back.

It was not quite to that extreme, but it was still at least somewhat reminiscent.

But what does this say about the Oilers that the Ducks were willing to just circle around in their own zone for 80 seconds, waiting for the one true threat on the other team (well, let’s be fair to Draisaitl and say two threats) to either exhaust himself or just leave the ice entirely before they actually tried to attack? Probably that there is nobody else on that team that put any fear into the Ducks, and the two players that could never even had a chance to make a play. In a lost, disappointing season full of low points, this was probably one of the worst moments for the Oilers, watching an opponent just toy with them for an entire overtime period.

Was it the most exciting 80 seconds of three-on-three overtime that we have ever seen?

Not at all.

But it worked to perfection, probably even better than the Ducks could have hoped.

For them, that is all that matters.

————

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Jets clinch; McDavid hits 99

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Players of the Night:

Jordan Weal, Philadelphia Flyers: Weal finished with a goal and two assists in an overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday afternoon. This was the 25-year-old’s first multi-point performance of 2017-18.

Justin Schultz, Pittsburgh Penguins: Schultz registered three assists, including two of the primary variety. The Pens blue liner had no points in his previous seven games before the clash against the Flyers.

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins: “Sid the Kid” gave his team a 4-3 lead in the third period before picking up the primary assist on Bryan Rust‘s game-winner in OT. Crosby has 83 points in 76 games this season.

Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets: Connor’s three-point effort (one goal, two assists) helped the Jets clinch a playoff spot on Sunday night. He’s racked up nine points in his last six contests.

Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators: Not only did Ellis accumulated a goal and an assist, he also played almost 27 minutes in his team’s shootout loss to the Jets. He’s been a huge piece of Nashville’s defense since returning from injury.

Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins: Mr. Clutch has now scored five of Boston’s six overtime goals this season. The 29-year-old has 33 goals and 80 points in 60 games.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: Just another day at the office for McDavid, who had a goal and two assists against the Ducks. The things he’s able to do at top speed with a hockey puck just aren’t fair. The Oilers captain has 39 goals and 99 points.

Adam Henrique, Anaheim Ducks: Henrique’s two third-period goals helped the Ducks overcome a two-goal deficit before Hampus Lindholm netted the game-winner.

Highlights of the Night:

Another sweet goal from Crosby:

Kari Lehtonen is gonna want this one back:

It’s Tuukka Time:

Who says the Canucks have nothing to play for?

Now you see it, now you don’t. Connor McDavid is special:

Factoids of the Night:

This seems good:

The Jets clinched a spot in the postseason (as if it was ever in doubt):

Daniel is in elite company:

Scores:

Penguins 5, Flyers 4 (OT)
Canucks 4, Stars 1
Jets 5, Predators 4 (SO)
Bruins 2, Wild 1 (OT)
Ducks 5, Oilers 4 (OT)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

WATCH LIVE: Washington Capitals at Anaheim Ducks

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Washington Capitals

Alex OvechkinNicklas BackstromTom Wilson

Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovT.J. Oshie

Brett ConnollyLars EllerAndre Burakovsky

Chandler StephensonJay BeagleDevante Smith-Pelly

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson

Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen

Brooks OrpikChristian Djoos

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

[Capitals – Ducks preview]

Anaheim Ducks

 

Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Andrew CoglianoRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Jason ChimeraDerek Grant — Chris Kelly

Cam FowlerBrandon Montour

Marcus PetterssonHampus Lindholm

Josh MansonKevin Bieksa

Starting goalie: John Gibson