Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Anaheim vs. Dallas
By Michael Rushton, NHL Contributing Editor
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 54-20-8 (1st Seed - West)
2013 PLAYOFFS: Lost to Detroit 4-3 in conference quarterfinals
(SportsNetwork.com) - Few teams looked as unbeatable as the Anaheim Ducks at the start of the season.
That proved especially true at home, which should be a scary thought for the rest of the Western Conference given that the Ducks enter the 2014 postseason as the top seed in the conference.
But after a dominating effort for a good part of the season, Anaheim started to slip a bit heading into the Olympic break and had posted a mark of just 14-12-3 during a 29-game span from Jan. 17-April 6.
The Ducks then capped the regular season with four straight victories, but presumed playoff starter Jonas Hiller was not in net for any of those games.
Hiller, in fact, did not play in seven of Anaheim's final eight games and has not won since March 26.
Still, head coach Bruce Boudreau is likely to go with Hiller over the inexperienced Frederik Andersen and John Gibson, neither of whom have ever played in an NHL playoff game.
Hiller's postseason numbers are not terrible, with the 32-year-old pending free agent having gone 10-10 with a 2.31 goals against average, .935 save percentage and three shutouts in 20 games.
But his regular season numbers this campaign weren't super impressive: 29-13-7 with a 2.48 GAA and five shutouts in 50 starts. Meanwhile, Andersen was 20-5-0 with a 2.29 GAA in 28 games (24 starts) and Gibson, a highly-touted prospect, won all three of his late-season starts.
Given the fact that the Ducks led the NHL with 3.21 goals per game this season, Boudreau may be able to roll the dice with Hiller and hope the netminder can recapture the form that saw him post a club-record 14-game winning streak from Dec. 6-Jan. 12.
Forward Corey Perry was second in the league with 43 goals to go along with a plus-32 rating, while center Ryan Getzlaf finished fifth in the NHL with 56 assists and second to only Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby in points with 87.
Nick Bonino and Andrew Cogliano also reached the 20-goal mark, while Mathieu Perreault notched 18. Anaheim also has some solid veteran depth in Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, while 25-year-old winger Patrick Maroon notched 12 points over his last 12 games.
Selanne is expected to retire at season's end and the 43-year-old could have some extra juice for this postseason. He comes into the series having totaled 42 goals and 82 points in 118 career playoff games.
The Ducks have a good mix of veteran experience and youthful energy at their blue line, including 22-year-old Cam Fowler. The former first-round pick had six goals and 36 points in 70 games with a steady plus-15 rating.
Fowler and 33-year-old Francois Beauchemin will eat up a lot of the minutes at the blue line, as will former Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas. The 37-year- old was a solid contributor for the Stars before suffering a broken leg on Nov. 29. He was dealt to the Ducks while recovering from that injury.
The acquisition and eventual return of Robidas helped take some pressure off rookie Hampus Lindholm, who did manage six goals and 30 points in 78 games.
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 40-31-11 (2nd wild card - West)
2013 PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify
The Dallas Stars overhauled their identity this past offseason in an effort to reach the postseason for the first time since 2008.
Under the guidance of first-year coach Lindy Ruff and offensive threat Tyler Seguin, the Stars claimed the Western Conference's second wild card position.
Sure, they got some help from a slumping Phoenix Coyotes club, which had lost seven straight before beating the Stars in a meaningless regular-season finale, and Dallas did just enough by going 3-4-0 down the stretch, but the results are in the bottom line.
And what a line it was for Seguin, who the Stars acquired this past offseason from the Boston Bruins.
The 22-year-old brought rumors of immaturity with him to Dallas, but with the Stars all he did was show the skill that led to him being the second overall pick of the 2010 draft. Seguin led Dallas across the board with 37 goals, 47 assists and 84 points -- all career highs -- and now brings 42 games of playoff experience to the Stars.
Seguin has six goals and 12 assists in the postseason and was part of the Cup- winning 2010-11 Bruins club.
His presence also helped Stars captain Jamie Benn soar to new heights. The winger set new career highs with 34 goals, 45 assists and 79 points in 81 games, and the duo of Seguin and Benn was a big reason that the Stars finished 10th in the NHL with 2.82 goals per game.
Six other Dallas skaters reached double figures in goals, including Ryan Garbutt (17 goals) and Cody Eakin and Erik Cole, who had 16 goals apiece. Rookies Valeri Nichushkin (10th overall pick of the 2010 draft) and Alex Chiasson also were steady contributors and Dallas has veteran depth in Ray Whitney and Shawn Horcoff.
Defensively, Alex Goligoski had an excellent campaign, with his 42 points a career high and his best total since logging 37 points with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10.
Trevor Daley led all Stars defensemen with nine goals and Brenden Dillon had six, but Dallas did yield 2.72 goals per game.
Veteran Sergei Gonchar averaged just 17 minutes and 36 seconds of ice time per game in 76 contests this season, notching 20 assists and 22 points, but his 135 games of playoff experience should come in handy this series. He has 90 points in that time.
Inexperience could be an issue in net with No. 1 Kari Lehtonen, who owns just two career playoff games to his resume and none since 2006-07 with the Atlanta Thrashers. He was solid this regular season, going 33-20-10 with a 2.41 goals against average and .919 save percentage.
Should Lehtonen struggle early, Ruff will have the option of going to veteran Tim Thomas, acquired at this year's trade deadline. Thomas didn't wow in eight games with Dallas, but has outstanding playoff numbers at 29-21 with a 2.07 GAA, .933 save percentage and six shutouts.
Of course, he also won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy with Boston in 2011.
The Stars won two of their three meetings with the Ducks this season, with the clubs exchanging 6-3 home victories before Dallas claimed a 2-0 win at Anaheim on Feb. 1.
Lehtonen did not face the Ducks this season and is 9-7-3 with a 2.41 GAA against them in 19 career meetings. Hiller went 0-2 with a 3.91 GAA in three meetings this season, pulled in the first meeting in Anaheim back on Oct. 20.
Perry and Emerson Etem both scored twice in the season series for the Ducks and Getzlaf had five points, while Garbutt led the Stars with two goals and two assists in three games.
This marks the third all-time playoff meeting between these clubs and first since the Stars bested the Ducks in six games during the 2008 Western Conference quarterfinals. That avenged a six-game series loss to Anaheim in the 2003 semifinals.
While the Ducks have showed some flaws as of late, this is still a team that set club records this season with 54 wins and 116 points. Anaheim finished 29-8-4 at home this season, that after a 22-game home point streak (20-0-2) to begin the campaign, and also showed little quit with 26 comeback victories. That was the most by an NHL club since Detroit and Nashville had 26 in 2005-06.
The Stars have one of the top scoring duos in the NHL, but playoff hockey is about more than one line.
These two clubs both had a talent during the regular season to score goals, but Anaheim's depth along with home-ice advantage gives it the edge in a series that may end up being pretty close.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Ducks in 6
04/15 14:09:05 ET