The Anaheim Ducks rolled through the regular season and earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Their reward is a matchup with the NHL’s best defensive team, the Minnesota Wild.
Teemu Selanne and the Ducks will try to solve the defensive-minded Wild when the teams begin their first-round series Wednesday night at the Honda Center.
Selanne finished third in the NHL in goals with 48 to spearhead one of the league’s most dangerous offensive clubs. He was one of five Ducks to score at least 25 goals this season, along with Dustin Penner, Andy McDonald, Chris Kunitz and Ryan Getzlaf.
Anaheim (48-20-14), which recorded franchise bests with 48 wins and 110 points and won the Pacific Division for the first time, is looking to take the next step after losing in five games to Edmonton in the conference finals last year.
“This team’s ready,” Selanne said. “We want to raise our level. It’s no secret.”
Although the Ducks posted one of the top four records in the league, they received no easy matchup in the Wild. Minnesota (48-26-8), coached by Jacques Lemaire, allowed a league-low 185 goals this season.
The Wild finished only six points behind the Ducks and finished as one of the hottest teams in the NHL, going 21-5-4 since the start of February. Minnesota, however, didn’t face Anaheim during that torrid stretch.
The teams’ four meetings took place before January and the home team won all four, with the Wild needing a shootout to win one of them. In perhaps a sign of things to come, each game was decided by one goal.
Minnesota did an excellent job against Selanne, who failed to score in the first three matchups before recording two goals in a 4-3 loss Dec. 31. Anaheim scored only 10 goals in the four games.
One of the biggest keys to Minnesota’s success has been the surprisingly stellar play of rookie goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who led the league with a 1.97 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.
Backstrom became the Wild’s No. 1 goalie in January when Manny Fernandez went down with a knee injury. The 29-year-old Finn is 19-3-4 in his past 28 starts.
“For me, the season has been like a dream,” Backstrom said. “You don’t want to wake up from it. You want to continue as long as possible.”
Backstrom seemed to be gearing up for the playoffs by recording two of his five shutouts in the last week of the season.
“He’s a guy that really looks in control,” Lemaire said. “I don’t think anything will shake him up. He’s solid mentally and he’s been the same guy that was there the first day he came in. He hasn’t changed, which is great.”
Anaheim’s Jean-Sebastien Giguere, though, clearly has an edge on Backstrom in terms of experience. Giguere has won 18 of his 27 postseason starts, and captured the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2003 despite the Ducks’ seven-game loss to New Jersey in the Stanley Cup finals. His career GAA in the postseason is 1.95.
The veteran is Anaheim’s No. 1 goalie after he struggled last season and saw Ilya Bryzgalov get most of the work in the 2006 playoffs. Giguere started six games in that postseason, recording a 3.39 GAA and losing the final two games of the Edmonton series.
Giguere’s best work in the playoffs came in the 2003 Western Conference finals against Minnesota, when he posted shutouts in the first three games to lead the Ducks to a sweep.