The NHL hasn’t had a repeat Stanley Cup champion since the Detroit Red Wings won their second straight league title 10 years ago.
But don’t even think about pointing that out to the Anaheim Ducks.
“For anyone on our team, starting from the manager right down to the backup goaltender, to talk about anything other than the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs would be silly, premature, ill-conceived and flat-out stupid,” Ducks GM Brian Burke told The Canadian Press.
“You don’t worry about the second, third and fourth series in a playoff ever,” he added. “Dallas is far too good a team to even dream about looking past. And we know that, we know we’re in a dog fight here.”
The defending champs remain a formidable outfit but it speaks to the quality of the Western Conference that they’re in so tough in the very first round.
Here’s a quick look at the four first-round series:
Anaheim (4th, 47-27-8) vs. Dallas (5th, 45-30-7)
This was the price to play for San Jose winning the Pacific Division over Anaheim and Dallas – two great teams like the Ducks and Stars having to mash it out in the first round.
The Stars won five of the eight season-series games but the Ducks took the last two. Dallas may have taken advantage of an Anaheim team that didn’t have Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne in the first half of the season. With both veterans in the lineup beginning Feb. 5, the Ducks went 20-5-1 to close out the regular season, their .788 winning percentage the best in the NHL in that stretch.
Dallas, meanwhile, won only four of its final 14 games (4-8-2) although went 3-1-2 in the last six games. This, as Burke said, will be a dog fight and don’t be surprised if it goes seven.
San Jose (2nd, 49-23-10) vs. Calgary (7th, 42-30-10)
The Sharks are a popular pick to win the Cup, bolstering their case by going 20-7-3 in their final 30 games of the regular season. But if one listens long enough to Flames head coach Mike Keenan, he’ll argue this is a closer series than it appears.
“Their best player is Joe Thornton,” Keenan told The Canadian Press. “And we’ve got an absolutely top player in Jarome Iginla. There’s a lot of aspects to their game that they rely on Joe a great deal for. And conversely we rely on Jarome. You look at (Brian) Campbell and (Dion) Phaneuf – both teams have a top offensive defenceman. And both teams have great goaltending. It’s very interesting.”
Except while the Sharks have figured things out in the second half, the Flames remained an enigmatic and inconsistent squad. Great one night, bad the next.
It should be a very physical series.
Detroit (1st, 54-21-7) vs. Nashville (8th, 41-32-9)
The Red Wings went 5-3-0 against the Predators this season, two of those wins coming in overtime. In other words, it was a close season series.
The Wings won the Jennings Trophy as the stingiest team in the league, which is a testament to their team play and system more than their actual goaltending. In fact, 43-year-old goalie Dominik Hasek is seen by many as Detroit’s biggest question mark. But with Nashville goalie Dan Ellis prepared to play in his first-ever NHL playoff game, goaltending should cancel each other out in this series.
The Wings finished third in the NHL in goal scoring, but what may surprise some is that the Preds were a respectable 12th. Nashville will play a grinding, physical game and try to make Detroit earn its space on the ice.
Calgary tried to “outgrind” Detroit last year in the first round but the Wings prevailed in a series that should have gone fewer than six games.
Minnesota (3rd, 44-28-10) vs. Colorado (6th, 44-31-7)
The Wild took the season series 5-2-1 but the Avalanche team they’re facing in the playoffs isn’t quite the same as the one they faced for the majority of those eight games. Colorado stars Ryan Smyth, Joe Sakic and Paul Stastny all had long-term injuries this season but now are back. Then the Avs added veterans Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote and Ruslan Salei at the trade deadline. They’re built for a run.
Minnesota is among the fastest-skating teams in the NHL that also continues to excel at limiting scoring chances for the other team. The Wild have a special teams advantage, ranking seventh on the PP and fourth on the PK. Colorado ranked 28th on the PP and 21st on the PK.
These two teams last met in the playoffs in 2003 when Minnesota rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to win. Seven games seems a strong possibility again.