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Ducks, Minnesota Wild open playoff series in Anaheim

The Ducks swept the Wild in the 2003 Western Conference finals. It was Anaheim's deepest run in the playoffs as they reached the Stanley Cup finals. The Ducks lost to New Jersey in Game 7.

Minnesota defenceman Nick Schultz believes this is an opportunity to avenge the 2003 playoff loss to Anaheim.

"We had a great run going and we get in against them and it's done," Schultz said. "I think we've got to be conscious of that going into this series. If you're not ready, it could be over in a hurry.

"They kind of wiped away our hopes a few years ago, so it would be nice to do the same to them this year."

Entering this first-round series, both teams are solid on defence, have potent offences and outstanding goaltending.

"They're a hockey team that a lot of things are going right for them, and have been for a while," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said.

Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire named a long list of the Ducks' strengths and said, "That's going to be our goal, stay in the game. It's a team that can take you out in a few seconds. A couple shifts and it's over.

"But if you extend the game, that's how you get a chance to win."

The Ducks, featuring Norris Trophy-winning defencemen Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger and rejuvenated forward Teemu Selanne, and the Wild open the playoffs Wednesday night in Anaheim.

Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who did not make the team's regular-season-closing trip over the weekend, also missed practice on Tuesday. Giguere has been spending time with his wife and newborn son, who has an unspecified - but non-life threatening - medical problem.

Giguere will be available to play the opener for the Ducks, and they also have backup goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who performed well in the post-season last year when Giguere was injured.

Carlyle said he had given Giguere paternity time off and that missing practice shouldn't have any effect on the goalie's readiness to play.

The Wild, led by 29-year-old rookie goalie Niklas Backstrom and forward Marian Gaborik, finished the regular season on a roll, going 22-5-4 to wrap up a 48-26-8 season that is the team's best since coming into the league in 2000.

"It's definitely important to be playing the right way going into the playoffs," said Minnesota's Keith Carney, the former Ducks defenceman signed by Minnesota last summer. "It builds confidence in your team and in your system."

The Ducks, who came into the NHL as an expansion franchise in 1993, went 48-20-14, their best record, and won the Pacific Division for their first division title.

They made it to the Western Conference finals last year, losing to Edmonton in five games.

The Ducks and the Wild are eager to get going in the post-season.

"What everybody remembers is how you did in the playoffs," said Niedermayer, who played on the Lemaire-coached Devils when they won it all in 1995. "The intensity cranks up for everybody now. It's a fun time."

Backstrom, who led the NHL with a 1.97 goals-against average and .929 save percentage, said: "We've been waiting for these games. I'm excited. This is the main goal that everybody has been working for. It's a big challenge for everybody to get their best game (going) now."

Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Friday in Anaheim, with games at Minnesota on Sunday and Tuesday.



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