Clinching a playoff berth doesn’t exactly excite the Anaheim Ducks, whose regular-season success the previous two years hasn’t carried over into the postseason.
They’ll look to close out a five-game trip with a third consecutive victory Sunday night when they visit the slumping New Jersey Devils.
Anaheim (48-22-7) is cruising toward a third straight Pacific Division crown, but each of the last two seasons have ended in disappointment. It lost in the first round to No. 7 seed Detroit in seven games in 2013 before also losing Game 7 at home last year to eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Ducks, who lead the NHL standings by one point over Nashville, have their sights set on making a deeper run this season. They didn’t even realize they’d clinched a playoff spot following Saturday’s 3-2 win over the New York Islanders.
"Oh, we clinched? I’m serious," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I haven’t mentioned anything to the players. We just want to keep going and progressing. If we do that, all the other stuff just falls into place."
Rickard Rakell, Kyle Palmieri and Andrew Cogliano scored for Anaheim, which began the trip with losses to the New York Rangers and Columbus.
"The way we’re playing in the last two games is way more the right way," Boudreau said. "We made a mistake to make it 3-2, but other than that, I thought this might have been our best road game in a long time."
Captain Ryan Getzlaf took clinching the postseason berth in stride.
"We were pretty well aware that we were going to be in the playoffs at some point. It’s just a matter of where we finish," Getzlaf said. "Our goal doesn’t change. We just want to keep going and doing the same things."
The Devils (31-32-12) realized quite some time ago that they wouldn’t be in the postseason. They’ve been outscored 12-3 during a 0-3-1 stretch after falling 3-1 to Carolina on Saturday.
Patrik Elias scored on the power play midway through the first period for New Jersey, which was outshot 32-22 for the game.
"We gave up a late goal and we gave up a quick goal, then we just couldn’t dig our way out of it," general manager and co-coach Lou Lamoriello said. "We had chances to score in the first period, but we didn’t take advantage of it."
Keith Kinkaid made 29 saves, making it likely Cory Schneider will get the nod in the second of a back-to-back set. Schneider has a 1.66 goals-against average with a shutout over his last six but is just 2-2-2 in that span.
Schneider has two shutouts in seven career starts against the Ducks, but an injury forced him to leave before the second period of a 5-1 loss at Anaheim on Jan. 16 after he’d stopped 14 of 15 shots.
Frederik Andersen made 29 saves for the Ducks on Saturday, though it’s likely John Gibson will start in this contest.
Gibson allowed four goals in relief of Andersen against the Rangers before losing 5-3 to Columbus on Tuesday. He’s never faced the Devils.