The two busiest teams at the trade deadline will see just how far their deadline deals can take them in the Western Conference Quarterfinal round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Anaheim Ducks, one of the top teams in the league all season, went all in with six deadline deals that gave the club a boost in speed and skill down the home stretch. The Winnipeg Jets effectively rid the club of bad long term deals and rode their acquisitions to their first playoff appearance in club history (the last appearance was in 2007 when the team was still the Atlanta Thrashers). The Ducks have the top seed in the Western Conference and Winnipeg is No. 8, but as Anaheim skidded to the end and Winnipeg rolled, the matchup became a little more even. It’s a battle between Teemu Selanne’s former clubs. Here’s how the opening round breaks down.
Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY SportsBruce Fedyck
Anaheim has a wealth of skilled forwards and the ability to roll four lines. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry found the most success with Matt Beleskey (22 goals) and the speedy Jiri Sekac (7 points with Anaheim) on the top line. Ryan Kesler has proved his worth by centering a second line that has been able to match up against nearly every top in the league. The Jets’ top three scorers in Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little typically play on the same line. When Wheeler is on the ice, good things tend to happen, as is evidenced by his plus-26. Where Anaheim has skill, Winnipeg has size and durability. But the Ducks have the edge with experience and three strong forechecking lines.
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This was the area that Ducks’ general manager Bob Murray changed the most at the trade deadline. Anaheim is now so deep, they have defensemen to spare. Sami Vatanen on the power play and Hampus Lindholm (plus-25) and Francois Beauchemin (plus-17) are one of the best young-veteran combinations on the ice and Simon Despres and James Wizniewski have added an extreme physical element. Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien and his big, heavy shot moved back to his natural defenseman position this season and acclimated easily. The Jets’ defense has taken a hit due to injuries, but they’re all healthy now when it matters the most.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY SportsGary A. Vasquez
Ondrej Pavelec has been the hottest goalie in the NHL over the last month. After momentarily losing his job to former Ontario Reign goalie Michael Hutchinson in December, Pavelec found his form and went 9-3-1 in March. Bruce Boudreau has rode John Gibson’s hot hand throughout the last few months and it’s done nothing but push Frederik Andersen, the No. 1 goalie throughout the majority of the season. Andersen won 20 straight games at one point and has said he thinks he deserves to be the top goalie in the postseason. It looks like he will get that chance as Gibson was injured in practice last week.
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The Jets have the edge over the Ducks on the power play as Anaheim’s efforts to revitalize their extra-man play have been futile. Winnipeg finished 17th in the league with a 17.8 percent conversion rate, aided even further after the deadline when Myers came over from Buffalo. The Ducks finished ranked 28th in the league with a dismal 15.7 percent rate. Beauchemin maintains that it’s more important to have a strong penalty kill than a strong power play at this time of year and the Ducks have the advantage with versatile penalty killers like Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg.
Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY SportsBruce Fedyck
Paul Maurice has instilled an identity in a team that, at one point, seemed to have left it back in Atlanta. He’s held the team accountable for its misdoings and his game-by-game approach has allowed the group to flourish without attempting to live up to enormous pressure. Boudreau has yet to win a Game 7 and is known for over-thinking postseason personnel moves, like starting Gibson over Jonas Hiller in Game 7 against the Kings last year. But he’s a true players’ coach with a good read on his team and has always maintained that he’s adept at learning from his mistakes.
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Winnipeg hasn’t seen playoff hockey since 1996 - the last year that Selanne played for the original Winnipeg Jets franchise. The MTS Centre is a small arena but based on the buzz that’s already building, it’s sure to be an incredible atmosphere. The Ducks haven’t forgotten the sting of losing to the eventual champs last year. Murray showed his confidence in his team with the moves at the deadline. It’s now up to them to prove that their regular season records haven’t been a fluke - the Ducks are ready to take their place amongst hockey’s elite clubs.
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Anaheim in six. Winnipeg is built for the playoffs but the Ducks have the experience up the middle with Getzlaf and Kesler and on defense, as some of the best young D-men in the league now have significant playoff action under their belts.