ANAHEIM, Calif. — As the playoffs close in, teams like the Dallas Stars play out the string. Others, like the Anaheim Ducks, tune up for the postseason. These two squads meet in Anaheim on Friday night with the Ducks still vying for second in the Pacific Division.
Anaheim (42-25-13) defeated the Minnesota Wild at home on Wednesday night. The win clinched the Ducks’ sixth consecutive playoff appearance. Ryan Miller made 26 saves in the win. Ondrej Kase scored the winning goal to up his season total to 20. The Ducks are on a three-game win streak and are 8-1-1 in their last 10 contests. The Wild were playing with a depleted defensive corps due to injuries suffered by Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon.
Dallas (41-31-8) defeated the Sharks 4-2 in San Jose Tuesday night, coming back from a 2-0 deficit. They have gone 3-5-2 in their last 10 games but have won their last two contests. Mike McKenna got the victory on the strength of 17 saves after he replaced starter Kari Lehtonen in the Dallas goal. Lehtonen stopped 12 shots and allowed both San Jose goals. He exited after being stunned by a hard shot late in period one.
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The Stars were knocked from playoff contention on Sunday. They looked disinterested in the first part of the San Jose game but tied things as the last five minutes approached. Jamie Benn scored both the go-ahead goal and the empty-net insurance marker in the last 3:06.
Benn said, “It was a tough first period and even the second, but we found a way to regroup and came out with a great effort in the third.”
McKenna is the prototype of the NHL journeyman. His last appearance was with Colorado in 2015. He last won a game in December of 2013. Upon taking the net, he immediately turned away a four-shot onslaught by the Sharks. Dallas locked the game down late, allowing only one shot on goal in the third period. This was McKenna’s sixth NHL victory.
Lehtonen is on injured reserve with day-to-day status. The Stars lost primary goaltender Ben Bishop to an injury in mid-March. He started 51 games and played in 53 this season. Coach Hitchcock said Lehtonen will likely be available for Friday, but the team announced Thursday that McKenna will play against the Ducks.
“Sometimes guys just earn it in this league — and I think, quite frankly, he’s earned it,” Hitchcock said as reported on the team’s website.
Anaheim is missing two crucial members. Cam Fowler suffered an upper-body injury versus Colorado on Sunday and is expected to miss two to six weeks. John Gibson was knocked over in his net in the first period versus Colorado. Both are on the injured reserve list.
Defenseman Francois Beauchemin said, “Now that we’ve clinched, it gives Gibby more freedom to really heal 100 percent before coming back.”
The Ducks can claim second place from San Jose depending on what the Sharks do in their last two games. For the past five years, the Ducks have won the Pacific. This year, injuries made that impossible.
Ryan Getzlaf said, “This whole year has been a bit of a struggle. With the start we had, and the players we had out of the lineup, it was tough to see the big picture at that point. Our guys did a good job battling throughout the whole year. We accomplished one goal we wanted.”
Coach Randy Carlyle commented, “We felt if we played the right way and gave ourselves a chance, this group was capable of putting together a longer string of wins and (qualifying) for the playoffs. Now the goal changes. Yes, we have accomplished the goal we set out, but now we’re in a position with four points available to solidify or even improve our position if we continue to have success. We want to play the right way going into the playoffs.”
The Stars finish their season on the road Saturday, playing Los Angeles. The Ducks finish their regular-season campaign with a game in Arizona that same night.