The Anaheim Ducks finished tied for the Western Conference’s most points a season ago and fell one game shy of playing for the Stanley Cup with a Game 7 home loss for the third straight year.
The Ducks have advanced a round further in each of the last three seasons and intend to take the next step.
Coach Bruce Boudreau’s team is a trendy pick to win the Stanley Cup this season, which it begins with a tough assignment Saturday night against a San Jose Sharks team that has won seven straight at home in this series.
Anaheim lost in the first round to Detroit in 2012-13, to Los Angeles in the conference semifinals the next season and to eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago in the West finals a season ago. All ended with the Ducks blowing 3-2 series leads with a home defeat in the decisive game.
Last season, Anaheim blew through the first two rounds of the playoffs with an 8-1 mark and was on the verge of reaching the Stanley Cup Final before getting outscored 10-5 by the experienced Blackhawks in the final two games, including a 5-3 loss in Game 7.
”All it did was it made us want to work harder and get better,” captain Ryan Getzlaf said. ”We know we’ve got to push for a Stanley Cup this year.”
The biggest change is the loss of the Ducks’ leader in ice time, Francois Beauchemin, who joined Colorado as a free agent.
He was made expendable by the remarkable rise of defenseman Simon Despres, who was acquired March 2 from Pittsburgh and agreed to a five-year, $18.5 million contract extension Friday. Despres had six points in the Pacific Division champions’ final 16 regular-season games.
”We’ve just touched the surface of his play,” Boudreau said. ”He’s big and strong, and he’s still growing into his body. He was a very good offensive defenseman (who) turned into a good defensive defenseman, and now if you can (combine) both of those things, I think you’ve got something special.”
Getzlaf had a team-high 70 points a season ago while Corey Perry finished tied for 10th in the NHL with 33 goals.
Anaheim is 0-5-2 in its last seven visits to San Jose with four straight regulation defeats.
These teams are meeting for the first time since Sharks forward Raffi Torres received a 41-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg in last Saturday’s preseason finale.
In a statement released by the team Thursday, Torres apologized to Silfverberg and the Sharks. Silfverberg has returned to practice.
The new-look Sharks seek to capture their home opener for the fifth straight season after starting 2015-16 with a 5-1 win at Los Angeles on Wednesday. Joe Pavelski had a goal and two assists and Martin Jones made 19 saves in his San Jose debut in the club’s first game under coach Peter DeBoer.
”I think the game was the culmination of a month of hard work,” DeBoer said.
San Jose found itself apologizing for another physical incident in which a check by Logan Couture on Milan Lucic sparked a scuffle.
”I just finished my check,” Couture said. ”That’s hockey, right? You’re supposed to finish your checks. I didn’t think there was players that you’re not allowed to hit in this league.”
San Jose went 4-0-1 against Anaheim last season behind Pavelski’s six goals. Pavelski, Couture, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau combined for 25 points in those games.