The box marked "Division Title" can officially be checked off of the Anaheim Ducks’ list. The 5-1 route of the Edmonton Oilers Wednesday night at the Honda Center officially clinched a third-straight Pacific Division title for Anaheim, though it was not exactly cause celebre, so much as it was "business as usual".
"Not taking anything away, but we’ve had a fairly good lead for a while now. It would be more surprising if we didn’t get the division," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We certainly want bigger and better things for our group. We know it’s not going to be easy, but that’s what we’re striving for."
The league-leading Ducks became the first team in the league to reach 50 wins and win the division. It was everything you would expect in a clinching game against a team that’s essentially already made its exit even from the regular season — strong forechecking, goaltending, lineup trials — but the substance of the game itself was still important.
Right wing Jakob Silfverberg tied his career-high with three points, all three assists, giving him a much-needed confidence boost in the final week of the season. The Ducks got big offensive production from their defensemen and perhaps most importantly, didn’t blow a lead in the second period.
After a bumpy few weeks, the Ducks once again are trending upwards and playing with the right attitude.
"We just want to be playing the right way, with good habits and playoff-style hockey," said center Nate Thompson. "That’s what we need to do. Going into the playoffs, you can’t just turn a switch on. You have to make sure you’re playing the right way with some momentum heading into the playoffs. Teams that try to switch it on are sometimes done in the first round."
The Ducks are hungrier than ever before. After an early exit from the postseason last year, they watched their neighbors to the north — the same team that eliminated them — hoist the Stanley Cup yet again. The wounds are less than a year old but seem fresher than that for those still here. And the new faces, like Ryan Kesler, have their own motivations heading into the playoffs as well.
But the team has fallen victim to a familiar pattern the last two seasons: Fast start, stumbling finish. It might be unavoidable, but build enough momentum in these final games of the season and most of it will follow the team into the postseason.
"It’s a matter of individually focusing," said winger Andrew Cogliano. "Everyone knows the system in here now and everyone knows how to play and what we need to do to win. I just think what it comes down to is individually preparing yourself because if you come prepared and come prepared to do the right things, you’re going to play well."
The most troubling aspects of their game at the moment is their second period play and the power play. But there’s also considerable depth at all positions which has led to some healthy competition. Power play goals or an extra blocked shot in the second period might seem to come a little easier after a night in the pressbox instead of on the ice.
The foot is on the gas and there’s only one direction for Anaheim to go. A Pacific Division title is only the start of what the Ducks hope is a long ride.
"I hope it’s an expectation, I hope their level is pretty high," Boudreau said. "That’s where you want it to be all the time because then you’re always striving for more, and you’re never satisfied."