"We're not an eighth seed," said Ducks defenseman
The Ducks are exactly that, of course: a 91-point regular-season team and the only low seed to advance into the Western Conference semifinals. Yet, they're an eighth seed in name only. These aren't the same Ducks who flew south for most of the winter. These are genuine, thick-billed Stanley Cup contenders who just happen to have a U for underdog stamped on their chests. No. 8, yes. But No. 8 with a bullet.
You could see these quackers coming. In their last 15 games of the regular season -- starting, not coincidentally, at about the time that Whitney was settling in after arriving in a late-February trade from Pittsburgh -- the Ducks went 11-3-1. Whitney's been skating next to snarling
Does anyone even remember that 1-5 start in October?
What's new, above all else, is the defense -- as good a top-to-bottom group as any in the game.
Now the Ducks have Whitney, who is playoff-tested, unafraid and moving the puck as well as he ever has. He's given some serious length to their power play, helping to transform Anaheim from a good man-advantage team into one that can flip a postseason game around with a couple of man-up situations. Even when the Ducks don't score on the power play, all of their exquisite puck movement, all of the pressure they tend to maintain in the offensive zone can wear a team right out. Whitney's prowess manning the point only augments Pronger's and
And now the Ducks have the very capable
And maybe most important, they now have
Add those defensemen to the Hall-of-Fame caliber mainstays of Pronger (plus-6 so far) and Niedermayer (five points in six games) and Anaheim suddenly becomes very, very nasty to play against. The Ducks, as the Sharks can confirm, still like to mix things up. Former GM
Maybe by this time next week the Ducks will already be off the pond. Detroit is still much the better team. But no one can say that Anaheim doesn't have a shot to go on, to slay another giant. This is a team that won 22 road games this season, the most of any Western Conference team except Detroit. This is a team with a core of players who are just 22 months removed from hoisting the Cup. This is a team that suddenly looks whole, and, feeding alongside voracious center
The Ducks are in fact a No. 8 seed, and the Red Wings a No. 2. Of course, they are meeting in the second-round of the NHL playoffs where all it takes to get into the conference finals is the top seed -- and four more wins.