Defending Stanley Cup champion Ducks open playoffs against Stars

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ANAHEIM, Calif. - Forget about the Ducks' being defending Stanley Cup champions. Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle has - or at least that's his story as Anaheim prepares to open its Cup defence.

"I can't remember last year," Carlyle said Wednesday. "Every year your team is different. The reference to last year is old news. We're trying to create an identity for ourselves now.

"We've got a playoff series against a very difficult opponent, an opponent that has given us a lot of trouble over the course of the season."

The Ducks, trying to become the first team to repeat as NHL champions since Detroit in 1997-98, begin the playoffs against the Dallas Stars on Thursday night in Anaheim.

The Stars won five of eight against Anaheim during the regular season and got a shootout point in one of the losses. They outscored the Ducks 24-15.

"They've got a good offence and they can score some big goals," Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. "They're going to be dangerous on the power play, so we've got to not take too many penalties and not give them too many chances on the power play."

After a slow start this season, the Ducks took on the look of a champion again after Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne decided not to retire and rejoined the team. Anaheim went 32-12-4 after Niedermayer came back in December, and were 20-5-1 following Selanne's return on Feb. 5.

Two of the wins came in their final two games against Dallas.

"They're a different team with Niedermayer and Selanne back," said the Stars' Brenden Morrow, asked about Dallas taking the regular-season series. "But if that helps guys feel more relaxed, sure."

Dallas goalie Marty Turco, noting that the Stars are very familiar with Anaheim, said their confidence is high.

"We know the type of team they are and how they're going to play. We've seem them when we've played against them and seen them numerous times on TV against other teams," Turco said. "There won't be any surprises."

While the Ducks were surging down the stretch of the regular season, the Stars were struggling. Dallas went 4-8-2 in the last 14 games to finish fifth in the Western Conference, five points back of the fourth-place Ducks.

"We need to keep our special teams rolling, stay disciplined, play to our strengths and not crack in the third period, something we struggled with late in the season," said Morrow, who had a career-best 32 goals and 74 points this season.

Giguere, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the 2003 post-season MVP and was outstanding in the playoffs again last year, said the series against Dallas could be a close one.

"We know it's going to be a good matchup, there are going to be some tight games, some heavy checking and possibly some fights and stuff like that," he said. "It should be an entertaining series for the fans - and for us."

The Stars likely will be without one of their key players, at least for the start of the playoffs. Defenceman Sergei Zubov, who had surgery for a sports hernia injury, has been outstanding for Dallas on the breakout.

The Ducks also will be missing one of their top players, Corey Perry, although he's expected to be available later in the series. Perry, the team's second-leading scorer, has been sidelined by a lacerated leg tendon.

Carlyle smiled and made a couple of predictions, saying, "You know there's going to be things that are going to happen in a playoff series. You know there's going to be new intensity, and there's going to be panic; there always is."



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