NHL Playoff Preview: (1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (4) Winnipeg Jets
Season Series: Anaheim won 3-0 (4-3 OT, 4-1, 5-4 SO)
This is an intriguing first round series that features two physical teams. The Duck finished as the best team in the Western Conference during the regular season and the Winnipeg Jets are playing the first playoff game in the city of Winnipeg since the original Jets departed for Arizona in 1996 after reaching as the final wild card team out of the Central Division.
The Ducks won all three games during the regular season, but the two clubs haven’t met since January 11th. The two clubs have never met in the playoffs before.
Though the Ducks are perceived to be the superior offensive team, in reality, the Ducks (2.78 goals per game) only just barely outscore the Jets (2.72 g/g).
This series will most likely come down to the goaltending. Though the Ducks are playing coy with their starter in net for game one, that alone says enough. Both Frederik Andersen and John Gibson have shown signs of promise this season, but both have struggled at times. For Bruce Boudreau, his hope is that whoever goes into game 1 as the starter plays well enough to keep the job. For Winnipeg, Ondrej Pavelec wrestled the job away from rookie Michael Hutchinson and has been one of the hottest goalies in the league heading into the playoffs.
Sizing up the Ducks: Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry set the tone for the rest of the team. The Ducks have two of the best players in the world on their first line and both bring different things to the table. Perry brings pure goalscoring ability and he sn’t afraid to mix it up in the corners. Getzlaf is a playmaker, a grinder and a sniper all in one. His well-rounded game sees him killing penalties, leading the power play and logging big minutes. Getzlaf is to hockey what a five-tool outfielder is to the game of baseball. When you have Ryan Kesler as your second line center, it bodes well. Kesler was productive in his first season in Anaheim, bringing more grit and size down the middle. Defensively, Anaheim is somewhat of a nascent bunch, with talented young defensemen in Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatenen to go along with mainstay blueliner Francois Beauchemin. In goal, the Ducks seem to have a bit of a conundrum, as expected starter John Gibson is battling an upper body injury. If that’s the case, it’ll be Frederik Andersen to start the series. If he falters, Gibson could certainly get the nod when healthy.
What to expect from the Jets: Winnipeg will bring a fantastic home-ice environment to the playoffs. Ticket prices are through the roof as fans will be excitedly awaiting their first playoff game in decades. On the ice, the Jets had a better Corsi for percentage than the Ducks, with a 52.5% rate as opposed to Anaheim’s 51.2% (source: http://war-on-ice.com/teamtable.html) Blake Wheeler has been on fire for the Jets after returning from injury. The Jets do lack the kind of game-breaking bodies up front that Anaheim has, but they have capable scorers with the likes of Bryan Little, Michael Frolik and Drew Stafford among a host of contributors. Defensively, the Jets have a strong blue line anchored by Dustin Byfuglien. Winnipeg is a physical team that will be able to play the grind-it-out sort of style needed in the playoffs.
Series X-Factor: Ondrej Pavelec – With the Ducks question marks in net, Pavelec has the chance to steal the show. The Jets netminder comes in as hot as any goaltender in the league, posting shutouts in key games against the Wild and Blues to secure a playoff birth. If Pavelec continues that sort of dominance in net, it should tilt the ice in favor of Winnipeg
The Pick: Jets in 6
Great goaltending, possession numbers and a raucous home crowd all serve as major positives for the Jets. Though the Ducks were one of the best teams in the NHL during the regular season, they’re running into a hot team with a hot goaltender and it could spell trouble for Anaheim. The Jets will split the first two in Anaheim before winning three of the next four, culminating with a game six win in front of hte MTS Centre crowd.