Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mighty but can they finish?

Ducks class of NHL but have work to do in playoffs

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Jae C. Hong / The Associated Press

Winnipeg Jets' Andrew Ladd (16) tries to score against Anaheim Ducks' goalie Jonas Hiller, left, as the Ducks' Cam Fowler defends during first period in Anaheim Tuesday.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- They win when they start a game well -- boasting a league-leading 22-3-4 record when they score first, prior to last night's 3-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets.

They win when they start a game poorly -- boasting a league-leading 15-6-1 record when they fall behind 1-0.

They win when they're at home -- at 20-0-2, they're one of just four teams in the last 40 NHL seasons to record points in each of their first 22 home games.

They win when they're on the road -- at 17-9-3, they lead the league in road wins.

They win in just about every conceivable set of circumstances and, this season, at a pace unequalled by any other team in the NHL -- at 37-9-5 heading into their game against the Jets at Honda Center Tuesday night, the Anaheim Ducks had the best record in the league, leading the second-place Chicago Blackhawks by four points and the third place St. Louis Blues by eight points, although the Blues had three games in hand.

And so put it all together and what you have here these days in Southern California is nothing short of a juggernaut in a town more famous for its Magic Kingdom than hockey magic.

So, is it magic? Smoke and mirrors? How did the Ducks get so unbelievably good?

"I think it's a combination of everything," veteran forward -- and former Jet -- Teemu Selanne reflected Tuesday morning. "We have unbelievable goaltenders here. And everyone's been doing their job. The best players have been the best players. That's where it starts.

"But the team confidence and the depth we have had this year -- and last year -- it has been unbelievable. And obviously (head coach) Bruce (Boudreau) has a nice problem -- he has so many good players to put out there...

"And it's a great thing, if you look around this locker-room, no one is talking about our success here. And it's a good thing to live in California where there's no media to tell you how good you are. There's no distractions really -- just keep pushing forward."

While there's a ton of talent on the Ducks, Boudreau pointed to the fight in his club and their ability to overcome deficits and in-game adversity as the keys to his team's eye-popping record.

"I think their battle and their character has kept us in a lot of the games and allowed us to compete. We feel comfortable in one-goal games, I think our record is pretty good in that.

"But I can't put specifically my finger on any one thing, other than maybe (Ryan) Getzlaf and (Corey) Perry have been tremendous consistently."

Getzlaf, the Duck's top-line centre, was third in the NHL scoring race with 58 points heading into last night, while his linemate Perry was fifth with 55 points. Add to them a couple of razor-sharp goalies in Jonas Hiller and Frederik Andersen, a rookie defenceman in Hampus Lindholm who is a team leading plus-25, a deep cast of support players, from Nick Bonino (15G, 22A) to Andrew Cogliano (16G, 13A) and role players like the veteran Selanne (7G, 10A).

Still, the Ducks also had a great regular season last year, finishing 30-12-6, winning the Pacific Division and finishing second in the Western Conference. And what did it get them? An opening round playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

And then there's this -- just three other teams in the last 40 seasons have scored a point in each of their first 22 home games -- the 1979-80 Flyers (19-0-7), the 1978-79 Islanders (19-0-4) and the 2008-09 San Jose Sharks (20-0-2).

You know what else those three teams have in common? None of them won the Stanley Cup after such torrid starts.

Selanne says his teammates are well aware it's not how you start in the NHL, but how you finish. "That's the next step for us," said Selanne. "Last year, we couldn't (sustain a quick early pace). In the regular season, we were almost cruising sometimes. And then the playoffs start and we couldn't take the next step. That really bothered us and that's one thing we can do better.

"That's our goal -- to take the next step in the playoffs."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 22, 2014 C1

History

Updated on Wednesday, January 22, 2014 at 6:48 AM CST: Replaces photo, adds slideshow

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